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End of the line

Monday, 14th April, 2014

Socialist MP Percy Brookfield was murdered in 1921. He was on his way to Sydney to resume his seat in NSW Parliament, having been overwhelmingly voted in for a second time by the people of Broken Hill. Socialist MP Percy Brookfield was murdered in 1921. He was on his way to Sydney to resume his seat in NSW Parliament, having been overwhelmingly voted in for a second time by the people of Broken Hill.

By Craig Brealey*

The seat of Murray-Darling will disappear next year, taking with it the last Broken Hill MP to represent the city and the Far West in State Parliament. The Silver City has had continuous representation in the lower house since 1968, but our influence goes back a lot further than that ...

The history of how people from Broken Hill have represented outback NSW in State Parliament for 125 years is like one of those almost-great movies in which the whole thing is ruined by a silly ending.

The beginning of that end arrived last year when the Electoral Commission effectively abolished local representation.

This they did by making the seat bigger than Germany and tacking it to another seat that has its electoral HQ just a few hours’ drive from the Pacific Ocean.

The Barrier first won state political representation with the creation of the NSW electorate of Sturt in 1889, six years after the discovery of the famed lode.

This removed the mining activities of the Barrier from the electorate of Wentworth. Our first parliamentary representative was Wyman Brown, after whom two streets were named. A tradition had begun.

At that time there was also a state electorate of Wilcannia which was represented by Edward “Plon” Dickens, the son of the world-renowned novelist, Charles Dickens.

In 1891, Wyman Brown was defeated in Sturt by John Cann who, in 1894, switched to the new state seat of Broken Hill. That same year, another new seat was created for the Barrier. This was called Alma and Josiah Thomas was elected.

Also in 1894, Edward Dickens was defeated by Richard Sleath, a former secretary of the Amalgamated Miners Association.

A year later, John Cann again won the seat of Broken Hill - as he did in 1898, 1901, 1904, 1907 and 1910. In the election of 1913, Cann returned to the seat of Sturt and won that, too. He resigned in 1916.

The following year the radical Socialist mine worker and Broken Hill union leader Percy Brookfield was elected for Sturt. Despite the best efforts of the NSW Labor and Conservative parties to get rid of him, Brookfield was reelected by the people of Broken Hill in 1920.

Almost exactly a year later, he was shot dead by an alleged “madman” at the Riverton train station. Almost everyone in Broken Hill turned out for his funeral. His killer never went to trial, having been declared insane.

Brookfield was succeeded by a former Labor mayor of Broken Hill, Jabez Wright, who had held the seat of Willyama (previously the seat of Broken Hill) since 1913.

Wright retained Sturt in 1922 but died later that year and was succeeded by Edward Horsington who held Sturt until 1947 when he lost the Labor Party selection ballot to Ern Wattison.

Wattison held Sturt until the seats of Cobar and Sturt were abolished in 1968, and the electorates combined to form that of Broken Hill.

The seat of Cobar had been represented by Ernest Wetherell who was the managing editor of the Barrier Daily Truth.

He was elected in 1949 and served with distinction until retiring in 1965.

During his term in State Parliament, Wetherell held three portfolios - Education, Transport and Conservation - and Broken Hill won such practical benefits as the Broken Hill (Central) Primary School, the Crystal Street Railway Station and the Menindee Lakes Scheme.

Another BH local, Lew Johnstone, was elected to replace Wetherell as the Member for Cobar and, in 1968, he became the Member for the seat of Broken Hill. 

When Johnstone retired in 1981, former Barrier Miner journalist Bill Beckroge was elected as the new Labor MP.

Beckroge held the seat until it, too, was abolished and its boundaries extended in 1999. The new electorate was called Murray-Darling. 

Beckroge retired and Broken Hill’s longest serving mayor, Peter Black, was elected as the next Labor MP.

Mr Black, who was mayor for 19 years (1980-99), held the seat until 2007 when another redistribution of the boundaries gave the National Party an overall majority for the first time, and he lost to the Nationals’ candidate, John Williams, also of Broken Hill, who still holds the seat.  

But last year the Electoral Commission abolished it and extended the boundaries again so that, by the next election in 2015, it will take in 45 per cent of the State of NSW.

It will become the seat of Barwon where the sitting Nationals MP has his electoral office in Moree, a cotton-growing town in north-eastern NSW, about 420 kilometres from the coast. 

* Drawing extensively from an article written by the late Kevin Ray, a distinguished former editor of the BDT,
in 1983.

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