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Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page GCMG CH PC

Portrait of Earle Page by Fred Leist, 1941, Historic Memorials Collection

Frederick William Leist (1873-1945), Early Christmas Grafton Page (detail), Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image

Prime Minister, 7 April 1939 to 26 April 1939
Farmers’ and Settlers’ Union, 1919 to 1920; Australian Country Party, 1920 to 1961

Earle Page (1880-1961) was ‘caretaker’ Prime Minister for only 19 days following the sudden death of Joe Lyons. Though only briefly Prime Minister, he is Australia’s third-longest serving federal parliamentarian, representing the NSW electorate of Cowper for almost 42 years. Page co-founded the Country Party, now the Nationals,1 and remains its longest serving leader.2

Born in Grafton, NSW, Page was a prodigious student who commenced at the University of Sydney at just 14 years of age and graduated top of class in medicine six years later. Returning to Grafton in 1903, he established a successful practice and opened a private hospital. In 1906, he married Ethel Blunt3 and they had five children. Widowed in 1958, he married Jean Thomas the following year.

Possessing boundless energy, Page’s career expanded into agricultural interests, newspaper ownership and politics. In 1913, he was elected to the South Grafton Council, and later served as mayor (1918–20). Page joined the Farmers’ and Settlers’ Association and in 1915 founded what became the Northern NSW Separation League, which sought statehood for the region.4 Having enlisted with the Australian Army Medical Corps in 1916, he was deployed to England, Egypt, and France before returning home the following year.

Elected to federal Parliament in 1919 as a Farmers’ and Settlers’ candidate, in less than 16 months he had co-founded, served as party whip and ultimately came to lead the federal Country Party. Achieving the balance of power in 1922, Page agreed to a Coalition government with the UAP, but only if it changed leaders from Billy Hughes to Stanley Bruce. He became Treasurer in the new government and served much of the next two decades in the ministry. As Bruce’s deputy in 1924, Page chaired the first Cabinet meeting in Canberra, three years before the Parliament’s formal relocation. He was made a Privy Counsellor in 1929 and knighted in 1938.

After Lyons’s death in 1939, Page served as Prime Minister while the UAP selected a new leader. Having previously manoeuvred to have Bruce installed as UAP leader back in 1923, his second attempt was far less successful, as his public attack on Robert Menzies saw the Country Party excluded from Cabinet, splitting the party. Page stood down as party leader shortly after. When the Country Party re-entered Cabinet the following year led by Archie Cameron,5 Menzies appointed Page as Minister for Commerce. He also served as Australia’s envoy to the War Cabinet in London (1941–42) and Minister for Health (1949–56). In 1954, he was appointed as the University of New England’s inaugural chancellor. Having won 15 previous elections, Page re-contested in 1961 despite acute ill-health, and died unaware of his defeat. His state funeral was held at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Frederick William Leist
Sydney-born Frederick Leist (1873-1945) studied art part-time at the Sydney Technical College while training as a furniture designer in the workshops of David Jones Ltd. He later trained at the Art Society of NSW, learning methods of plein air painting. He found his niche as a black and white artist, illustrating for the Bulletin in the 1890s and becoming staff artist for the Sydney Mail. An original Council member of the Society of Artists and then of the Royal Art Society of NSW after the merger of the two societies, Leist helped re-establish the Society of Artists in 1907. Moving to London in 1908, he worked as an illustrator before turning his focus again to painting, exhibiting regularly with the Royal Academy of Arts. Noted for his portraits of ‘handsome women’, Leist was elected to the Royal Society of Artists and to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, among other clubs and societies. In 1917, he became an official war artist with the AIF. He returned to Australia in 1926 and exhibited paintings from his travels in Sydney and Melbourne. In subsequent years Leist taught at the Sydney Technical School and continued to regularly exhibit his work in galleries and associations.6
Earle Christmas Grafton Page
by Frederick William Leist
Oil on canvas
89.9 x 69.8 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1. From its founding in 1920, the Australian Country Party has undergone several name changes: National Country Party (1975–82), National Party of Australia (1982–2003) and Nationals (2003–current).
2. Information used in this biography is taken from: C Bridge, ‘Page, Sir Earle Christmas (1880–1961)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1988; S Wilks, Now is the psychological Moment: Earle Page and the imagining of Australia, ANU Press, Acton, ACT, 2020; P Davey, The Country Party Prime Ministers: their trials and tribulations, 2011; ‘Prime Ministers of Australia: Earle Page’, National Museum of Australia; ‘Australian Prime Ministers: Earle Page’, Museum of Australian Democracy; J Hawkins, ‘Earle Page: an active treasurer’, Economic Roundup, issue 4, 2009, pp. 55–67. Websites accessed 28 May 2021.
3. ‘Earle Page’s partner: Ethel Page’, National Archives of Australia, accessed 8 June 2021.
4. Bridge, op. cit.
5. J Playford, ‘Cameron, Archie Galbraith (1895–1956)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed 8 June 2021.
6. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: J Kerr, , ‘Frederick William Leist: b. 21 August 1973’, Design & Art Australia Online, 2014; ‘‘Lieutenant Fred Leist’, Australian War Memorial; M Rutledge, ‘Leist, Frederick William (Fred) (1873–1945)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 1986. Websites accessed 26 March 2021.

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