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Dooley, James Thomas (1877–1950)

by Chris Cunneen

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

James Thomas Dooley (1877-1950), by unknown photographer

James Thomas Dooley (1877-1950), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 40228

James Thomas Dooley (1877-1950), politician, was born on 26 April 1877 at Carrick Crean, Longford, Ireland, fourth son of Thomas Dooley, farmer and gardener, and his wife Elizabeth, née O'Connor. On 1 August 1885, in the Dorunda, the family arrived in Brisbane, where, after attending a state school, at 12 Jim began work as a draper's assistant; later he was apprenticed to a tailor and attended technical college evening classes, joining the college literary and debating society, to which his future wife, a millinery instructor, also belonged, and the Labor Party. About 1901 he came to New South Wales and worked at Cobar and other outback towns including Lithgow, where he set up as a tailor. On 21 February 1905 at Paddington registry office he married Kate Rodé Trundle.

His business flourishing, Dooley became president of the Lithgow branch of the Labor Party, and in September 1907 narrowly defeated the sitting Liberal for the State seat of Hartley; he became the youngest member of the assembly—a 10-stone (63 kg) stripling. Subsequently his majorities, and his girth, increased: by 1921 he was 16 stone (102 kg). From 1920 he represented Bathurst. A keen amateur Shakespearian actor and performer of comic songs, he was an eloquent platform speaker and an effective debater in the assembly, 'bubbling over with good humour'. He belonged to the Federated Clothing Trades. During World War I he opposed conscription, and in October 1916 was one of the twenty party members who remained in the party when W. A. Holman and others were expelled. Next month caucus elected Dooley as deputy-leader to Ernest Durack and on the latter's resignation in February 1917, as deputy to John Storey. It was later asserted that Dooley had been elected leader in 1917 but unselfishly stood down in favour of Storey, who, seeking unanimous support, would not submit to a contest. At his own expense Dooley visited the United States of America in 1919 with his friend T. D. Mutch to study state industrial undertakings and labour conditions.

In April 1920 Labor narrowly won office and Dooley became chief secretary and minister for housing; he was responsible for State enterprises, including brickworks and fishing trawlers, as well as the police force. In November internal party strains became public, particularly involving Dooley on one side and Jack Bailey and J. J. G. McGirr on the other. Bribery allegations against Dooley, instigated by Bailey, were rejected by R. D. Pring's royal commission. During Storey's absences, on a visit to England in January to July 1921, and during his recurrent bouts of illness, Dooley acted as premier. On Storey's death Dooley took over on 8 October 1921, defeating McGirr, who became deputy-leader. Even the Sydney Morning Herald regarded the new premier's conscientiousness and industry as unquestionable.

The government was defeated on 13 December after Speaker (Sir) Daniel Levy stood down. Refused a dissolution by Governor Davidson Dooley resigned, but the Fuller ministry of 20 December lasted only 7 hours and Davidson recommissioned Dooley. A dispute between the premier and McGirr, with the latter publicly attacking 'Dooleyism', chiefly over an early election, added to the government's factional troubles. After a bitter campaign, shadowed by the Sister Liguori affair, with Labor categorized as 'Rome-ridden from A to Z', Fuller won the March 1922 election.

Moderate and honest, the Storey-Dooley government had seen the motherhood endowment bill stalled in the Legislative Council during its last confused months of office. But it had enacted important legislation on arbitration, profiteering and price control, had appointed (Sir) George Beeby as a judge of the industrial court and had inaugurated the Rural Bank department of the Government Savings Bank. It had also provided financial assistance to Henry Lawson. Dooley had been a driving but moderating force, earning some dissatisfaction for an apparent toleration of a high rate of unemployment and a refusal to go beyond W. Edmunds's recommendations regarding employment for the 1917 strikers. The ministry's defeat through sectarian political expediency reflected against its opponents rather than itself; as the governor discerned, 'it left office with untarnished honour and with the respect of the community'.

Political defeat was followed by a struggle for power within the New South Wales Labor Party. In December, with Matt Charlton and Albert Gardiner, Dooley circularized to Labour Leagues and unions a proposal to reform the party's State organization. Summoned by the Australian Workers' Union-dominated executive, Dooley denied that he had imputed any corruption. But the power-struggle continued and in February 1923 the executive censured Dooley for the appointment (eighteen months earlier) of J. B. Suttor to the Legislative Council. Dooley reacted by alleging that the executive was dominated by 'a gang of uncouth crooks' and was expelled; the executive then elected McGirr leader of the State Labor caucus. But a majority of caucus pledged support for Dooley. The Federal executive intervened and appointed W. F. Dunn as temporary leader, but at the State conference in June, when Bailey was himself expelled, Dooley was reinstated. His effectiveness during this turmoil was hampered by a severe ankle injury, involving periods of hospitalization. During the negotiations J. T Lang acted as his organizer.

On 1 August, dispirited by internal disloyalty and without any real power base in the new executive, now dominated by A. C. Willis, Dooley resigned as leader and was replaced by Lang. When Labor returned to power in June 1925, Dooley was elected Speaker; he extended the rights of private members, but an attempt to safeguard salaries of parliamentary officers was blocked by Lang. In 1927 Dooley lost pre-selection for Hartley to a miners' nominee, possibly through Lang's influence. But he had long lived outside his mining electorate, at Bronte, and always lacked significant union support. He tried his hand at hotel-broking and management at Leura and Lithgow, but was not successful. As an independent Labour candidate he failed for the Senate in 1931 and next year for the State seat of Hartley. He was for a time in Brisbane, but by June 1940, back in Sydney, was reduced to accepting a £4 per week allowance from the Mair government. In September he opposed W. M. Hughes for North Sydney, and again lost.

'Genial, generous, Pickwickian in appearance', in his youth Dooley had enjoyed surfing and bush-walking, particularly in the Blue Mountains. But he was not a patron of sport. In the 'twenties he took to dancing and 'acquired some note as a jazzer'. His wife had died in 1936, and on 16 March 1946 at St Pius Catholic Church, Enmore, he married Irene Mary Kenney, a dressmaker. After a stroke he was admitted to the State hospital, Liverpool, in October 1948. Survived by his wife and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, Dooley died on 2 January 1950 and was buried in the Catholic section of Botany cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • G. N. Hawker, The Parliament of New South Wales 1856-1965 (Syd, 1971)
  • V. G. Kelly, A Man of the People (Syd, 1971)
  • H. Radi and P. Spearritt (eds), J. T. Lang (Syd, 1977)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Apr, 15, 17, 18 Nov, 25 Dec 1920, 10 Oct, 17 Dec 1921, 18 Jan, 30 Dec 1922, 24, 26 Feb, 2, 10, 14, 16, 23 Mar, 28 June, 1 Aug 1932
  • Australian Worker, 15 Apr 1920, 13 June 1923
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 15 Apr 1920
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 Oct 1921
  • CO 418/220.25199 folio 40-42.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Dooley, James Thomas (1877–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dooley-james-thomas-6000/text10247, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 26 October 2014.

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

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