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Forde, Francis Michael (Frank) (1890–1983)

by John Bryant

Frank Forde, by Sidney Riley, 1910s

Frank Forde, by Sidney Riley, 1910s

National Library of Australia, 23312351

If there was one thing that distinguished Mr Francis Michael Forde even more than being the shortest-serving Prime Minister of Australia, it was his lifelong, unswerving dedication and loyalty to the principles and policies of the Australian Labor Party.

Mr Frank Forde, Labor Prime Minister from July 6 to 12, 1945, died in Brisbane yesterday, aged 92.

Not for Mr Forde were the splits and schisms, the defections and party-switching that plagued the ALP in the long period from 1917 to 1957, during which he served in the Queensland and Federal Parliaments.

His loyalty was often tested in the bitter politics of the times, dominated first by the World War I conscription issue, in which he stuck with the party as an anti-conscriptionist, and later by the divisive political infighting of the Depression years, and by the demands of government office in World War II, when he was Minister for the Army.

He became Prime Minister on July 6, 1945, because Mr John Curtin, to whom he was deputy, had died the previous day. He had lost the leadership to Mr Curtin in 1935, 10 votes to 11. On July 12,1945, Mr Forde lost the leadership to Mr Ben Chifley, but continued to serve as the loyal deputy.

Mr Forde was born in the central Queensland town of Mitchell on July 18, 1890, the second of six children to Irish immigrant parents. His father was a railway foreman.

He graduated from the Christian Brothers College, Toowoomba, and taught junior school there. He went on to be a telegraphist, then an electrical engineer with the Postmaster-General's Department in Rockhampton, where he joined the Australian Labor Party.

His political apprenticeship began when in May, 1917, he won a by-election for the State seat of Rockhampton.

He resigned the seat in October, 1922, to contest the Federal seat of Capricornia after its sitting Member had defected to the Nationalists.

Mr Forde held Capricornia from then for 24 years until he was defeated in the 1946 election.

He was then appointed Australian High Commissioner to Canada, serving there until 1953. He made a political comeback by winning the State seat of Flinders in a by-election in 1955.

Re-elected in 1956, he became a victim of the Labor split in 1957, when he stuck with "official" Labor and lost his seat, by one vote.

Since 1957 he had lived in secluded retirement in the Brisbane suburb of St Lucia.

He had married Veronica O'Reilly in Wagga in 1925 and they had three daughters and a son. Mrs Forde died in 1967.

During his stay in Federal Parliament, Mr Forde's high posts included Cabinet portfolios, deputy leadership of the Parliamentary Labor Party for 14 years (1932-46) Deputy Prime Minister for five years (1941-46) and Acting Prime Minister on many occasions, as well as his famous short term as Prime Minister.

A State funeral for Mr Forde will be held in Brisbane on Tuesday.

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Citation details

John Bryant, 'Forde, Francis Michael (Frank) (1890–1983)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/forde-francis-michael-frank-12504/text35613, accessed 19 July 2019.

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