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Joshua, Robert (1906–1970)

by Geoff Browne

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

Robert Joshua (1906-1970), politician, soldier, bank officer and stockbroker, was born on 6 June 1906 at Prahran, Melbourne, fourth child of Edward Cecil Joshua, a distiller from Mauritius, and his Victorian-born wife Mary Inglis, née Drummond. Educated at Caulfield State School and Wesley College, Robert was briefly employed as a motor mechanic before becoming a teller with the Bank of Australasia. He was to work in Melbourne, and at branches at Leongatha, Korumburra and Ballarat. At St Roch's Catholic Church, Glen Iris, on 27 November 1929 he married Alma Agnes Watson, a schoolteacher. After studying through Hemingway & Robertson's correspondence school, he was admitted as an associate of the Federal Institute of Accountants.

In 1924-30 and 1936-40 Joshua served in the Citizen Military Forces and rose to captain. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on 15 May 1940 and was posted to the 2nd/32nd Battalion in the Middle East. During the defence of Tobruk, Libya, he led a successful raid on an enemy strong-point on the night of 13/14 September 1941 and was awarded the Military Cross. Back in Australia, in July 1943 he was promoted from major (1942) to lieutenant colonel and placed in command of the 2nd/43rd Battalion. From September the unit fought around Lae and Finschhafen, New Guinea. Joshua held command and training posts in Australia from February 1944 and was transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 2 February 1946. 'Jungle Bob' had been thrice wounded in action. Described as 'a man completely without personal fear', he seemed to revel in combat.

War service brought about a considerable change in Joshua's outlook. He was restless on his return to civilian life and considered joining the British Army in India where the rates of pay were far higher than his wages as a bank clerk. Whereas he had been politically conservative, he began to acquire new views. G. D. H. Cole and Raymond Postgate's The Common People (London, 1938) and L. F. Giblin's The Growth of a Central Bank (Melbourne, 1951) influenced his thinking, as did discussions with Australian Labor Party supporters; his readings in Russian history made him a firm anti-communist. He obtained, by correspondence, a diploma in commerce (1954) from the University of Queensland. From 1946 he lived at Ballarat. He was president of the local branch of the A.L.P. Despite his background in private banking, he had joined the party because he supported bank nationalization.

At the 1951 Federal elections Joshua won the seat of Ballarat. Another candidate had gained pre-selection, but the result was overturned and Joshua was chosen by the Victorian central executive. While campaigning, he made a point of distancing himself from unwanted communist backing. In his maiden speech in parliament he attacked the 'capitalistic price doctrine' of supply and demand, and argued that the Commonwealth should have the power to fix prices. He spoke often on economic matters and closely watched the activities of the Tariff Board, insisting that 'Australia's manufacturing industries must be protected and never allowed to fail'. He frequently returned to the theme of price control and was anxious to see an extension of the credit-control powers of that 'great institution', the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. He also expressed concern for the well-being of ex-servicemen and war widows, praised the C.M.F. as the 'backbone' of the A.I.F. and opposed the treaty of peace (Japan) bill of 1952, asserting that the Japanese were 'quite unbalanced in their mental outlook'. Later, he was to modify his views on Japan.

In April 1955 Joshua was one of seven members of Federal parliament who were expelled from the A.L.P. and formed the Anti-Communist Labor Party (Democratic Labor Party from 1957). He regarded H. V. Evatt as 'not fit to lead' the A.L.P. and said that the 'hallmark' of Evatt's activities was 'assistance for and sympathy with Communist ideas . . . That is why I thoroughly distrust him'. Joshua was the only non-Catholic in the new party, a factor which was seen to be crucial in his unexpected election as leader. He 'experienced continual sneers against the authenticity of his leadership' and strenuously denied any connexion with B. A. Santamaria. E. G. Whitlam later noted that Joshua managed to 'hold himself aloof from the extremes of bitterness and vituperation which characterised these tempestuous times'. Joshua's religious background and beliefs resist easy classification. His father was a non-practising Jew, his mother a Nonconformist. At Wesley College his religious affiliation was described as 'Theist'. Although influenced by his wife's faith, he was unable to accept key elements of Catholicism. Instead, he became a devout Anglican, serving as a lay reader and vestryman.

Described as 'solemn' and 'unprepossessing', Joshua was a capable politician, but was overshadowed by other more obviously talented members of his party, such as Stan Keon, W. M. Bourke and J. M. Mullens. Solidly built, balding and of middle height, with a round face and a moustache, Joshua attracted the nickname 'King Farouk'. His increased weight was a consequence of his war injuries, as was his slight deafness; the latter condition reduced his ability to respond to interjections and increased the impression he gave of plodding, distant earnestness. Nevertheless, when the House debated the commitment of Australian troops to Malaya in 1955, Joshua's 'curious style of deadpan pugnacity' was effective in marking out a distinct foreign and defence policy for his party.

Joshua expected his defeat at the 1955 elections. He had declined an offer from Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies not to run a Liberal candidate for Ballarat. The seat was a marginal one and Menzies' proposal might have secured his return. Always suspicious of 'big business', Joshua preferred to avoid any obligation to the Liberals. After losing his seat, he established his own accountancy and stockbroking firm at Ballarat. He was federal president of the D.L.P. from its formation and continued to contest Ballarat until 1969.

Survived by his wife, son and five daughters, Joshua died of cancer on 2 June 1970 at Ballarat and was buried with Anglican rites in the Catholic section of Eganstown cemetery. He had continued to work until a few days before his death when he called in his doctors and said, 'I'm dying—what are you going to do about it?'

Select Bibliography

  • R. Murray, The Split (Melb, 1970)
  • S. Trigellis-Smith, Britain to Borneo (Syd, 1993)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 20-21 Apr 1955
  • Herald (Melbourne), 20, 28 Apr 1955
  • Courier (Ballarat), 3 June 1970
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Joshua, Robert (1906–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/joshua-robert-10647/text18925, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 31 October 2014.

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

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