From The Diaries of Beatrice Webb (1898) – 2

The Webbs go on to observe the political leaders of NSW, who would both become Prime Ministers of Australia:

October 9

Thursday: We had Archibald, Editor of the Bulletin, to lunch; Sidney lectured to a select audience on Municipal Government in England: an excellent lecture which though not touching on the municipal affairs of Sydney was felt every word of it to be apposite. Pompous old Sir George Dibbs was there and as I rose in response to the Chairman’s request for a few words, he whispered loudly, “No socialism, no radicalism please.” So I gave them chaff: much to the delight of the more advanced portion of the audience. Then we adjourned to the House just in time to hear the last paragraphs of Barton’s speech and the whole of Reid’s reply on the vote of censure – neither the one nor the other was impressive. Saturday we spent the whole day with Ashton and Reid, cruising about the waters of the National Park pretending to fish. Reid was in his holiday humour: that is to say he was always dropping off to sleep, in between telling and chuckling over some little details of his parliamentary manipulation. He has no intellectual interest in political questions: no desire to lead the country in one direction or another; but if you accept this absence of intellectual or moral distinction, he is good company with his humour, shrewdness and kind-heartedness. Moreover, one cannot fail to respect his financial integrity and rough and ready desire for efficient government.


George Reid, c. 1905 (National Library of Australia)

George Reid, c. 1905 (National Library of Australia)

To-day we have had Barton, the leader of the Opposition, to lunch. He has the face of an actor or preacher, he is a cultured man and appreciates an intellectual point. Perhaps he is more anxious than Reid to make things go in the direction he believes to be right. He hardly looks capable of a hard day’s work, certainly not of years of persistent labour. And outside Federation he seems to have few political ideas: he has neither Reid’s shrewd knowledge of human nature nor his unselfconsciousness, nor his persistency, nor his skill as a professional politician. Barton strikes us as an amateur uncertain of the worth-whileness of his hobby; he is perpetually asking himself whether he wishes to remain in politics. He likens Reid in only one respect: he looks as if he chronically over-ate himself; but even here Reid has the advantage in being jovial over it instead of dyspeptic. When Reid is replete he nods off to sleep; when Barton has eaten more than he can digest I am convinced that he is irritable.

–Beatrice Webb, English, 1858-1943

Edmund Barton, 1903 (National Library of Australia)

Edmund Barton, 1903 (National Library of Australia)


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