Our History and our Christian Connection

Alfred Deakin – 2ND, 5TH and 7th Australian Prime Minister

Two men were walking down a street in Melbourne CBD late one afternoon in 1878, deep in conversation. The older distinguished looking man, David Syme founder of the Age newspaper was serious and quite determined, but the younger one, Alfred Deakin an up and coming Age Journalist, was quite brilliant and was putting up a good fight as they debated one of the most important issues of that day.

The two men had been grappling with the issue for weeks, the question was “Should Australia be a country that protects its merchants by having trade protection in the form of tariffs or should it have open borders and allow free trade between the colonies and ultimately the entire world? “

Syme finally managed to convince his young protégé to become a trade protectionist and Deakin later said he felt he had crossed the Rubicon. Syme became Deakin’s greatest supporter for many years and was the main reason why Alfred was given the opportunity to enter politics in 1879.

By the end of 19th and most of the 20th Century trade protection and tariffs was the accepted standard, but in 21st Century the world has moved on to embraced free trade and globalization.

At only 22 years old, Alfred Deakin stepped into the political limelight only to resign on his very first day in Parliament because of a mistake made at the polling booth. The polling booth had run out of voting forms and had to close with forty more people still to vote.

Deakin’s decision to resign on principle, even at the cost of his own career, gained for him the colonies admiration, but it caused shockwaves for Premier Berry’s Government.

For 10 years from 1890 to 1900 Deakin decided not to accept a better paying ministerial position, but rather as a colonial back bencher, he worked tirelessly promoting federation believing he had a duty to encourage Australia to fulfil its divine destiny and become a great unified nation.

He loved books and during his youth would often get lost in adventure stories like Robinson Crusoe and Aladdin in Arabian Nights. It was said that he would read 100 books per year, which gave him an amazing breadth of knowledge and insight. He could converse with anyone on any subject and speak with amazing power and grasp of the English language.

Concerned for Deakin’s preoccupation with his imaginary world, his high school teacher inspired him to apply himself to his studies, which eventually caused him to go on and pass a law degree at Melbourne University.

Alfred had grown up during the time of the gold rush, when it seemed everyone in the world wanted to come to Australia to start a new life and maybe strike it big on the Victorian gold fields. All this amazing new wealth ($100 Billion in today’s money) and immigration caused a massive land boom that eventually ended in an economic bust in the early 1890’s as the gold ran out. Along with many others, Deakin was caught up in the land speculation and lost his and his father’s savings, but unlike others he kept his promise and paid off all his debts. An interesting fact of history is that Abraham Lincoln was also a lawyer who got into financial trouble, but he also was very diligent to pay off his business partner’s debts.

Once Federation was secured Deakin became Australia’s first Attorney General and served under Edmund Barton Australia’s first Prime Minister. In those early years as Attorney General and later the 2nd 5th and 7th Prime Minister, Deakin was instrumental in introducing important legislation that established the High Court, the Australian Navy, copyright laws, animal protection, Customs, Tariffs and Quarantine laws plus the Bureau of Meteorology.

All of Alfred’s life he had a keen desire to understand spiritual truth. He knew God was enabling him to do his work and fulfil his duty to his country. In a letter to his children in 1890 he said “Christ himself is the central figure of humanity and marks the greatest height yet attained in moral insight in religious feeling. No character in history no founder of a religion, no moral philosopher, no religious teacher, can be placed beside him.”

And as Prime Minister in 1905 he said: “Jesus Christ is the life of the present, the light of the future and the hope of the world.” In his private journal between 1884 and 1913 he wrote down over 400 prayers to God.

Alfred Deakin was loved and appreciated by the Australian people and was respected by many leaders home and abroad. He was a great ambassador for Australia in world affairs and his contribution to the foundation of the country is profound. He gave his life to the service of the nation he loved and Australia was the beneficiary.

The editorial in the Brisbane Daily Mail at the time of his death stated:

“It is perhaps quite safe to say that no great leader in Australian public life has been gifted with the attractive personality, instinctive courtesy and innate gentlemanliness that characterised Alfred Deakin. None amongst us could be named more worthy of respect.”The Daily Mail Brisbane - 9th Oct 1919

“He harmoniously combined all that goes into the making of a fine man. He held and sustained the highest ideals with high standards and worthy practice in all the relations of life.”

Deakin was offered many titles like Sir and Lord but he rejected them all, preferring to simply be known as Mr. Deakin but many who loved him knew him as “Affable Alfred”.

He died on 7thOctober 1919 and is buried in the St Kilda Cemetery in Melbourne.

By Alan Currie