In the early years of the Common-wealth Hugh Mahon was one of Australia’s most controversial politicians, both revered and reviled. He has the distinction of being the only member expelled from the Commonwealth parliament. That was in 1920 after he criticised British rule in Ireland, leading the prime minister WM Hughes to accuse him of “seditious and disloyal utterances”.
But there is much more to Mahon than that singular, spectacular event, as I explain in the first volume of my two-volume biography of this intriguing and complex Irish-Australian: Hugh Mahon: Patriot, Pressman, Politician (ISBN 9780992467180), just published by Anchor Books Australia.
Born in Co. Offaly in 1857, Hugh and his family emigrated to America in 1869 but returned in 1880 after their American dream failed. A crusading journalist and Land League activist in Co. Wexford, he was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol with Parnell in 1881 before fleeing to Australia to resume a career in journalism as reporter, editor and newspaper owner.
As the pugnacious and racy editor of the Kalgoorlie Sun, Mahon exposed corruption in WA and became a thorn in the side of the Forrest government, successfully defending five libel actions, four of them prosecutions for criminal libel.
Elected to the first Commonwealth parliament in 1901, he was an early advocate of Aboriginal rights. He served as a minister in four Labor governments, including Postmaster-General in the first Labor ministry and Minister for External Affairs during World War I.
After the war his passionate campaigning for Irish self-determination led to his expulsion from parliament. A successful businessman, he saw out the rest of his life as managing director of the Catholic Church Property Insurance Co. He died in 1931 and is buried in Melbourne.
In this volume I explore Mahon’s formative years in America, his journalism and political activism in Ireland and his career as a newspaperman and budding politician in Australia in the years leading up to his election to the first Commonwealth parliament in 1901.
Copies of the book are available from Anchor Books Australia: (RRP $34.95).