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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stuart, John Alexander Salmon (1866–1929)

by Donald Grant

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

John Alexander Salmon Stuart (1866-1929), trade unionist, journalist, poet and politician, was born on 18 December 1866 at Eagleton, New South Wales, seventh of ten children of Scottish-born parents, Donald Stuart, farmer, and his wife Amelia, née McPherson. Christened John, he was to change his name to Julian, thinking it more fitting for a poet. The family moved to small farms on the Hunter and Clarence rivers. In Sydney in 1884-87 Julian trained as a teacher, but resigned after two years. Influenced by William Lane and by an Irish-American striker, Stuart took a fencing contract and belonged to the Queensland Labourers' Union in 1889 when three of his fellows at Burenda were charged with rioting. At the Blackall union meeting in 1890 he proposed 'a scheme for better organising, which the failure of the watersiders had proved necessary'.

Next year Stuart was chairman of the shearers' camp at Clermont. Arrested on a charge of conspiracy, he was tried with other union leaders at Rockhampton in May. Twelve of them, including Stuart, were sentenced to three years imprisonment with hard labour. He described the judge, George Harding, as 'venomous and vindictive and bloodthirsty'. Released in 1894, Stuart married Rhoda Florence Collings (d.1932), a singer and sister of J. S. Collings, on 4 September 1895 in the General Registry Office, Brisbane. After a brief period organizing for the Labor Electoral League, Stuart went to the goldfields of Western Australia where he prospected and held offices in the Australian Workers' Association. He was secretary, manager and editor of the Westralian Worker (Kalgoorlie) in 1903-06 and represented Leonora in the Legislative Assembly in 1906-08: the newspaper referred to his 'caustic criticism of the Parliamentary Labor Party's methods and policy'. In 1908 the Worker's board accused him of misappropriating £16. Protesting that he was guilty only of carelessness, Stuart continued campaigning for his seat at that year's election, but his nomination was invalidated because he had not lodged the deposit.

He became a timberworker: an accident in 1919 blinded him in one eye; another in 1923 paralysed his right hand. He then wrote for such newspapers as the Brisbane Worker and the Western Mail. His earlier prose and poetry had appeared in a range of publications, among them the Bulletin and the Coolgardie Miner, sometimes under the pseudonyms of 'Curlew' and 'Saladin'. Much of it reflected his lifelong interest in working men and women:

I am deformed by labor
I am the working man
Cursing the fate that holds me
A dull-browed Caliban

Another poem, 'A brand of shame' (1905), condemned the way in which Aborigines had been treated. Stuart's wife also wrote for the Worker, as 'Hypatia' and 'Adohr'; their six children included the writers Lyndall Hadow and Donald Stuart. Handsome and strong in his heyday, Julian Stuart was about six feet (183 cm) tall. He died of 'hemiplegia and asthma' on 3 July 1929 in Perth and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. Frank Spruhan described him as 'the strongest character we had. He never let up … even the staunchest of them Labor MPs were too mild for Julian'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Stuart, Part of the Glory (Syd, 1967)
  • D. Grant, ‘Literary journalism’, in B. Bennett (ed), The Literature of Western Australia (Perth, 1979)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 29 July 1908
  • Westerly, Mar 1977, no 1, p 80
  • West Australian, 18 Aug 1908, 5 July 1929
  • Sun (Kalgoorlie), 27 Sept 1908
  • Westralian Worker, 26 Oct 1906, 28 Aug 1908, 5 Dec 1919, 12 July 1929
  • Daily Standard, 21 July 1923
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 4 Sept 1929
  • Australian Worker, 10 July 1929.

Citation details

Donald Grant, 'Stuart, John Alexander Salmon (1866–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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