New Parliamentary dictionary to document House Speakers and Clerks

The Australian National University (ANU) has begun work on a new parliamentary dictionary listing the biographies of Speakers, Deputy Speakers and Clerks for the House of Representatives stretching back to Federation in 1901.

The project, which is expected to be completed in early 2020, has been commissioned by the Department of the House of Representatives and will be undertaken by the ANU National Centre of Biography.

Project co-ordinator, Dr Stephen Wilks of the ANU School of History, said not enough is known about these people whose job it is to oversee the House and ensure Members obey the rules, and follow procedures.

“These are very, very important people, they essentially run the show in our nation’s Parliament, yet very few people know much about them,” Dr Wilks said.

“It’s a big gap in Australia’s parliamentary history.

“This project will be a major contribution to the understanding of Australia’s rich and all too often unplumbed parliamentary history and traditions.”

The project will be modeled on the ANU National Centre of Biography’s highly renowned Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), which includes 12,000 short biographies on the lives of significant Australians throughout history.

Dr Wilks said work had already begun on biographies for the 91 people who had served in the roles, including at least two who passed away whilst at work in the Chamber.

“Australia’s very first House Speaker Frederick Holder died on the job,” he said.

“He collapsed in the House following a stormy all-night sitting in 1909 in the middle of delivering a very short but now famous Australian political speech – ‘Dreadful, dreadful!’.

“He never regained consciousness and died soon after.

“In 1927 John McGregor suffered a very similar fate, collapsing in the Chamber after just a few weeks as Clerk.

“He was carried out by two Members of Parliament before passing away.”

One complete The Dictionary of the House of Representatives Project: Speakers, Deputy Speakers and Clerks of the House will appear online with the ANU National Centre of Biography and the parliamentary website.


Dr Stephen Wilks
ANU School of History
T: 02 6125 2349


Aaron Walker
ANU Media
T: 02 6125 7979
M: 0418 307 213

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