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Sir Arthur William Fadden GCMG PC

Portrait of Prime Minister Arthur Fadden by William Dargie for the Historic Memorials Collection.

William Alexander Dargie (1912-2003) Arthur Fadden (detail), 1947, Historic Memorial Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image

Prime Minister, 29 August 1941 to 7 October 1941
Australian Country Party

When Arthur Fadden (1895-1973) became Australia’s 13th Prime Minister the nation was entrenched in World War II and the coalition Government was embroiled in internal disputes.1 While his 40-day term was brief, his legacy remains as one of only three Country Party leaders to have served as Prime Minister.2

Born in Ingham, northern Queensland, Fadden was the eldest of 10 children. He worked as a council clerk studying accountancy via correspondence, and by 1918 had established practices in Townsville and Brisbane. Fadden married Ilma Thornber in 1916, and they had four children.3

Fadden’s political career spanned all three levels of government, with the Townsville City Council (1930–32), the Queensland Legislative Assembly (1932–35), and the federal Parliament (1936–58). Appointed to Cabinet in August 1940, he was selected as the Country Party’s compromise leader following a tied contest between Earle Page and John McEwen two months later. When Prime Minister Robert Menzies resigned in August 1941, the UAP–Country Party joint Caucus elected Fadden as the new Prime Minister. A week later during a radio broadcast, Fadden stated:

No man can avoid feeling a sense of pride in being elected to the high office of Prime Minister of a great freedom loving people. I keenly appreciate the confidence shown in me by my colleagues, and hope to be able to justify that confidence, and at the same time, to win the respect of all.4

Despite this ambition, Fadden’s minority Government lacked a clear mandate and on 3 October 1941 lost a vote in Parliament regarding its budget measures. He resigned, leaving the Labor Party to form government. Despite the partisan differences, Fadden maintained good relations with new Prime Minister John Curtin,5 having appreciated his ‘friendship, cooperation, understanding and loyalty’.He continued to lead the Country Party and returned to the ministry as Treasurer in the Menzies Government. Benefiting from the relative peace and prosperity of the 1950s, his nine-year tenure is the second longest for an Australian federal Treasurer, after Peter Costello.7 In Menzies’s various absences, Fadden served as acting Prime Minister for almost 700 days.

Appointed to the Privy Council in 1942, he was awarded a KCMG in 1951, and elevated to GCMG in 1958. After almost 22 years in the federal Parliament, Fadden retired before the 1958 election. He served as director of various companies before his death a week after his 79th birthday. In the parliamentary condolences, Country Party leader Doug Anthony reflected that the Party looked upon Fadden ‘with intense pride and as a person who brought joy to many people’s hearts’.8

Sir William Alexander Dargie CBE
Artist and teacher William Dargie (1912-2003) is best known for his contribution to Australian portraiture. A prolific portraitist and eight-time winner of the Archibald Prize, Dargie was inspired by the Heidelberg School of impressionist artists. In 1941, while teaching art at Swinburne Technical College in Melbourne, Dargie was appointed an official war artist for the Australian Army. He worked for five years recording the aftermath of battles across the Middle East, India, Burma and New Guinea. After the war, Dargie built a distinguished career as a leading portrait artist, taking on several commissioned portraits of eminent figures, including the HMC portraits of Her Majesty The Queen, Dame Enid Lyons and Prime Minister John McEwen. He simultaneously held several administrative positions, serving on the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board for 20 years and heading up the National Gallery of Victoria Art School and the National Gallery of Victoria. In 2002, to mark his 90th birthday, the Australian War Memorial, Parliament House and the National Portrait Gallery held exhibitions to pay tribute to his contribution to Australian art. His work is represented in national and state galleries and other public institutions across Australia.9

Arthur William Fadden
by William Alexander Dargie
Oil on canvas
74.4 x 61.8 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1. Information used in this biography is taken from: M Cribb, ‘Fadden, Sir Arthur William (1894–1973)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1996; ‘Australia’s prime ministers: Arthur Fadden’, National Archives of Australia’; ‘Prime Ministers of Australia: Arthur Fadden’, National Museum of Australia; ‘Australian Prime Ministers: Arthur Fadden’, Museum of Australian Democracy; J Hawkins, ‘Arthur Fadden: Treasurer in a Golden Age’, Economic Roundup, issue 4, 2011. Websites accessed 9 August 2021.
2. Alongside Earle Page (1939) and John McEwen (1967–68). See C Bridge, ‘Page, Sir Earle Christmas (1880–1961)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1988; C Lloyd, ‘McEwen, Sir John (1900–1980)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2000. Websites accessed 4 August 2021.
3. ‘Arthur Fadden’s partner: Ilma Fadden’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 9 August 2021.
4. ‘Fadden, AW’, National Archives of Australia, CP6/2, 69, p. 3; ‘Australia’s War Work’, The Age, 8 September 1941, p. 5. Websites accessed 18 August 2021
5. G Serle, ‘Curtin, John (1885–1945)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed 4 August 2021.
6. ‘Arthur Fadden: during office’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 18 August 2021.
7. ‘Biography for Costello, the Hon Peter Howard’, Parliamentary Handbook, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia, accessed 9 August 2021.
8. J Anthony, ‘Death of the Right Honourable Sir Arthur Fadden’, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 May 1973, p. 1469; T Hughes, ‘Anthony, John Douglas (Doug) (1929–2020)’, Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 4 August 2021.
9. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: M Keaney, ‘Sir William Dargie CBE’, Portrait 9, September–November 2003, National Portrait Gallery; ‘Sir William Dargie: A Ninetieth Birthday Tribute’, National Portrait Gallery; ‘Captain William Dargie’, Australian War Memorial. ‘Dargie, (Sir) William Alexander’, A McCulloch, S McCulloch and E McCulloch Childs, eds, The New McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Aus Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press, 2006, p. 366. Websites accessed 25 March 2021.

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