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Kay, Alick Dudley (1884–1961)

by Heather Radi

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

Alick Dudley Kay (1884-1961), Domain orator, was born on 3 October 1884 at Petersham, Sydney, eldest child of Edward Kay, storeman, and his wife Bridget, née Murphy. Educated at Stanmore Superior Public School, he worked in a warehouse and was a clerk when, on 7 June 1913 at Hawksburn, Melbourne, he married Mary Elizabeth Purvis, née Thompson, a widow with five children, who claimed to be 37 but was actually 52. He was a clerk with the New South Wales railways when he joined the army in July 1915. As Sergeant Kay, he was attending the National Party Debating Club in Sydney in 1917-18. He contested the safe Labor, Federal seat of South Sydney for the Nationalists in 1917.

Kay severed formal connexions with the National Party in 1918. He began regular appearances in Sydney Domain as an anti-Communist speaker and his flair and wit attracted large crowds. He founded the Citizens' Democratic Association through which his backers channelled funds to him. He issued a pamphlet, The Ideal Social System, and in 1924-25 published Kay's News. Its contents were devoted to crude individualism and the promotion of himself and a few conservative businessmen. He travelled alternate weeks to Melbourne to deliver anti-communist homilies beside the Yarra.

Unexpectedly in 1925 Kay as an Independent was elected to the Legislative Assembly as fifth member for North Shore. He supported Labor in the first censure motion. In parliament he spoke with more restraint than on the platform: 'a sane Labor Government is the best barrier against Bolshevism'. He favoured a 44-hour week and approved of Labor's controversial arbitration bill.

His apostasy riled his erstwhile supporters. He was under attack from them before Jack Lang appointed him to the Metropolitan Meat Industry Board as a consumers' representative. Under electoral law his replacement in parliament was a Labor candidate at the last election and the Opposition alleged Kay had been bought. Following the National and Country parties' victory in the 1927 elections Kay was removed from the Meat Board by Act of parliament. He was irrepressible. In 1929 again campaigning against socialism, he sought financial assistance from the Graziers' Association of New South Wales.

Restored to his position on the Meat Board after Labor's return to office in 1930, he was ousted again with the next change of government. In 1933, unemployed, Kay went to England and spoke at least once on Hyde Park Corner. After his wife's death on 31 May 1943, he married Dorothy Edith Gamson at Islington on 15 June. In World War II he may have been employed by the Department of Information, as he claimed in 1951, after his return to Australia. He was eligible by then for an Australian aged pension. In an interview he lied about his age and boasted that while in England he 'had talked down the Cliveden set and talked up Lloyd George and Anthony Eden'. On Sundays he returned to the Domain.

Survived by his wife, Kay died on 4 February 1961 without issue and was cremated after a service at St John's Anglican Church, Milsons Point. At most a shrewd eccentric, Kay is perhaps better described as a 'harmless ratbag'.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 7 Nov 1951
  • Fighting Line, 20 Apr 1917, 20 July, 21 Dec 1918
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 July 1926, 26 Jan 1928
  • Graziers Association of New South Wales (E256/250, Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Kay, Alick Dudley (1884–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kay-alick-dudley-6900/text11969, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 1 October 2014.

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

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