Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Finnan, Francis Joseph (1897–1966)

by C. J. Lloyd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Francis Joseph Finnan (1897-1966), politician and public servant, was born on 23 September 1897 in Crown Street, Sydney, son of native-born parents Thomas Joseph Finnan, compositor, and his wife Margaret, née Gorman. Frank spent much of his childhood in The Rocks area where his grandfather was licensee of the Hero of Waterloo hotel. Educated at St James School, Glebe, and St Aloysius' College, Milsons Point, until the age of 14, he worked as a messenger for the Sydney Tramways Office before travelling around the shearing sheds as tar-boy, rouseabout and woolclasser. He joined the Australian Workers' Union in Queensland and became involved in trade-union politics and the Australian Labor Party. On 11 October 1926 he married with Catholic rites Rita Irene Puig at Mary Immaculate Church, Waverley, Sydney.

Moving to the Lithgow district, Finnan conducted a liquor business and cultivated strong links with the coal-mining unions. During the Depression his business declined. He returned to Sydney, joined the Miners' Federation newspaper, Common Cause, as a commission agent, then obtained a post on the business staff of the Labor Daily. After that newspaper was taken over by Consolidated Press Ltd in the late 1930s, he remained as a liaison officer.

As an A.L.P. candidate, in May 1941 Finnan won the Legislative Assembly seat of Hawkesbury by only 130 votes; in rural areas he asked people to vote for 'Finnan, the Farmers' Friend'. Having fostered the building of a hospital at Gosford, he was its first president (1946). He held Hawkesbury until May 1950 when boundary changes forced him to move to the inner-Sydney electorate of Darlinghurst, a safe Labor seat. When it, too, was abolished before the 1953 elections, he unsuccessfully contested Albury.

Elected to cabinet in February 1947, Finnan served as minister in charge of tourist activities and immigration; from March 1948 until February 1953 he held the portfolios of labour and industry, and social welfare. His responsibilities included pricing policy—an unpopular task in an electorate increasingly impatient with lingering price controls from World War II—and he chaired the interstate conference of prices ministers. He was also a member of Taronga Zoological Park Trust and a councillor (elected by the Legislative Assembly) of the New South Wales University of Technology.

As a reward for his long political loyalty and effectiveness in difficult portfolios, in 1953 Finnan was gazetted president of the Hunter District Water Board. The controversial political appointment was resisted strongly because it infringed established practice of promotion from within the board. In a sermon on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II the Anglican dean of Newcastle, Rev. W. A. Hardie, strayed from his subject to denounce Finnan's nomination as a blatant example of political corruption and 'spoils for the victor'. A public meeting endorsed by a substantial majority a resolution condemning Finnan as unqualified for the post.

Finnan's diplomacy and relaxed administrative style gradually conquered public and institutional resentment, although criticism sometimes surfaced about his closeness to trade unionism and his laxness with staff. Seemingly 'able to extract money from the Treasury at will', he used his political connexions to negotiate favourable financial arrangements with the State government for the extension of water services in the Hunter Valley, particularly for constructing the Grahamstown reservoir. He also made money available for extensive sewerage works so that retrenched miners could be employed. In 1960 he was appointed C.B.E. When he reached the statutory retiring age in 1962, the government passed special legislation enabling him to continue for another term. He retired in 1964.

Accepted as a Novocastrian, Finnan was a council-member (1959-66) of Newcastle University College (University of Newcastle from 1965), chairman of the Hunter Valley Research Foundation, a member of the Newcastle Regional Development Committee and of the Newcastle International Sports Centre Trust, and a director of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Waratah. Lively, with 'a sparkling sense of humour', he was 'a big, beefy man with a red meaty face, bushy eyebrows and silky silver hair'. Throughout his life he was 'infuriated by bureaucracy in any form'. A member of the Journalists' Club, he enjoyed gardening, angling and good food. He died of cancer on 21 March 1966 in the Mater hospital and was buried in Sandgate cemetery. His wife and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lloyd et al, For the Public Health (Melb, 1992)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 22 Mar 1956, p 4409
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 8, 19 Sept 1964, 22, 24 Mar 1966
  • Bulletin, 3 Oct 1964.

Citation details

C. J. Lloyd, 'Finnan, Francis Joseph (1897–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/finnan-francis-joseph-10184/text17995, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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