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William Arthur Holman (1871–1934)

In the history of this country the memory of Mr. W. A. [William Arthur] Holman, whose sixty-three years of strenuous life ended yesterday, will be allotted a prominent and honourable place. For, although his later years were occupied mainly by the activities of a distinguished member of the Bar, he had a previous record of public service rendered to the State in a time of exceptional difficulty and danger. It came to Mr. Holman's lot to be Premier of New South Wales in the crisis of the war, in which the fate of Australia as part of the British Empire was at stake. He was then leader of the first Labour Government in this State, the Premiership of which had been resigned to him by Mr. McGowen, after proof of his exceptional qualities as a party general while a member of Cabinet. Three years after, Mr. Holman, whose consummate generalship during the whole of that time had been severely taxed to keep the Government with the slenderest of majorities, in office, found himself at the parting of the ways between the Labour view and the Nationalist view of the conscription issue. It was a conscience searching test for all. And following the light as he saw it, Mr. Holman found himself compelled to break the political associations of a lifetime. Then, forming a coalition with Sir George Fuller, for the next four years he led one of the strongest Governments that ever ruled in New South Wales. Its strength, however, at times might have been exercised to better advantage than it was, and mismanaged opportunities eventually led to its undoing.

He was gifted with a singular political aplomb. This added to the charm of a cultured personality and an indomitable good humour made him a splendid party tactician. Mr. Holman's horizon, however, remained more or less overcast with the roseate haze of the dreamland in which his political youth had been spent. This prevented him from rising to great heights of constructive politics. Brilliant oratory and expert party steersmanship could not always compensate for a somewhat loose grasp of the factors that make for success in dealing with the commonplace problems by which at every turn the practical statesman is confronted. And when the Holman-Fuller Government fell, it was never to rise again. But it left a record by no means devoid of sound achievement at a time when unknown paths had to be trodden on which any mistake might have had vital consequences. After going down with the Government in his electorate at Cootamundra, where he was defeated by Mr. Hugh Main, the present Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Holman turned away from politics, and it was many years before he reappeared, this time in the Federal arena. But he had led a hard life working his way up to the Premiership of the State and a distinguished position at the Bar, either being sufficient to tax the energies of one man. Mr. Holman came into Federal politics at the last election with declining health, and in the Commonwealth Parliament he displayed little or none of his old political force. His was the fate which sooner or later overtakes every man who ignores the fact that it is impossible to get more than twenty-four hours work out of a day. At the same time, his dauntless energy enabled him to leave his mark on the annals of the country in which his lot was cast. For such work the country has often but scant recognition. Mr. Holman accepted no titular honours, and during the latter part of his life served in Parliament not only without reward, but at a monetary loss, a member's pay not being equal to the amount of professional income which political duty required him to sacrifice.

In account with the community, the credit balance is heavily on Mr. Holman's side. And it would be as well for those people who are accustomed to think of politicians as mercenary to recollect that, to a man who makes more in Parliament than he could make outside, and makes it legitimately, the country may also be a debtor. He may render service not measurable by monetary standards. When a man does this partly at his own expense, as Mr. Holman did, he is at least entitled to grateful remembrance. In doing honour to the memory of such men the community does honour to itself. More-over, by emphasising the memory of public service, attention is drawn to the example which those who render it give to every citizen, and particularly to the young men whom it may inspire with the spirit that gives ambition a worthy object and patriotism a practical turn. The decision of the Government to give a State funeral to Mr. Holman is therefore a mark of public respect which will be highly appreciated.

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Citation details

'Holman, William Arthur (1871–1934)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 August, 1871
London, Middlesex, England


5 June, 1934 (aged 62)
Gordon, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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