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Davidson, Charles Mark Anthony (1869–1949)

by J. E. Gallagher

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

Charles Mark Anthony Davidson (1869-1949), politician, was born on 2 May 1869 in Sydney, seventh child of James Davidson, a tailor from Edinburgh, and his Irish wife Margaret, née Moore. He left school at 12 to be apprenticed to a tailor, but joined his married sister at Coonamble. He worked briefly on coastal ships and then tried various occupations, including shearing and tank-sinking in the Monaro and mining in Victoria and at Broken Hill, New South Wales, before joining his carpenter brother at Cobar. After a short time as a builder's labourer, he worked in the Cobar mines, and lost the sight of an eye in an accident about 1903. He opened a hairdresser's and tobacconist's shop and brought a barber from Sydney to teach him the trade. Known to his friends as 'Charlie', he signed the register as Charles when he married Gertrude May Snape at the Presbyterian church on 14 July 1901.

An original member of the Australian Workers' Union, Davidson helped to form the local branch of the Amalgamated Miners' Association. He was also an alderman on the Cobar Municipal Council in 1913-18 (and promoted railway extension), a member of the District Hospital board, Racing Club, School of Arts and the Eight-Hour Day Sports committees and of the Political Labor League.

Davidson won a Legislative Assembly by-election for Cobar in May 1918; he represented Sturt in 1920-27, Murray in 1927-30 and Cobar again in 1930-47. One of the 'old brigade', he was proud of his bushworker background, earnest and forthright in debate, and idealistic about social justice for all sections of the community. He tenaciously kept before the House the disadvantages of isolated settlers in the far west and identified himself with the work of Rev. Stanley G. Drummond and the Far West Children's Health Scheme. A critic of the Western Lands Act and its administration, he tried to prevent leases being aggregated into larger holdings. In 1920 he moved for and chaired a select committee on the decline in the metalliferous industry. He pressed for proper control of dust in mines and for the payment of adequate compensation to victims of silicosis and lead poisoning.

Labor whip in 1923-30, Davidson was secretary for public works in Lang's ministry from November 1930 to May 1932. He was expelled from the Labor Party in August 1936 for attending a proscribed Labor Council of New South Wales unions' conference, but was readmitted next year by the State Labor Conference. In 1936-39 he supported Robert Heffron's attempts to wrest the leadership from Lang; he had written the `Lang plan catechism'. In September 1939 he was elected secretary of the parliamentary Labor Party.

Often appalled at living conditions in his large electorate, Davidson saved his most trenchant criticism for the treatment of Aboriginals by government agencies. In 1937, against strong opposition, he chaired a select committee on administration of the Aborigines Protection Board. He remained an outspoken advocate of the need for Aboriginal representation on the board.

Davidson died of cancer on 9 January 1949 in Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney; he was survived by his wife and two daughters. His family refused a state funeral and he was buried in the Catholic section of Northern Suburbs cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £2939.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Maclean, Drummond of the Far West (Syd, 1947)
  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956), and The Great Bust (Syd, 1962)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1920, 3, 719
  • Labor Daily, 1 Feb 1924, 2 June 1927
  • Cobar Age, 14 Jan 1949
  • Sun (Sydney), 1 Aug 1949
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 28 May 1954
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 4 Apr 1954
  • Truth (Sydney), 15 Aug 1954.

Citation details

J. E. Gallagher, 'Davidson, Charles Mark Anthony (1869–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davidson-charles-mark-anthony-5903/text10053, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 26 July 2014.

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

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