By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Supreme Federalist: The Political Life of Sir John Downer
By J.C. Bannon (Wakefield Press, $39.95, hardcover, 256 pages)
The Downers from South Australia are an amazingly gifted family with a name that is illustrious in Australian politics.
We may not know much about Sir John Downer, but his grandson Alexander John Grosse Downer was Australia’s longest-serving foreign minister who retired from Federal Parliament in 2008.
This book has been well-examined with extensive details provided on the rise and rise of the Downers.
The founder of a political dynasty, Sir John Downer (1843-1915) played a significant role as an initiator of the Federation of Australia in 1901 and development of the Commonwealth Constitution.
Lawyer, Parliamentarian and twice Premier of South Australia, Sir John was born in humble circumstances in Adelaide. Combining strong conservative values with a liberal approach, as a political leader Sir John is described as being an “enigma”.
In Supreme Federalist, former South Australian Labor Premier Dr John Bannon
tells the story of Sir John’s intriguing career, providing a fresh perspective on Australia’s political transformation from a group of colonies to the modern federal nation.
Despite being prominent for almost four decades in public and professional life in South Australia, there was no biography of Sir John for nearly 100 years after his death.
It was Alexander Downer’s father, Sir Alexander Russell Downer, who prepared the manuscript on the Downers with research that “was a combination of documented references and anecdotal family story and legend … concentrating on those Downers ‘who have engaged in public affairs’ much of it was autobiographical”.
The capacious official records and press reports lend credence to Sir John’s political career.
Bannon offers insight beyond a distinctly political biography: Sir John championed legal reform, introduced legislation for the advancement of the rights of women and children and opposed the White Australia policy.
As a political family history, this is an extraordinarily fine book.
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.