Fadden file photo [9152]

Arthur Fadden

Given NameArthur
Born13 Apr 1894
Died12 Apr 1973


ww2dbaseArthur William Fadden was the son of a Presbyterian police officer which was residing in Ingham, Queensland, Australia when young Arthur was born. Educated in state schools, as the boy matured he pursued a career in accounting working as a clerk, his first administrative post being the Assistant Town Clerk of Mackay, and soon Town Clerk. He formed the North Queensland Rugby League, acting as its founding secretary. On 27 December 1916 Fadden married Ilma Thornber, the couple were both born in north Queensland, and were active in the local community. In the 1920s Fadden established a successful accountancy firm in Townsville and Brisbane. He had been active in the Country Party since its inception. In 1932 he was elected to the Queensland Legislative Assembly for a single term, which he lost the next year. In 1934 he won the federal seat of Darling Downs in a by-election. Fadden gained a reputation as a blunt, effective debater, but in reality was a down-to-earth Australian, genial and an avid story-teller, quite unlike a typical politician. Yet he served as a Country Party member in the federal House of Representatives for 22 years, from 1936 to 1958. When Archie Cameron resigned from the leadership of the Country Party in 1940 due to resentment within the party ranks to his leadership style, Arthur Fadden was chosen as a compromise candidate to appeal to opposing factions within the party that were supporting Earle Page and John McEwen in the contest for the party leadership. Paul Hasluck observed that Fadden, although lacking a number of qualities normally associated with leadership positions, was not totally devoid of useful traits, when he said that Fadden was "not the cleverest, most experienced or wisest man in the Country Party, but he was the best colleague, and probably the staunchest character". His elevation to the position of leader of the less influential conservative party placed Fadden right at the heart of Menzies' wartime coalition government. Fadden was assigned the portfolios of the Minister of Air and Civil Aviation, as well as Treasurer. By the time Menzies had decided to take a trip to London in 1941, in an effort to either restore his political fortunes at home in Australia or find fresh pastures in London, Fadden was well aware of the issues facing the wartime government. When Menzies departed Sydney's Rose Bay by QANTAS Empire Airways flying boat on 24 January 1941, Fadden was still relatively inexperienced, having been in parliament for only four years, and in the Country Party leadership for four months. Nonetheless, Fadden was chosen to become acting prime minister during Menzies absence. The report to London about Fadden by the British high commissioner in Canberra described him as an "arch-mixer", adding that you would not meet a better chap in a bar. "Streams of rollicking smut....good-natured, shrewd, likable, hardly any real thought of his own, means well". Fadden's weaknesses became strengths when operating in the Advisory War Council, his affability allowing a genuine spirit of co-operation with the ALP members of that body that the more arrogant Menzies was not able to accommodate. A war scare gripped Australia in February when Japan seemed poised to strike at British possessions in the Pacific. Curtin seized the day on 5 February and convinced the Advisory War Council on 5 February that Australia might have to face a partial Japanese invasion of the northern portion of the continent. With complete consensus, even including Fadden, the council released a warning via the press to the Australian public which called for "the greatest effort of preparedness this country has ever made". This call for action, which came ten months before the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, generated panic headlines in Australian newspapers, which caused alarm in Whitehall in turn. Fadden's colleagues in Canberra rebuked him for issuing a joint statement with the ALP, and future statements were to be subject to censorship. When the Australian panic headlines reached the United Kingdom the Australian high commissioner in London, Stanley Bruce, warned Canberra that "an overexcited press" might "increase tension and even precipitate war". Bruce need not have worried about the Australian government's announcement, war would arrive by other means before the year was over. To alleviate the fears of the Australian government the United Kingdom sent the Air Chief Marshal, Robert Brooke-Popham, to Canberra to meet with Australian officials to discuss the defensive position of the British Commonwealth in the Pacific. Fadden met with Brooke-Popham in late February, reporting the outcome of this meeting to Parliament four days after Menzies had released Britain from its naval assurance, on 12 March, saying

In the event of Japan entering the war against us we are assured by the United Kingdom government that an immediate redistribution of naval forces would be made should the threat to our communications in the Indian Ocean become greater than in the Atlantic.

ww2dbaseMenzies had cabled Fadden, warning of the possibility of the three AIF divisions in the Middle East being captured by German forces, encouraging Japan further that invasion of Australia was possible. Previously, Curtin had been consistently helpful to the conservative minority administration. However, in May a New South Wales election had seen the return of the ALP to power in that state, and a by-election in South Australia confirmed the trend away from the conservatives. Fadden warned Menzies that the Australian public was waiting for a decisive lead from the government for a "fuller war effort", and that the NSW election result could precipitate a "frontal attack" by the Labor Party. Menzies assured Fadden that he was returning "impressed with the gravity and urgency of our position, and so far as Australia's war effort was concerned, the sky would be the limit". Although Menzies had not achieved any of his aims for travelling to London, in the middle of the year he headed for Australia by flying boat via the United States and New Zealand. Dread filled him more as he drew closer to his homeland. His political position in Australia had slipped during his departure. Fadden had proved to be a popular leader, allowing his ministers more freedom to use their initiative than Menzies had. His plane arrived at Sydney Harbour on 24 May, exactly four months after he had departed. Fadden had driven there to greet Menzies, and observed that Menzies "seemed about as happy as a sailor on a horse". Menzies commandeered Fadden's official car, concerned with what he would discover now that he was back in Australia. It was not the triumphant return he had envisaged before he had left Sydney in January, he was wary after the return home as people had told him before he left London that the knives were out after his long absence. Without his presence, dissension grew among UAP ranks, and Fadden had persuaded the two independent MPs that Menzies' government relied upon to vote against him. On 28 August Menzies resigned. His departure from his office threw the UAP ranks into disorder, with no high-ranking member with sufficient influence to rally the conservative political troops. In the UAP's desperation they invited the junior leader of the two conservative coalition parties, Fadden, to form a government, and on 29 August 1941 he became Australia's 13th prime minister. Fadden was aware that Menzies political support had been eroded at home due to the disasters in Greece and Crete, so he was more eager to see an evacuation of Tobruk before another collapse occurred there. He envisaged that a successful relief of the defenders just after he assumed the role of prime minister would consolidate his support in Australia, so in an effort to achieve this end Fadden presented a suggested time table for the relief of the Tobruk garrison at the first session of Parliament, in mid-September, after his government came to power. However, the two independent MPs remained a thorn in the side of the government, just as they had been during Menzies' oversight. Fadden's ability as prime minister had been surpassed by his ambition when he had orchestrated some of the events leading to Menzies' downfall. Fadden remained as Prime Minister for forty days, afterwards he joked that he was like the Flood: "reigned forty days and forty nights". On 3 October the two independent MPs who were keeping the Fadden government in office, disgusted in the manner which Fadden had disposed of Menzies, voted against his budget. Fadden submitted his government's resignation to the governor-general later that day. This was the last occasion to date in Australian history that a budget defeated in the House of Representatives led to the resignation of the presiding government. John Curtin was asked to form a government by the governor-general, this government came to power on 7 October. After he resigned from the post of prime minister he served in the House of Representatives for seventeen years. From the government benches Fadden went to the Opposition benches, he was initially supportive of Curtin's government. Fadden approved of Curtin's speech heralding the first Liberty Loan on 17 February 1942. He was the leader of the conservatives that struggled to gain dominance over the ascendant ALP in the 1943 election. Frank Packer, the owner of Sydney's Daily Telegraph and politically conservative, was so confident of his side's victory that he was willing to put his money where his mouth is and organise a victory dinner at an expensive Sydney hotel for the United Australia Party-Country Party coalition under Fadden's leadership. The election quickly proved to be a landslide for the ALP, with fourteen seats gained in the House of Representatives, as the election results flooded in the dinner was cancelled. Even though strict rationing had restricted the average Australian's consumption of particular foodstuffs at various times during the war years, the unused food at Packer's cancelled victory banquet was wasted. In 1946 the conservative parties resumed their coalition against the ALP, and Fadden proved to be virulently anti-communist for the rest of the late-40s and this was very useful to Menzies, as the Country Party leader denounced undesirable members of the ALP that were seen as socialist. Meanwhile, Menzies took a calmer approach, seeming more moderate to the electorate. Fadden enjoyed a jolly public image despite his views, and was commonly known by the nickname Artie. He became the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer in Menzies' Liberal Party-Country Party coalition government that presided from 1949. Inflation was high in the early 1950s, which forced Fadden to impose several "horror budgets". He retired before the 1958 election to devote time to his business interests. The suburb of Fadden, in the ACT, and the federal electoral division of Fadden, whose boundaries have shifted about in Queensland, are named after Arthur Fadden. He lived quietly until his death in Brisbane in 1973.

ww2dbaseSources: D. Day, The Politics of War, National Archives of Australia, M. McKernan, Strength of a Nation, Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Dec 2009

Arthur Fadden Timeline

13 Apr 1894 Arthur Fadden was born.
12 Apr 1973 Arthur Fadden passed away.


Portrait of Australian Prime Minister Arthur Fadden, circa 1941Prime Minister John Curtin, Governor General Prince Henry, former Prime Minister Arthur Fadden (background), former Prime Minister Billy Hughes, and former Prime Minister Robert Menzies, 30 Jan 1945

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Portrait of Australian Prime Minister Arthur Fadden, circa 1941
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