Joe Lyons was the Premier of Tasmania before becoming the only Tasmanian to serve as Prime Minister of Australia. He was one of our longest serving Prime Ministers and co-founded the United Australia Party, which held government from 1931 through to 1941. This Swiss-made Longines pocket watch was presented to Lyons in 1936 by his friend, the former Canadian Prime Minister, Richard Bedford Bennet.
Lyons was born in Stanley in 1879 and qualified as a teacher in 1901. He was elected as a Labor member to the state Legislative Assembly seat of Wilmot in 1909. Lyons promoted a series of progressive reforms, including free medical treatment and education for children, a state medical scheme, and campaigned strongly against conscription during the First World War.
Lyons was Premier of Tasmania between 1923 and 1928, and then entered federal politics in 1929, serving under Labor Prime Minister James Scullin. As the Depression bit, Lyons disagreed with many of his Labor colleagues on how best to fight the economic crisis. He advocated balancing budgets but Caucus rejected this in favour of more radical inflationary measures. Lyons subsequently resigned from the party in 1931 and was taken up by conservative forces. He helped found the United Australia Party – the forerunner to today’s Liberal Party – and was elected leader.
The party won government in December 1931, at a time of great social and economic turmoil. Lyons became Australia’s ‘Depression Prime Minister’ and managed to unite the nation. With a homely and modest demeanour, and large family, he was exceptionally popular with the voting public, but remained unforgiven in Labor circles for decades.
Lyons died in 1939, while still in office. His wife, Enid, entered federal politics, being the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first female member of a federal ministry. The Lyons’ home in Devonport – Home Hill – is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.