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McDonald, Charles (1860–1925)

Charles McDonald, by Swiss Studios, 1910s

Charles McDonald, by Swiss Studios, 1910s

National Library of Australia, 25964165

Flags floating at half-mast to-day proclaimed the death of Mr. Charles McDonald, who had sat in the House of Representatives for the Kennedy Division of Queensland since 1901, and who, previous to becoming a member of the Federal Parliament, was a member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly from 1808 to 1901. For some years Mr. McDonald has been in failing health, and a voyage to Great Britain last year, instead of effecting any improvement, seemed to have accentuated his frailty. There were doubts if he would survive the homeward journey. He did reach Australia, and last session occupied his customary seat on the Labour benches, but was unable to take part in the debates. While not unexpected, the end came suddenly at his home, Hughenden, Studley-avenue, Kew, early this morning, following a stroke on Saturday. Had Mr. McDonald lived another 24 hours a by-election probably would have occurred in the Kennedy electorate. As it is, the event has resulted in the election of the Nationalist candidate (Mr. G. A. Francis). Born in Melbourne in 1861, Mr. McDonald went to Queensland at an early age, and lived at Charters Towers, the home of his father, the late Mr. T. McDonald. After leaving school, Mr. McDonald became a watchmaker. Politics, however, claimed, him, and he was one of the founders of the Labour Party of Queensland, taking his seat in the Queensland Assembly as the member for the Flinders division in 1898.

Each election saw him returned, and when at Federation he forsook the State for the Commonwealth the electees of Kennedy elected him, and remained faithful to him throughout. The eight years he spent in the Queensland Assembly were marked by stormy scenes, in which he often figured very prominently. "Fighting Mac" was the name given to him by his associates and the public, and he justified it, coming into serious conflict with the Speaker on more than one occasion, an experience which was also shared by some of his colleagues. When returned to the first Federal Parliament, Mr. McDonald was one of a group of 16 Labour members. His knowledge of financial affairs in which he had specialised, and Parliamentary practice, early marked him out for the post of Chairman of Committees, and to that position he was elected in 1906, and he acted in that capacity until 1910. In July of that year he was chosen as Speaker, and occupied the Chair with dignity and strict impartiality until June, 1913. In the following July, when Mr. Fisher was once more Prime Minister, he was again elected Speaker, and continued in that capacity until his Party was defeated in 1917. In his early manhood Mr. McDonald possessed good physique, and figured prominently as an athlete. He was a tireless cyclist, and during one campaign cycled 3090 miles, a mode of locomotion which has since been adopted by Mr. Gabb when contesting or visiting the division of Angas, South Australia. His hobby was painting, and he wielded a skilful brush in both oils and water colours. Mr. McDonald is survived by his wife and daughter, who is the wife of the Director of Aviation (Lieut.-Colonel Brinsmend).

The late Mr. McDonald was first returned to the State Parliament in the year 1893—the year of Labour's first great success in Australian politics. Into that Parliament also came Mr. Andrew Fisher (afterwards Prime Minister for the Commonwealth), Mr. Henry Turley (who, for a time, was subsequently President of the Federal Senate), Mr. H. F. Hardacre (now a member of the Land Court in Queensland), Mr. George Jackson, Mr. Matt Reid (now a Nationalist Senator). Mr. George Kerr, the late Mr. John Leahy, Mr. Andrew Petrie, Mr. J. J. Kingsbury (afterwards Crown Prosecutor), the late Alt. J. T. Bell, the late Mr. T. J. Byrnes, and half a score of other well-known public men. Mr. McDonald devoted a great deal of attention to Parliamentary procedure, and was instrumental on many occasions in compelling the Chairman of Committees, and even Speakers, to consult their "Erskine May" with a great deal more assiduity than they liked, his knowledge of procedure stood him in great stead years afterwards, when he became Speaker of the House of Representative. He was returned to the Federal Parliament at the first election in the year 1901.

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'McDonald, Charles (1860–1925)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mcdonald-charles-7334/text38504, accessed 26 November 2020.

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