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Green, Frank Clifton (1890–1974)

by W. A. Townsley

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

Frank Clifton Green (1890-1974), Clerk of the House of Representatives, was born on 26 June 1890 at Mole Creek, Tasmania, son of Joseph Richard Green, schoolteacher, and his wife Kate Elizabeth, née Reardon. As a boy, Frank knew life in the bush, both in the Western Tiers and the Huon Valley, an upbringing which shaped his character. Educated at Cygnet State School and at Queen's College, Hobart, he entered the Crown Law Department in 1909. Two years later he was appointed clerk-assistant in the House of Assembly. Meanwhile, he made a name for himself as a footballer and cricketer. A socialist, he was moved more by sentiment than doctrine. His literary interests were formed by Rudyard Kipling, Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, and later supplemented by the poets of World War I. At St Joseph's Catholic Church, Hobart, on 29 April 1914 he married Florence Agnes Kearney.

On 2 September 1915 Green enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 40th Battalion. He was commissioned in January 1916, sailed for England in July, reached the Western Front in November and was promoted captain in May 1917. For his work, especially in the offensive at Messines, Belgium, in June, he was awarded the Military Cross. After his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 7 October 1919, his commander Sir John Gellibrand arranged for him to write The Fortieth: A Record of the 40th Battalion, A.I.F. (1922). Green's war experience profoundly affected his outlook and strengthened his faith in egalitarianism.

Having resumed work at parliament in October 1919, he fell out with a minister and transferred to the Federal parliament on 1 April 1921 as clerk of papers. Green became a close friend of Frank Anstey, but was shocked by the sectarian violence in Melbourne and by the repercussions of the expulsion from parliament in November 1920 of Irish-born Hugh Mahon. In 1925 Green was appointed clerk of records. Following the Federal parliament's move to Canberra in 1927, two clerks of the House, W. A. Gale and J. R. McGregor, died in quick succession, and Green was promoted clerk-assistant under E. W. Parkes. Unlike most people, he took the change from city to the bush easily and found recreation in fly-fishing and rabbit-shooting, through which he made many friends, including politicians, bureaucrats, pressmen and trade union officials.

Green welcomed his old friend Joe Lyons to Canberra, following Labor's election in 1929, but, as the Depression deepened, he watched with dismay as the Scullin government stumbled to defeat in December 1931. Privy to Lyons's growing disillusionment, he said he understood why Lyons crossed the floor. During the 1930s Green's conviction grew that parliament was in decline. More than ever he sought solace in the bush. In 1937 he became clerk of the House. He saw Lyons's government crumble and his health deteriorate under the weight of events and faction-fighting. Green never got on well with (Sir) Robert Menzies. Some thought him indiscreet in making friends among members of the press gallery and with communist trade union officials such as Ernest Thornton and James Healy. Gregarious and a great raconteur, by this time Green was a popular figure of Rabelaisian strength. When World War II broke out and members of his staff (among them Jack Pettifer and Gordon Reid) enlisted, he protected their interests. He gave moral support to his friend John Curtin, especially in 1942 while the prime minister endured sleepless nights dwelling on the safety of Australian troops returning from the Middle East.

From 1945 Green watched Ben Chifley's struggle for stability amid industrial strife, ideological differences and growing dissension in the Labor Party. The return of Menzies in 1949 further dispirited him. From then on it was all downhill—the controversy over the proposed dissolution of the Communist Party of Australia, the Petrov affair, and the gaoling of Frank Browne and Raymond Fitzpatrick for breach of parliamentary privilege. The death of Green's son (an only child) in a drowning accident was the worst blow. In 1953 he had dutifully attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London. He retired in June 1955 and returned to Hobart. In 1959 he was appointed C.B.E.

President (1961-64) of the local branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and an active conservationist, Green was also founding chairman of the Australian Dictionary of Biography's Tasmanian working party. He edited A Century of Responsible Government: 1856-1956 (Tasmania) (1956), and wrote The Tasmanian Club, 1861-1961 (1961), and his memoirs, Servant of the House (Melbourne, 1969). Survived by his wife, he died on 12 September 1974 at New Town and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Lyons, So We Take Comfort (Lond, 1965)
  • R. Gibson, My Years in the Communist Party (Melb, 1966)
  • L. Haylen, Twenty Years' Hard Labor (Melb, 1969)
  • People (Sydney), 7 June 1950
  • Hemisphere, 3, Dec 1969
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, 46, no 1, Feb 1975
  • Canberra Times, 4 June 1955, 13 Sept 1974
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Sept 1955
  • Mercury (Hobart), 13 Sept 1974
  • Green papers (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

W. A. Townsley, 'Green, Frank Clifton (1890–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 August 2021.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

View the front pages for Volume 14

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