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Savage, Michael Joseph (Mick) (1872–1940)

from Sydney Morning Herald

The Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. M. J. Savage, died early this morning, after a long illness.

Michael Joseph Savage, New Zealand's first Labour Prime Minister, was an Australian by birth.

The son of a small farmer, he was born at Benalla, Victoria, in 1872, and did not go to New Zealand until 35 years later.

In Mr. Savage, the New Zealand Labour Party was fortunate in having a leader far better fitted than any other man among its Parliamentary membership to make its programme acceptable to the public, which had never before had a Government bearing a class label.

A lifelong student of social and political problems, he was far from being a doctrinaire Socialist or a believer in the automatic efficacy of plans and theories.

His ready sympathy, friendliness, and moderation in speech, both on and off the platform, joined with an obvious sincerity which has never been called into question, enabled him to keep in close touch with the thoughts, hopes, and feelings of New Zealanders in every stratum of society.

The radical policy of his Government, its unorthodox legislation, has been watched with interest, and, in some quarters, alarm. The announcement late in 1938 of rigid State control of trade and funds provided a particularly fruitful source of controversy. 

At the age of 14, Mr. Savage obtained the Leaving Certificate of the local school, and got a job in a general store at Benalla. After the bank crash of 1893, he was one of the many young Victorians who came to New South Wales seeking work, and he secured employment on one of the stations of Sir Samuel McCaughey.

Returning to Victoria in 1900, he worked as a miner at North Prentice, near Rutherglen. There he first became interested in the co-operative movement, and organised a co-operative store and bakery. There, too, he first took an interest in politics, becoming secretary of the North Prentice Political Labour Council.

From the time he arrived in New Zealand in 1907, Mr. Savage took an active part in Labour organisation, winning a wide reputation for sincerity and integrity. His first taste of public affairs came when he was elected a member of the Auckland City Council, and later of the Hospital Board.

In 1911, he contested Auckland Central seat for Parliament, but was unsuccessful. Eight years later, he won Auckland West, the electorate he represented until his death.

On his entry into Parliament Mr. Savage formed one of a group of eight Labour members under the leadership of Mr. H. E. Holland, also an Australian. Soon, his level-headedness and ability were recognised, and he was elected deputy leader. In debates he proved one of the party's most useful members, and when Mr. Holland died in 1933, his mantle fell, as a matter of course, on Mr. Savage.

In 1935, Mr. Savage led the party for the first time in a general election and swept the polls, to secure 53 seats in a House of 80–more than double the highest number Labour had ever held.

At the 1938 elections, he and his party were returned with substantially the same majority.

Mr. Savage had been in bad health for some time, and Mr. Fraser had been Acting Prime Minister.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Savage, Michael Joseph (Mick) (1872–1940)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/savage-michael-joseph-mick-8346/text35210, accessed 12 August 2020.

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