Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mutton, Charles (1890–1989)

by Carolyn Rasmussen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Charles Mutton (1890-1989), ironworker, poultry farmer and politician, was born on 14 September 1890 at North Melbourne, eldest of five children of Victorian-born parents Charles Mutton, tobacco-maker, and his wife Mary Ann, née Moloney. Educated at St Mary’s and St Francis’s schools, Melbourne, Charlie began work at 13 at the Excelsior Barbed Wire and Nail Works, and supplemented the family income with morning and evening paper rounds. Drawn to unionism, he moved quickly from shop steward for the ironfounders union to the executive, and in 1908 joined the Coburg branch of the Political Labour Council (after 1917 the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party). He represented his union at annual conferences from as early as 1911. In that year he moved to John Payne & Sons as an ironworker. On 21 August 1914 at the manse of the Congregational Church, Fitzroy, he married Annie Peachey.

Founding president of the Fawkner branch of the ALP in 1917, in 1925-53 Mutton carried the Labor flag into local politics as a shire councillor for Broadmeadows (president 1934-35, 1947-48). Following the death of his father in 1930 he took over the family poultry farm. His firm base of local support enabled him to make a good showing in the three contests for the State seat of Bulla-Dalhousie between 1935 and 1940. When, in 1940, the local branches were seeking a candidate to defy the central executive of the ALP, which had overruled the local preselection rights, Mutton was willing to be co-opted to stand as ‘Independent Labor’. Elected that year, he held the Legislative Assembly seat of Coburg comfortably until he retired in 1967.

Mutton defiantly characterised himself as Labor ‘to the back teeth’ and a ‘bread-and-dripping’ man; he represented his relatively deprived working-class electorate with dogged commitment and a colourful turn of phrase. Amiable and straightforward, he kept his door open to his constituents seven days a week. He never missed a sitting of parliament or of shire council. His quarterly electorate meetings were a serious and sincere gesture towards participatory democracy. No issue was too trivial for him to raise and pursue through the tangle of bureaucracy. He won important concessions in education and low-cost housing but failed to secure the removal of Pentridge gaol from his electorate, despite raising the matter on no fewer than sixty-one occasions.

Small of stature and of temperate habits, as a young man Mutton had been a champion cyclist. His love of betting on horse races, the proceeds of which secured his family home in the mid-1920s, never left him. He maintained the principled but often controversial stand as an Independent until readmitted to the ALP following the 1955 ‘split’, when it was noted that on all but one occasion he had voted with the party. Widowed in 1953, in 1954 he married Claris May King. He died on 13 May 1989 at Parkville, survived by his wife and four of the five children of his first marriage; he was buried in Fawkner cemetery with Catholic rites. A reserve and a road at Fawkner are named in his honour. His son, John Patrick Mutton (1915-2006), served on Broadmeadows City Council in 1954-70 (mayor 1957-58 and 1966-67) and succeeded his father as an Independent Labor MLA for Coburg (1967-79).

Select Bibliography

  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 5 Apr 1967, p 13
  • Melbourne Observer, 16 July 1972, p 18
  • G. R. Birchall, Charlie Mutton (BA Honours thesis, La Trobe University, 1974)
  • C. A. Rasmussen, Charles Mutton and the By-Election for the Victorian Legislative Assembly Seat of Coburg, 14 July 1940 (MA preliminary thesis, University of Melbourne, 1975) and Labor Politics in Coburg 1919-1940 (MA thesis, University of Melbourne, 1978)
  • private information.

Citation details

Carolyn Rasmussen, 'Mutton, Charles (1890–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mutton-charles-15099/text26298, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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