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Cunningham, Lucien Lawrence (Lou) (1889–1948)

by Ross McMullin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Lucien Lawrence (Lou) Cunningham (1889-1948), farmer and politician, was born on 4 June 1889 at Inverell, New South Wales, youngest child of Eugene Cunningham, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Edgeworth, both Irish born. Eugene had been a policeman and hotelkeeper; the family was well known in the Inverell district and the site of their property is still called Cunninghams Hill. Educated at Goonoowigall Public School, Lou helped his father on the farm and eventually ran it; he also worked intermittently as a wool-presser and was an organizer for the Australian Workers' Union.

As president of the local branches of the No-Conscription League and of the Australian Labor Party, Cunningham was one of the younger activists whose political prospects were enhanced after the departure of the conscriptionists from the party during World War I. Having failed in 1917 to win the Legislative Assembly seat of Gough, in 1919 he defeated William Webster for Gwydir in the House of Representatives. In parliament Cunningham's approach was influenced by his rural orientation, devout Catholicism, fierce hostility to communism and dislike of the A.L.P.'s socialist objective. His ability was soon recognized and caucus promoted him to the executive in 1921. He paid 'the closest attention to the interests of his electors' and, with A.W.U. backing, seemed to have a promising future, but he lost Gwydir to C. L. A. Abbott in 1925.

While out of parliament, Cunningham farmed at Leeton. On 3 September 1927 he married a typist Catherine Crosby at St Brigid's Catholic Church, Coogee, Sydney. He stood unsuccessfully for Gwydir in 1928, but regained it next year when James Scullin became prime minister. The government's disintegration in the face of daunting economic and political problems created opportunities for advancement. In March 1931 caucus nominated Cunningham for Deputy-Speaker and chairman of committees: the move failed because D. C. McGrath refused to stand aside and Scullin was so unsure of the government's majority that he avoided a vote in the House.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Cunningham defended the demoralized government; he entered cabinet as an assistant-minister on 26 June. Tall and about 17 stone (108 kg), he was described as 'the Goonoowigall Giant' and 'Australia's biggest cabinet minister'. The government was routed at the elections in December and Cunningham lost his seat. As the federal A.L.P. candidate, in February 1932 he polled poorly in a by-election for East Sydney, a stronghold of J. T. Lang's party.

Although he lived at Coogee for the rest of his life, Cunningham maintained his links with primary industry as secretary of the Amalgamated Milk Vendors' Association of New South Wales. In the struggle for control of the State A.L.P. he continued to oppose the 'Langites' and—following Lang's removal as leader in 1939—stood for the assembly as A.L.P. candidate for Coogee, traditionally an anti-Labor electorate. His unlikely success in the 1941 elections was due to his political skills and standing in the community, as well as to Labor's rejuvenation under (Sir) William McKell. Cunningham retained the seat in 1944 and 1947. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died of a coronary occlusion on 23 March 1948 at Coogee and was buried in Randwick cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Weller (ed), Caucus Minutes 1901-1949, vol 2 (Melb, 1975)
  • E. Wiedemann, World of its Own (Inverell, NSW, 1981)
  • R. McMullin, The Light on the Hill (Melb, 1991)
  • Labor News, 6 Dec 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Dec 1922
  • Australian Worker, 25 Dec 1929
  • P. Cook, The Scullin Government (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1971).

Citation details

Ross McMullin, 'Cunningham, Lucien Lawrence (Lou) (1889–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cunningham-lucien-lawrence-lou-9879/text17483, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 July 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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