George Pearce (1870-1952)
George Pearce was born at Mount Barker, South Australia. Having left school at the age of 11 he eventually became a carpenter in Adelaide, only coming to Perth after losing his job in the depression of 1891. After a period of almost a year prospecting near Coolgardie in 1893 he returned to carpentry and to active involvement in the Trades and Labor Council.
By 1900 Pearce was a prominent figure within the Western Australian labour movement and had campaigned actively for Federation. He chaired the 1900 Trades' Union and Labor Congress which nominated him as one of two Labor candidates for the Senate. He remained a senator for the next 37 years, 25 of which he served as a minister for both Labor and ultimately conservative governments. During his time in office, his main concerns were promoting free-trade and defence, against Japan in particular, following their defeat of Russia in 1905.
Pearce opposed secession, instead advocating an inter-State commission to hear the grievances of the smaller States. During the secession referendum campaign he took a relatively low profile. On one occasion when he appeared to speak on behalf of the Federal League he was howled down by a hostile crowd. As one witness recalled
"From every single mouth ... the chant started 'We don't want George, We don't want George, We don't want George.' Well that kept on going for about a quarter of an hour and the poor fellow walked off the stage. There was complete silence again. He then walked on again and immediately the chorus was taken up again until such time as he gave it away and this time Mr H.K. Watson stood up in the middle of the aisle and asked people would they be good enough to give Sir George an opportunity of speaking. But the crowd were in no mood for listening to Sir George and there was no suggestion that he would be coming on again and so that meeting fizzled out." [Battye Library, OH 289]Pearce lost his seat in the election of 1937, partly due to a swing to Labor in Western Australia, partly to criticism that he had failed to protect State interests, and partly to a campaign by the Dominion League to 'Put Pearce Last'.
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