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Field, Albert Patrick (Pat) (1910–1990)

by John Wanna

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Albert Patrick (Pat) Field (1910-1990), French polisher, trade union official and politician, was born on 11 October 1910 at Durrington, Wiltshire, England, fourth of six children of William Thomas Field, soldier, and his wife Mary Jane, née Kelly. His parents (d.1924) were often ill and Bertie spent much of his childhood in orphanages before attending the Gordon Boys’ Home at Chobham, Surrey. He migrated to Australia in 1926 and worked in mines at Newcastle, New South Wales, and Mount Isa, Queensland, and on sheep stations. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 10 March 1943, he served in New Guinea in 1944-45 with the Australian Army Canteens Service, the 15th Mobile Laundry and Field Decontamination Unit, and the 13th Australian Mobile Ammunition Repair Shop. Discharged on 7 December 1945, he became a French polisher. On 28 October 1957 at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Norman Park, Brisbane, he married with Catholic rites Jessie May Gorle, née Schabe (d.1971), a widow.

In 1937 Field had joined the Australian Labor Party. Having served as president of the Morningside branch of the party, he was elected president of the Queensland branch of the Federated Furnishing Trade Society of Australasia in the early 1970s. Concurrently, he began to feel disquiet over perceived economic mismanagement by the Federal Labor government of E. G. Whitlam. He was also motivated by his opposition to the government’s Medibank, and to many symbolic issues of the day: socialism, homosexuality, abortion, an Australian republic and closer relations with China.

When the Queensland ALP senator Bert Milliner died on 30 June 1975, the premier, (Sir) Joh Bjelke-Petersen, ordered the State Labor Party to nominate three potential senators from whom the government would select a replacement. Labor refused and chose Dr Mal Colston as their sole nominee. Field (now known as Pat) contacted the premier’s office, offering his services as a `Labor senator’ and vowing never to vote for the Whitlam government. Bjelke-Petersen arranged to have Field’s ALP membership card in his pocket when he personally nominated him for the vacancy. The parliamentary vote split the Queensland government but Field’s nomination was carried by fifty votes to twenty-six. The Federal Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser asserted that the ALP’s nominee should have been accepted; his deputy Doug Anthony maintained that Bjelke-Petersen had the right of nomination. The Opposition did not opt to `pair’ Field, which would have negated Bjelke-Petersen’s tactics.

Expelled from the Labor Party, Field assumed his Senate seat as an Independent. Labor Senators absented themselves when he was sworn in on 9 September, except for the ALP Senate leader Ken Wriedt, who tried unsuccessfully to prevent the swearing in and then sat with his back deliberately turned to the newcomer. Field never delivered a maiden speech, and asked just one question, on superphosphate bounties. On 1 October he was served with a High Court writ challenging his right to occupy his position in the Senate, and was granted leave. Labor’s loss of the position gave the coalition senators the numbers (thirty to twenty-nine) not only to block the budget but that month to move it be deferred unless Whitlam agreed to an election.

Assessments of Field and the breach of Senate convention became polarised. Contemporary Labor stalwarts considered him a turncoat or `Labor rat’. Field responded: `They are awful things to call someone … [but] I suppose in a way, I am’. Editorial writers labelled his nomination a `sick joke’ and a `shameful spectacle’. The Melbourne Age described the breach of convention as a `political fraud’ perpetuated by Bjelke-Petersen. Later Field was dubbed `one of the loneliest figures in Australian politics’. Other interpretations present him as somewhat `bewildered’, and a pawn in the wider machinations of Bjelke-Petersen’s feud with the Whitlam government.

Field stood for re-election in the Senate as an Independent in 1975 but was unsuccessful. He founded his own party in 1976, but it dissolved three years later. Living frugally on a pension at Norman Park, Brisbane, he volunteered his time at the Conservative Club book-shop and joined the National Party. He was a keen dancer; in his younger days he had been an enthusiastic soccer referee. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he died of asphyxia by hanging on 1 July 1990 at Caboolture and was cremated with the forms of the Full Gospel Church. His daughter and stepdaughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Kelly, The Unmaking of Gough (1976)
  • H. Lunn, Johannes Bjelke-Petersen (1984)
  • J. Bjelke-Petersen, Don’t You Worry About That! (1990)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 28 Aug 1975, p 4, 4 Sept 1975, pp 1 and 4, 5 Sept 1975, p 1
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Sept 1975, p 9, 8 July 1990, p 8
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Feb 1979, p 7, 26 Oct 1985, `Good Weekend’, p 39
  • Australian, 3 July 1990, p 1
  • P. Shaw, interview with A. P. Field (typescript, 1983, National Library of Australia).

Citation details

John Wanna, 'Field, Albert Patrick (Pat) (1910–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/field-albert-patrick-pat-12488/text22465, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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