Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Field, Francis (Frank) (1904–1985)

by B. J. Costar and Alistair Harkness

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

Francis (Frank) Field (1904-1985), solicitor, politician and deputy-premier, was born on 23 December 1904 at North Carlton, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born William John Field, telegraphist, and his London-born wife Kate Emily, née Honeybone. Frank was educated at St Mary’s Primary School, Dandenong, and won scholarships to St Kevin’s Christian Brothers’ College, Toorak, and the University of Melbourne (BA Hons, 1926; LL B, MA, 1928), also winning the Donovan Bursary to Newman College and gaining a tennis Blue. Admitted to practice on 1 May 1929, Field set up as a solicitor at Dandenong and then moved to the city in 1934. At St James’ Catholic Church, Elsternwick, on 23 June 1934 he married Aileen Mary O’Brien.

In 1937 Field won the Victorian Legislative Assembly seat of Dandenong for the Australian Labor Party; he was returned in 1940, 1943 and 1945. On 13 April 1942 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Commissioned next month, he controlled units of the Voluntary Air Observers Corps before transferring to the RAAF Reserve in November 1943. In John Cain’s short-lived government (14-18 September 1943), Field was minister of public instruction and a vice-president of the Board of Land and Works. When Cain formed another minority government in 1945, he resumed the portfolio of public instruction.

Given the economic privations of the immediate postwar years, Field was an innovative and productive minister. He launched a recruitment campaign for teachers, raised the school leaving age and abolished secondary and technical school fees. He also established a teachers’ tribunal to regulate wages and, in 1946, launched the State Film Centre to promote the use of documentary and educational film in schools. His most enduring legacy was to act on the advice of the director of education, John Seitz, in founding the Council of Adult Education in 1946. From World War II he was also a member of the Board of Business Administration, set up to advise on defence expenditure.

At a time of deep factionalism in the Labor Party, Field was (Kate White suggests) `an independent-minded Catholic’, taking care not to align himself with the remnants of the John Wren `machine’ or an emergent Catholic Right led by Stan Keon [q.v.]. On the eve of assuming office in 1945, Cain out-manoeuvred the ambitions of the Wren-aligned Bill Barry to succeed the deputy-leader, Bert Cremean, by installing Field in the position. Field, however, could not escape factionalism. He challenged Wren’s interests by supporting the creation of an independent control board to replace the Victorian Racing and Trotting Association. Equally, he had no sympathy for the Catholic Social Studies Movement or the ALP Industrial Groups. When the government was forced to an election in October 1947, both Movement-aligned Catholics and the Wren faction worked against him. He lost his seat.

Field then returned to the law, and was a member (1954-72) of the Victorian Licensing Court (Liquor Control Commission after 1968) and the Liquor Reduction Board (1954-68). In 1957 he attempted a reconciliation between the ALP and the splinter Democratic Labor Party by convening a meeting between Cain and Frank McManus; Cain’s death ended negotiations. Remaining active in many organisations including the management committees of Churchill National Park and the Dandenong and District Hospital, Field was vice-president of the Dandenong Football Club and a regular player at the Kingswood Golf Club. Predeceased by his wife (d.1980) and survived by their four daughters and son, Francis Field died on 4 June 1985 at Sandringham. Following a state funeral, he was buried in New Cheltenham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • K. White, John Cain & Victorian Labor 1917-1957 (1982)
  • J. Griffin, John Wren (2004)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 2 July 1985
  • Sandringham and Brighton Advertiser, 4 Apr 1979, pp 3, 28.

Citation details

B. J. Costar and Alistair Harkness, 'Field, Francis (Frank) (1904–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/field-francis-frank-12489/text22467, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 November 2014.

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

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