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Tenth Prime Minister of Australia and one time Premier of Tasmania, Joseph Lyons (1879-1939), was in kinship care as a child.

Joseph Aloysius Lyons was born in Stanley, a small town on the north-west coast of Tasmania. The family had few funds as Joseph’s father gambled away their savings and nine-year-old Joe was sent out to work as an errand boy and farm labourer to help support the family which included eight children.

At the age of twelve, Joe was taken in by two aunts, who supported him to continue at school, school having been irregular and haphazard up until then.

As a young man, Lyons became a teacher. He went to college in 1907 and then was posted to schools all over the state. In 1909 he resigned his teaching position in Launceston and stood for the state seat of Wilmot representing the Labor Party. He became state treasurer in 1914 and premier and treasurer from 1923 to 1928.

He was a cautious premier and state treasurer, who brought the budget from deficit to surplus through application of financial orthodoxy. His bipartisan style, willingness to consult with business and the priority he accorded to improving the state’s public finances, attracted criticism from Labor hardliners, but the conservative Legislative Council rejected Lyons’ more progressive legislation (Hawkins).

In 1929, Joseph Lyons resigned his state seat and successfully contested a federal one. Two years later he left the Labor Party and joined forces with Nationalists to form the United Australia Party (UAP) which he led to clear victories in both 1934 and 1937.

As Joe Lyons sat with Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House in July 1935, he could report that Australia had reduced its unemployment figures to 16 per cent from a high of 29 per cent in 1931–32. By 1937, Australian unemployment was down to 9 per cent. In the USA, in 1935, unemployment was still over 21 per cent and in 1937 remained at 17 per cent. The USA had double digit unemployment right up till it entered the Second World War (Henderson).

Lyons was a popular prime minister, and one of the longest serving.

Lyons was the first prime minister to use the official lodge in Canberra as a family home…His closest political ally and adviser was his wife [Enid], who became a minister in the post-war Menzies government (Hart & Lloyd).

 Joseph Lyons was also the first Prime Minister to die in office. He had served as Prime Minister for seven years.

That success story in Australia has been lost with the legacy of Prime Minister Joe Lyons. These were dark and difficult years and the strength of the Lyons governments was to preside over a period of political calm amid the troubled times—both financially and in foreign relations. From the dysfunctional years preceding it—and the domination of NSW in the national economy—Lyons brought Australia’s federated states to maturity in his time as prime minister (Henderson).


Day, David. “David Day reviews ‘Joseph Lyons: The people’s Prime Minister by Anne Henderson.” Australian Book Review, no.337 (2012).

Hart, P.R.  & Lloyd, C.J. “Lyons, Joseph Aloysius (Joe) (1879-1939).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 10 (1986).

Hawkins, John. “Joseph Lyons. The Tasmanian Treasurer.” Economic Round-up, vol.3 (2010): 85-97.

Henderson, Anne. “Joseph Lyons—Australia’s Depression Prime Minister.” Papers on Parliament, no. 58 August 2012

“Joseph Lyons.” Australia’s Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia.

Image available here.