Biographical Dictionary of the House of Representatives


The Biographies

The sixty-four biographical entries produced by the project, written by an array of skilled contributors, appear on the National Centre of Biography’s website.

The Biographical Dictionary of the House of Representatives makes a welcome contribution to the public understanding of the history and role of the House, a central institution of Australia’s democratic system. Some Speakers and their deputies are well known to many Australians. In other cases, the biographies bring the contributions of their subjects to public attention for the first time since the early years of Federation. The biographical entries explore issues including the relationships Speakers had with governments and their party; how they contributed to changes in parliamentary procedures; and the Speaker-Clerk relationship.

The biographies focus on the subject’s service as Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Clerk, but a balanced account of the whole person is also provided. Dr Stephen Wilks, from the ANU National Centre of Biography, observed that some figures achieved a degree of fame, such as Frederick Holder, former Premier of South Australia and the first Speaker of the House; the irascible but dedicated Archie Cameron; and the first female Speaker, Joan Child. Others had previously received far less attention, such as the many-faceted Americophile Deputy Speaker James Garfield Bayley; the reforming Clerk of the House Alan Turner; and the shortest serving Clerk, John McGregor, who died suddenly on the parliament’s first working day in its new home in Canberra.

These and other illuminating biographies can be found at the National Centre of Biography’s website.


The Biographical Dictionary of the House of Representatives highlights the contributions of the men and women who, since Federation, have served the nation in some key roles in the House of Representatives.

The Clerk of the House, Claressa Surtees, notes that ‘the project represents the considerable efforts by the National Centre of Biography and the Department of the House of Representatives, along with a range of contributors. The biographies shine a light on those who served our nation, as Speakers, Deputy Speakers, and Clerks from the time of Federation.’

Former Clerk of the House, David Elder (himself the subject of a project entry), observed at the start of the project that, ‘Australians are used to seeing the day to day political struggle of the House on the news but this project will tell us a much more reflective story about the role of the House and how it works. As an institution it is absolutely central to our democratic framework. The project will help explain three of its key offices.’

‘Members who have been elected to be Speaker or Deputy Speaker have stood apart from the politics of the day. When they take up those roles it is on behalf of the whole House. The third group, the Clerks, are principal advisers on House operations. Their role is a much less public one and they have always been expected to work impartially.’

About the project

In 2018, the Department of the House of Representatives engaged the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University to prepare and publish online biographies of these men and women who presided over, managed and supported the work of the House. 

The project was guided by an expert Project Advisory Group chaired by Catherine Cornish, former Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives. Other members included Emeritus Professor Judith Brett, La Trobe University; Emeritus Professor Geoff Gallop, University of Sydney; Mr Ian Hancock, School Visitor, National Centre of Biography, ANU; and Associate Professor Paul Strangio, Monash University.

The Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Clerk

The Department of the House of Representatives has provided thematic articles on the roles of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and Clerk. These articles delve into the history of the roles, the duties undertaken within them, and their significance to the House and the Parliament.

For further information

Contact the Procedure Office, or
(02) 6277 4428.

Last updated 15 December 2021