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Scots Australian History
Andrew Fisher

Andrew FisherScots toast a famous export and leader of a nation...
by Jeff Centenera

Over a century after his emigration to Australia, the Scottish mining village of Crosshouse has not forgotten its favourite son, a coal miner and, more surprisingly, an Australian prime minister.

The birthplace of three-time Labour prime minister Andrew Fisher, presented a scroll to Senate President Margaret Reid, commemorating Australia's Centenary of Federation and Mr Fisher's contribution to it.

The presentation was made by Mary Nicholls, whose mother Esther Caldwell is chairman of Crosshouse council.

She said Mr Fisher's legacy was well known in the village, just south of Glasgow.

"It's a tiny place," she said. "Apart from the local hospital, Mr Fisher is its only claim to fame."

Mr Fisher was born in 1862 and spent his childhood in Crosshouse, where he started working in the mines at the age of 10. By the time he was 23, he emigrated and found work in the Queensland coalfields.

A political career came in tandem with the mines. He was secretary of the District Mining Workers Union in Crosshouse, and his work in Queensland led to a seat in the state parliament.

And as prime minister from 1908 to 1909, 1910 to 1913 and 1914 to 1915, Mr Fisher's career gave Crosshouse three anniversaries to celebrate. Ms Nicholls said his presence was also visible in the village, with a garden of remembrance was placed close to where he was born.

Fisher, Andrew Labor politician who was prime minister of Australia 1908-09, 1910-13 and 1914-15.

(Thanks to Isla Browhill for sending in this account)

The political career of Andrew Fisher, three times Labor Prime Minister of Australia from 1908 to 1915, began on the Gympie goldfields as a direct result of his involvement in the miner’s union.

"From pit boy to Prime Minister" is how some historians have described Andrew Fisher, the coal miner from Crosshouse in Scotland.

From all accounts Fisher was a modest and deeply sincere man whose commitment to social justice, and concern for the underprivileged, went hand in hand with his dedication to the Labor Party. He was an inspiring example of honest worth, dignity, principle and commonsense.

He liked to be known as Andy Fisher, and later in his life refused a Knighthood.

Fisher was about ten years old when he went down into the pits. His father was crippled with disease and the family needed his wage to survive. Despite working twelve hours a day six days a week, and four hours on Sunday, the boy somehow managed to gain an education, which he saw as a liberating force.

When he was just seventeen Fisher was elected Crosshouse district secretary of the Ayrshire Branch of the Miners Union, becoming a thorn in the side of mine owners to such and extent that he was blacklisted as a strike leader.

Out of work because of his union activities Fisher decided to emigrate to Australia with his brother James arriving In Brisbane in August 1885. Within a month they were working at the Burrum coalfield north of Maryborough.

When his application as manager of a new mine was turned down in 1888 he left Burrum for the Gympie goldfields, finding work at the North Phoenix No.10.

Over the next five years his union involvement became political. He taught himself shorthand and studied political philosophy.

With an eye on the State elections in 1893 Fisher set about what would now be described as raising his public profile. He joined the Oddfellow Ledge, local Presbyterian Church and Gympie Chess Club. He was superintendent of the Sunday School, a shareholder in the Gympie Co-operative Society, organised debated and even joining the local Defence Force.

He won Gympie for the Labor Party but lost his seat in 1896, a defeat he attributed to the press "not being impartial".

He bought a printing press, learned how to work it, then ran off issue after issue of the Gympie Truth while working as an engine driver in a small mine. This determination was rewarded when he regained his seat in 1899.

The commonwealth of Australia was founded in 1901, with the opening of the first Federal Parliament on New Year’s Day. At the age of thirty-nine Fisher was elected to Federal Parliament as the member for Wide Bay, and was appointed Deputy Leader of the Labor Party.

That same year he married Margaret Irvine, daughter of Henry and Margaret Irvine, whose house had been his home almost since his arrival in Gympie.

In 1908 Fisher headed his first Government, however a fusion of opposition parties brought it down a year later.

Labour won the 1910 election with a comfortable majority in both houses and Andrew Fisher once again became Prime Minister.

It was the Fisher Government of 1910-13 which negotiated the purchase of land from New South Wales to build a Federal capital.

Fisher gave King O’Malley, the Tasmanian Minister for Home Affairs, all responsibility for the capital, including submitting a list of Aboriginal words for consideration as the name of the new capitol.

At the next Cabinet meeting O’Malley confessed he had no list and proposed the Federal capital be named Fisher.

An indignant Fisher rejected the suggestion as a "Yankee joke." Thus Andrew Fisher turned down the offer to have the capital of Australian named in his honour. On his suggestion it was given the Aboriginal name Canberra.

Fisher was into his second stint as Prime Minister when, in 1911, he returned to Scotland and received a warm and emotional welcome at Crosshouse. He was in England to represent Australia at the Imperial Conference and attend the coronation of King George V in London.

Thirteen months after taking office as Prime Minister for the third time, in October 1915, Andrew Fisher resigned a Prime Minister and leader of the Labor Party. He then took up the post of High Commissioner of Australian in London, an appointment he held until 1921.

The burden of office, failing health and his opposition to compulsory conscription for armed services during the initial stages of the First World War were contributing factors in his resignation.

He died in London in October 1928, at the age of sixty-six. Australians living in Britain paid the cost of erecting a memorial over his grave at Hampstead Cemetery and this was unveiled in 1930 by Labor Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald of Great Britain.

Andrew Fisher was survived by his wife, five sons and a daughter. Andrew Fisher’s cottage now stands as a memorial to this outstanding man in the grounds of the Gympie Mining Museum.

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