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Cusack, John Joseph (1868–1956)

by Bede Nairn and Nan Phillips

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

John Joseph Cusack (1868-1956), by unknown photographer, 1910s

John Joseph Cusack (1868-1956), by unknown photographer, 1910s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24206115

John Joseph Cusack (1868-1956), coachbuilder, garage proprietor and politician, was born on 8 August 1868 at Bellevale near Yass, New South Wales, youngest of six sons of Irish-born parents Michael Cusack, farmer, and his wife Ann (Bridget), née Boan, late Kenny. His schooling at Yass was brief and at 15 he was apprenticed to a blacksmith at Berrima. He gained experience in Sydney in his trade and in coachbuilding; much of his spare time was spent in libraries. He returned to Yass and on 11 April 1898, in the Catholic Church, he married Minnie (Mary) Theresa Cassidy, a dressmaker.

Cusack built up a successful coachbuilding business; originally known as Cusack & Schofield, it later became Cusack & Palmer and retained that name after he became the sole owner. By 1910 he was the largest employer in Yass, with twenty-four workmen; apart from blacksmith services, the firm met a wide demand for vehicles and exported to South Africa.

Known as 'J.J.', he was elected to the Yass Municipal Council, was mayor in 1904, and represented the council at the State's first Local Government Convention in 1910. He was a member of the local hospital board and active in the Pastoral and Agricultural Association. A constant contributor to the local newspapers, he joined the Australian Journalists' Association.

Cusack was engrossed in politics and a founder of the first Labor League at Yass in the 1890s. In 1910 he won the Legislative Assembly seat of Queanbeyan, and held Albury in 1913-17. He was amongst those expelled from the Labor Party in November 1916 for failing to support a no-confidence motion against William Holman's National government. Readmitted to the party, Cusack entered the House of Representatives in 1929 by winning Eden-Monaro from John Perkins and surviving a High Court appeal. (Sir) Earle Page beat him in Cowper in 1931. His efforts to return to parliament as a Federal Labor candidate, opposed to Jack Lang, were unsuccessful in Monaro (State) in 1932 and in Riverina (Federal) in 1934; he also failed in the State elections at Yass in 1947 and Burrinjuck in 1953.

Outspoken, unpredictable and tenacious, Cusack enjoyed parliamentary debate, fought hard for his constituents and for improved conditions for all workers. Despite his expulsion, he opposed conscription, and was severely critical of Labor defectors. His entry into Federal politics was marked with the quip, 'I will not be surprised if I am the first Australian appointed as Governor-General': he said later that if he got the job he would use (Viscount) Bruce's spats as bowyangs. In October 1930 he made an 'amazing attack' on the banker Sir Robert Gibson whom he considered was interfering in the government.

Cusack had retained his business in Yass, adapted it to the motor car and owned one of the earliest service stations. He moved to Canberra in 1932 and opened a furniture store. His community interests were many and lively; he canvassed for election to the Advisory Council with placards and slogans hung around his old truck. Increasingly litigious, in January 1956 he proceeded against William Sheahan, for obliterating slogans on the walls of his property in Yass.

Predeceased by a son, Cusack died in hospital on 8 September and was buried in Canberra cemetery. He was survived by two sons and a daughter, and by his wife who, until her death on 7 September 1962, aged 92, took an active interest in the expanding family business in Canberra. Dymphna Cusack, author, is his niece.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Lea-Scarlett, Queanbeyan (Queanbeyan, 1968)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Nov 1916, 23 Mar, 6 Dec 1917, 7 Nov 1929, 18, 31 Jan, 7 Oct 1930, 21, 24, 26, 30 Mar, 22 Apr 1931, 1 May 1932, 7 Jan 1936, 3 Aug 1937, 20, 21, Jan 1956
  • Australian Worker, 25 Dec 1929
  • Canberra Times, 10 Sept 1956, 9 Sept 1962
  • Yass Tribune, 10 Sept 1956
  • private information.

Citation details

Bede Nairn and Nan Phillips, 'Cusack, John Joseph (1868–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cusack-john-joseph-5856/text9957, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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