Publication Date 1 Jan 2000
OverviewThis is the story of how an easy-going Sydney politician, with a reputation for enjoying the pleasures of the table and a fondness for cricket, became possessed by one enduring enthusiasm. That passion, maintained across almost two decades, was to make a new country from a collection of British colonies. How did Edmund Barton, although only one of many who contributed to the federal cause, come to be regarded as its actual and symbolic leader? In the company of figures like Henry Parkes, Samuel Griffith, George Reid and Alfred Deakin, Barton was by no measure the most flamboyant or forceful of these campaigners. So what led the supporters of Federation to acknowledge the man caricatured in the press as 'Tosspot Toby' as the necessary man, 'the one man for the job' of the first prime minister of the Commonwealth of Australia? Starting as a struggling young Sydney lawyer, blooded in the turbulent politics of colonial New South Wales, Barton came to understand that Federation mattered. This genial gentleman from clubland embarked on a personal crusade: he found common ground between strident colonial rivals, steered a draft constitution through two fractious conventions, travelled thousands of kilometres to convince open-air audiences, confronted interfering London 'statesmen', risked bankruptcy, and negotiated the necessary compromises to create a new political entity. Without Barton's talents Australia might not have become a commonwealth in 1901. Few Australians can recall the name of their first prime minister, fewer know what kind of man he was. This, the first biography in fifty years, demonstrates that Edmund Barton was and is worth knowing.
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