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Graham, George (1838–1922)

by Kay Rollison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

George Graham (1838-1922), farmer and politician, was born on 16 August 1838 at Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland, son of George Graham, farmer, and his wife Ellen, née Hardy. Graham's parents migrated to Victoria to take up land near Ballarat, leaving George junior to follow later. He took part in a sealing venture in Greenland before returning to Linlithgow, where he was a tenant farmer. He arrived in Melbourne in 1856.

After working on the Eureka, Ararat and Pleasant Creek goldfields, Graham was a pioneer of the bogus Port Curtis rush in Queensland in 1858. But he had no success as a digger, and returned to the family farm at Miners Rest, where he worked as a contractor with his father. On 14 July 1863 with Presbyterian forms he married Hannah Welch, a dressmaker, born in Northamptonshire, England; they had five children.

In 1873-74 Graham selected land in the Goulburn Valley, near Numurkah, and developed the Wunghnu Park estate. He became the first president of the Shepparton Shire Council, 1879-81, and president of the Farmers' Union at Wunghnu. His interest in fostering the area led him into politics and after an unsuccessful attempt in 1883, he was elected member for Moira in the Legislative Assembly at a by-election in May 1884. He continued to represent the district until his retirement in 1914, as member from 1889 for Numurkah and Nathalia, and from 1904 for Goulburn Valley.

Graham's original campaign was based on getting a 'practical farmer' to represent the district. His main interests were the development of country railways and water conservation, especially the Goulburn levee scheme. He was a member of Alfred Deakin's royal commission into water-supply in 1884-85. He was also concerned to promote the power of country members in defence of rural interests, and was involved with a number of country factions. In November 1890 he became minister of water supply in the 'National Liberal' Munro ministry, and from April 1891 minister of agriculture as well, retaining these posts in the Shiels ministry until it fell in January 1893. He was important in winning country support for the Liberal government of (Sir) George Turner formed in September 1894, but refused an offer to join it. By the 1897 election, however, Graham had moved into Opposition, and used his considerable weight with country members to help to defeat the Turner ministry in November 1899. He then became minister of agriculture, commissioner of public works and, in October-November 1900, minister of labour, in the subsequent 'country' ministry led by A. McLean.

In 1902 Graham was again important in organizing a group of country members, this time to dismiss the Liberal Peacock government. However he again declined to participate in the resulting Irvine ministry. Even when party lines became much more rigid under the impact of the National Citizens' Reform League's support of the government in the 1902 elections, he still exercised considerable independence.

Although formed in 1904 without reference to country factions, the Bent government was sympathetic to rural interests. Graham gave it good support, and for most of its life held the powerful position of chairman of the Railways Standing Committee. However by 1907 country members within government ranks again found it necessary to form a 'country party' to counterbalance any concessions to the Liberals, with whom Bent formed a coalition in 1907. Elements of this country faction were responsible for Bent's defeat on a motion of no confidence in 1908. Although Graham had supported Bent, and stood as a ministerialist in the ensuing elections, he represented the country faction in the new ministry formed by John Murray, becoming minister of water supply and of agriculture. He continued to hold these portfolios in the Watt ministry in 1912-13, until it was defeated by the defection of a new country faction and replaced by the Elmslie Labor ministry. He did not contest the 1914 election.

Wunghnu Park was taken over by Graham's two sons. Graham, who was in poor health and becoming senile, continued to live in the Numurkah district. He was a firm Methodist, a strong supporter of the temperance movement, and a Freemason. He died on 22 July 1922 at his daughter's home at Numurkah, and was buried in Wunghnu cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • G. M. Hibbins, A History of the Nathalia Shire (Melb, 1978)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 3 Aug 1905
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 July 1922
  • K. Rollison, Groups and Attitudes in the Victorian Legislative Assembly 1900-1909 (Ph.D. thesis, La Trobe University, 1972).

Citation details

Kay Rollison, 'Graham, George (1838–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/graham-george-6445/text11031, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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