T. J. Ryan, Queensland Premier, loyal to White Australia

T. J. RyanThomas Joseph Ryan (1876-1921) was Premier of Queensland (1915-1919) and had been, before his untimely death, considered to be the best choice as the new federal parliamentary leader of the Australian Labor Party.1

He graduated with a law degree from the University of Melbourne, and worked as a teacher and as a lawyer. Ryan was president of the Rockhampton branch of the Australian Natives’ Association. He ran for the Queensland state parliament as an independent Protectionist candidate in 1903, as an independent Labor candidate in 1907, and was a successful Australian Labor Party candidate in 1909.

Ryan became Premier of Queensland in 1915. In 1919 he was asked, by a motion of an ALP conference, to stand for federal parliament; this was extremely unusual, no-one had ever before been asked by an ALP federal conference to run for a parliamentary seat, but this event was an indication of his wide popularity. He subsequently ran for the seat of West Sydney and won. Due to his leadership abilities and the public’s high regard for him, he was being considered for the role of national leader of the ALP, but he became ill and died in August 1921.

T. J. Ryan was decidedly in favour of having a White Australia. For his first parliamentary campaign, in 1903, he advertised a ten point platform, the first point of which was for a White Australia.

1. A White Australia.
2. Fiscal Peace.
3. Direct assistance to industries by the granting of bounties2

In his campaigning, he maintained his support for a White Australia:

The first clause of the Immigration Restriction Act applies an education test to all immigrants to Australia. If they cannot pass an education test they are not admitted. That educational test is the clause which prevents the introduction into Australia of coloured aliens, and is called the white Australia clause. I am not in favour of amending the white Australia clause at all. In fact, I am in favour of keeping that white Australia clause there.3

the question of a white Australia was settled only so long as the electors returned to the federal Parliament men who were prepared to support a white Australia . . . they were bordering closely to Asia which was the home of the colored races, and it was absolutely essential for them in this remote part of the world to keep Australia free from these undesirable coloured aliens if they wanted to be masters of the Pacific, as he hoped they would be in the future.4

T. J. Ryan remained loyal to White Australia to the end of his life. In 1918, he made his thoughts clear:

Mr. Ryan said that while abroad he would endeavour to place before the public the true feeling of Australian democracy, and to make it clear that “we stood, and always would stand, for a white Australia.”5

In 1919, just two years before his death, he said:

“The time has come when Australia must take her place amongst the Nations. We must have a self-contained Australia; we must have a White Australia. I look with confidence for great assistance from the returned soldiers in carrying out such a policy. I am sure they will support the party of action — whose slogan is: ‘Australia first and forever best.’”6

Like so many other champions of working class Australians, T. J. Ryan was a political patriot and a staunch believer in a White Australia.

1. W. Ross Johnston and D. J. Murphy, “Ryan, Thomas Joseph (Tom) (1876–1921)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University

2. T. J. Ryan, “Capricornia Electorate” (advertisement), The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.), 23 November 1903, p. 1

3. “Capricornia election: Address by Mr. T. J. Ryan in the School of Arts”, The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.), 25 November 1903, pp. 6-7

4. “Mr. Ryan’s Candidature”, The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld.), 5 December 1903, p. 43

5. “Mr. Ryan in Sydney”, Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Maryborough, Qld.), 17 December 1918, p. 2

6. “Mr. Ryan abroad: Queensland premier interviewed”, The West Australian (Perth, WA), 10 June 1919, p. 4

[For further reading, see the Wikipedia entry: “T. J. Ryan”]