Royal Reels: Gambling


I recognize that this mundane cover is just an excuse for me to meet two men whose backgrounds were not dissimilar, whose careers were considerably divergent, yet both had a significant impact on Australia, during the same decade. I have no clue as to whom Miss Slim was, but I am sure that she was honoured by the invitation. In fact this cover was one of two separate invitations that she received for 2 Government of Western Australia receptions, and I am concerned that this cover and this invitation are a mismatch by 3 years, for the correct cover has been misplaced. Both covers were written in the same hand from the same source, and the correct cover was dated 1953. Miss M. Clancy lived in Subiaco Road, Subiaco, W.A. (Figure 1).

The invitation reads as follows:  To have the Honour of Meeting/ Their Excellencies/ The Governor General and Lady Slim/ [W.A. Crest]/ The Premier/ on behalf of the Government of Western Australia/ requests the pleasure of the Company of/ Miss M. Clancy/ at a/ Parliamentary Dinner at Government House Ballroom,/ Perth, on Monday, 5th October, 1953, at 7.0 p.m.

R.S.V.P. to The Under Secretary,  Premier’s Department, Perth

Dress: Dinner Jacket, Miniature Decorations, Lounge Suit (Figure 2)

Albert (Bert) Redvers George Hawke was the Labour Party Premier of Western Australia from 23 February 1953 to 2 April, 1959. He was known as Bert Hawke, he was born at Kapunda, South Australia on 3 December 1900 of Cornish stock, and he had limited schooling for he left school to take up a job as an apprentice clockmaker and jeweller at the age of 13. At 15, he became a clerk in a lawyer’s office and it was then that he also joined the Australian Labour Pearty (ALP).

His first foray into politics was in 1924 when he won a seat in the South Australian Parliament at the age of 23, making him the youngest member to have a seat in the Assembly. He lost his seat 3 years later by eleven votes. The following year he moved to WA and became a country organiser for the ALP. Just 5 years later he was elected to WA’s Parliament, winning the seat of Northam by 460 votes and caused one of W.A.’s biggest political upsets of the century by ousting Premier Sir James Mitchell, who had held the Northam seat for 28 years. Bert Hawke kept hold of this seat for the next 35 years, and held portfolios in the Phillip Collier, John Wilcock and Frank Wise Governments, including Minister of Employment and Labour.

He took over as party leader from Wise in 1951 and led the ALP back into office two years later. He became Premier, Treasurer, and Minister for Child Welfare and Industrial Development. Hawke’s premiership was known as a dynamic period in WA industry. His government was known for its success in encouraging industrial development through the use of interest-free loans and free factory sites. After 6 years of his premiership the ALP was defeated in 1959 and he continued as Leader of the Opposition until 1966. He retired from politics in 1968 and returned to live in South Australia.  Hawke died on 14 February 1986 in Adelaide, South Australia.   Bert Hawke was the uncle of Australia’s Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, and a photo of Bert is seen in Figure 3.

It is much harder to do justice to Field Marshal Sir William Joseph Slim, first Viscount Slim, with all his military honours in two World Wars, in just half a page. He was born in Bristol on 6 August 1891 to a lower-middle class family, and his nickname was later ‘Uncle Bill’. He certainly had more schooling, but mostly military-related, than Bert Hawke, and even taught at an elementary school, but he also worked as a clerk for 4 years. I want to restrict my discussion to his role as Governor-General of Australia, the timing of which (1953-59) was when Bert Hawke was W.A. Premier.

On 8 May 1953 Slim was sworn in as Governor-General of Australia. Prime Minister Robert Menzies had sought a man of stature, one who had no involvement in Australian politics, and one who could represent the monarch effectively. Despite occasional friction, a relationship of trust developed between the two based on a healthy respect for each other’s intellect and integrity. Partly because of the Royal visit of 1954, but also owing to his own combination of authority and humanity, Slim’s governor-generalship was judged to be notably successful, even by those who believed that the office should be held by an Australian. His humanity came to be as apparent to the Australian people as it had been to his soldiers (including Australians) in Burma during World War 2.

The Slims travelled widely in Australia and Sir William’s speeches impressed by their cogency, dry humour and directness, as did his off-the-cuff remarks to journalists (when implored by one to smile, he replied ‘Dammit, I am’). His craggy appearance, upright bearing and jutting chin barely disguised his kindness and approachability. What they did disguise was the pain he continually felt as a result of his multiple wounds in both World Wars.

Slim left office on 2 February 1960 and returned to England. In 1960 he was raised to the peerage taking the title of Viscount Slim of Yarralumla (Australia) and Bishopston (England). Failing in health, he retired from his posts at Windsor Castle shortly before he died on 14 December 1970 at London. A picture of Slim in regalia as Governor-General of Australia is seen in Figure 4.

Addendum:  I contacted Phillip Pendal former MLA for South Perth and presently Parliamentary Fellow concerning this invitation and as a result of several emails I am able to construct the following background information: 

In spite of much local redevelopment,  the house at 38 Subiaco Road, Subiaco still exists, closeby the Subiaco Oval.  Miss Mary Laura Clancy has been identified as the recipient of the invitation, sent from the Premier to meet Governor General Slim on his first visit to Western Australia.  Miss Clancy was listed on the State electoral roll for Subiaco as a typist.

In view of the small number of invitees (the number listed in a newspaper as only 200 for the dinner at Government House), and the number of places available for the MLAs, MLCs and their partners would be around 160, leaving 40 places for non-politicians.  Phillip Pendal considers that Miss Clancy was most likely a senior personal assistant/aide to the Premier, to a Minister or one of the Presiding Officers, or even an employee of the Parliament itself.