28 North Terrace Clifton Hill, a photo by Collingwood Historical Society on Flickr.
When you walk past this house in North Terrace do you ever wonder who lived there in the past? This was the house where Thomas “Tommy” Tunnecliffe lived. Tunnecliffe was born on 13 July 1869 at Coghills Creek, Victoria, son of John Tunnecliffe, a bootmaker from England. Tunnecliffe followed his father into this trade and gained his education from State schools and the Workingman’s College.
Active in the union movement, he became the member for West Melbourne in 1903 and was MLA for a short time until it was abolished. He stood unsuccessfully for the seat of Melbourne and the Senate but returned to State Parliament in 1907 in the seat of Eaglehawk which he held until his defeat in 1920. In 1924, after his return to Melbourne, he was returned to Victorian Parliament as the member for Collingwood a seat he held until ill health caused him to resign in 1947.
During this period he served as Chief Secretary, Minister for Railways and Electrical Undertakings, and acting Premier during the 1932 election in Premier Hogan’s absence overseas. After Hogan’s departure Tunnecliffe was elected leader of the Opposition, a position he held until 1935 when Labor moved to the cross-benches. In 1937-40 he was Speaker and later moved to the back benches. He died at 28 North Terrace on 2 February 1948 and was given a state funeral at Fawkner crematorium. Thomas Tunnecliffe was named in the Wren libel trial as politician Tom Trumbleward in Frank Hardy’s Power without Glory, and was allegedly under the Wren influence.
Tunnecliffe is one of the people that the Collingwood Historical Society is researching for inclusion in the Notables of Collingwood database that is being developed for inclusion on the website. Do you know anything about Thomas Tunnecliffe and his family or do you have stories about his time as Member for Collingwood? If so, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Tunnecliffe was my great uncle: his wife, Bertha Gross, was a sister of my grandmother, Chris Gross/Laidler. He died a couple of years before I was born, but his widow stayed in the North Terrace house for many years, and my family often visited there during the 1950s and 60s.
The Gross family had come from Germany in the 1880s, and lived in Richmond for many years. Several members of the family were keen socialists, and Tom Tunnecliffe probably met his future wife through the Victorian Socialist Party. Although Bertha Gross was not as politically involved as her sister Chris (my grandmother), she attended social functions run by the VSP.
There is a chapter about the Gross family in a book called Solidarity Forever, written by Bertha Walker, my mother, about her father, the socialist activist and bookseller Percy Laidler. Percy Laidler was Tom Tunnecliffe’s brother-in-law. This book is available online at http://www.solidarityforeverbook.com. The chapter on the Gross family is at http://www.solidarityforeverbook.com/cgi-bin/showchapter.pl?c=6.
My grandparents and parents did not always see eye to eye politically with Tunnecliffe, as they were very left wing, while he moved towards the centre during his long parliamentary career. They also disapproved of his links to John Wren.
During his years on the Labor front bench, Tom Tunnecliffe was involved in some extraordinary political events, most notably the state election of 1932, when the premier was effectively thrown out of his party during the campaign.
The Premier, Ned Hogan, was in England receiving medical treatment, and Tunnecliffe was Acting Premier, when the government lost the support of three independent MPs and was forced to an early election. The Premier did not return from overseas, so it fell to Tom Tunnecliffe to lead the election campaign.
The issue that split the Labor Party was the Premiers’ Plan, the scheme adopted by the Premiers’ Conference for dealing with the Great Depression. The Plan was designed to reduce government spending by 20 percent, and included savage cuts to pensions and wages. The Victorian trade unions and Labor Party machine were violently opposed to the main features of the plan. The Premier, Ned Hogan, was a staunch supporter of the Plan, but his deputy, Tom Tunnecliffe, tended to equivocate, calling himself a supporter of the spirit of the Plan. It transpired that some of the cables Hogan had sent in support of the Plan had been only partially communicated to the cabinet by the Acting Premier.
Because of his advocacy of the Premiers’ Plan, Hogan was denied party endorsement for his electorate. A number of other ministers were dis-endorsed or expelled from the party during the campaign. Needless to say, such a spectacular display of disunity led to a massive defeat, the party being reduced from thirty seats to sixteen.
There is a good account of the 1932 election in Trade Unions and the Depression: A Study of Victoria, 1930-1932 (1968), by L J Louis.
Tom Tunnecliffe was returned for the Collingwood electorate, and was elected Labor Party leader in the new parliament.
Wow that is some pedigree Alan. And so good that is is men and women. Their stories are written but I am sure that you have many more and possibly original documents.