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Jones, Alfred James (1871–1945)

by John Laverty

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

Alfred James Jones (1871-1945), by unknown photographer, c1934

Alfred James Jones (1871-1945), by unknown photographer, c1934

Brisbane City Council Library, BCC-B120-32639

Alfred James Jones (1871-1945), politician and mayor, was born on 4 October 1871 at Gayndah, Queensland, son of Joseph Jones, bushman and selector, and his wife Ann, née Stevens. Educated at the Burnett State School, Jones drifted as pupil-teacher, selector, drover, coach driver, storekeeper and goldminer before turning to politics. He won the Legislative Assembly seat of Burnett for the Labor Party in 1904, lost it after the Kidston split in 1909, and failed to regain it in 1912. A partner in a Maryborough mining and investment firm, he won Maryborough in the landslide Labor victory of 1915. He resigned the seat in 1917 to become leader of the government in the Legislative Council and was appointed to the cabinet as secretary for mines. He resigned in 1920 to contest Carnarvon but when he failed to secure election was reappointed to the council. In 1922 he won Paddington, abandoned by J. A. Fihelly, and held it until 1932.

Jones was secretary for mines almost continuously from 1917 to 1929. Indeed, mining and oil exploration became almost an obsession with him. Though himself an eminently unsuccessful miner, he displayed a sound working knowledge of the industry in his speeches and press articles. Nevertheless most of the numerous government mining ventures launched by him proved to be white elephants. Bernays accused him of 'a Micawber-like hope of something turning up'. Though deeply committed to the Chillagoe and Mungana mines, Jones was never associated with the unsavoury financial aspects of these ventures. He took the government into them simply from excessive zeal and optimism.

After a political hiatus during the Depression, Jones successfully contested the lord mayoralty of Brisbane for the Labor Party in 1934. His team won fifteen of the twenty-one wards and immediately set about reinstating the original Greater Brisbane concept after the disastrous subversion of metropolitan administration by the conservative Moore government. More importantly, they began an extensive programme of loan-financed civic works. Although the party was re-elected for a second term in 1937 with a reduced but still substantial majority, rumours of patronage at city hall had induced the central executive of the Labor Party to withdraw the endorsement of half the former Labor aldermen including five committee chairmen. Public accusations of continued patronage, unorthodox or improper financial practices and increasing evidence of maladministration alarmed the State government. The McCracken-George commission, appointed at Jones's request by the government in 1937, found clear evidence of patronage, inefficiency, a lack of effective co-ordination between departments, wastage of resources and inadequate planning. Despite Jones's attempts at reform, the weaknesses of the civic Labor administration became a growing embarrassment to the Forgan Smith government. The collapse of the civic budget in 1939 when the loan market dried up forced the hand of the government and a public servant was provided to overhaul the council's administrative system. At the 1940 election Jones and his team were routed.

Bernays described Jones as 'kindly and genial, though heavy and somewhat slow-thinking … a loyal man both to his King and country and his party'. He was 'honest and well meaning but optimistic to a fault. As a politician, too trustful'. He failed largely because he could not discipline his team and had neither capacity nor will for reform. In 1922 the Daily Standard described him as 'parliamentarian, philosopher and poet' and pointed out the versatility which enabled him to work as miner, auctioneer, stock and station agent, journalist and mining agent when out of parliament. He took great pride in his work as a commissioner for Queensland to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924.

A dedicated family man, Jones had married Martha Elizabeth Leggett at Reid's Creek, Gayndah, on 1 May 1895. He died in Brisbane Hospital on 7 October 1945 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife, four sons and four daughters. He had been a practising Anglican.

Jones was an inveterate speechmaker and a regular contributor to the press on topics such as mining, oil exploration, politics, immigration, Australian parochialism and the unnecessary profusion of parliaments in Australia. He occasionally wrote poems for the Sydney Bulletin under the pseudonym 'Shrdlu Etaoin'.

Select Bibliography

  • The Labour Government of Queensland (Brisb, 1915)
  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (1859-1919) (Brisb, 1919), and Queensland — Our Seventh Political Decade 1920-1930 (Syd, 1931)
  • G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (Brisb, 1959)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Labor in Power: The Labor Party and Governments in Queensland, 1915-57 (Brisb, 1979)
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 25 Sept 1931
  • Worker (Brisbane), 24 Mar 1932
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 22 June 1932
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 8 Oct 1945
  • Central Executive of the ALP, Queensland Branch, minutes, 1918-40 (State Library of Queensland)
  • City Council minutes, 1934-40 (Town Hall, Brisbane).

Citation details

John Laverty, 'Jones, Alfred James (1871–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jones-alfred-james-6867/text11897, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 3 September 2014.

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

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