Regular reader and one-time Labor candidate for Sturt Phil Robins got rather carried away recently when dropping a line to point out a factual error in the federal election guide entry for the Adelaide seat of Boothby. In so doing he constructed a commendably thorough outline of the electorate’s history that deserves better than to rot in the Poll Bludger’s inbox forever.
Labor’s Egerton Lee Batchelor was elected the first member for Boothby in 1903. Batchelor had been the only Labor MHR elected in South Australia in the nation’s first federal election in 1901, when the whole state was one multi-member electorate. Before entering federal politics, Batchelor, a former railway engineer, had established his reputation as Minister of Education and Minister of Agriculture in the Holder government from December 1899 to 15 May 1901. The Labor Party supported his serving in that Liberal government so that the public could see that a Labor man could do the job. In 1903 Batchelor was offered the safe Labor seat of Hindmarsh but in the interests of the party opted for the riskier seat of Boothby, where he polled 55 per cent to defeat former premier and fellow foundation MHR Vaiben Solomon. In 1904, Prime Minister John Christian (Chris) Watson selected Batchelor as Minister for Home Affairs in the world’s first national Labor government. Batchelor was unopposed in Boothby in 1906 and served as Minister for External Affairs in the Fisher Labor government from 1908-10. He was easily re-elected in 1910 but died suddenly in 1911 and Boothby fell to the Liberals in a by-election that year.
Another Labor man, the German-born butcher George Dankel, won Boothby back in 1913 and retained it in 1914 but naturally, given his heritage, did not contest the wartime election of 1917, when the seat fell to the Nationalists.
Labor’s next victory in Boothby was in 1928 when the stone-mason John Lloyd Price scraped home by 84 votes. He boosted his margin in 1929 but then got caught up in the big Labor split over how to deal with the Great Depression. He joined the Independent Australia Party and held Boothby in 1931 as a candidate for the anti-Labor Emergency Committee. He was re-elected under the Liberal and Country League banner in 1934 and 1937 and as a United Australia Party member in 1940, dying in office in 1941.
Sir Archibald Price (no relation to J.L.Price) won the 1941 Boothby by-election for the UAP but was turfed out by Labor’s Tom Sheehy in the general election of 1943. Sheehy, a building contractor, trailed on primary votes but got over the line largely on the preferences of the popular Communist candidate, Dr Alan Finger. Sheehy improved his winning margin in 1946 but apparently did not like the subsequent redistribution and switched to the new seat of Kingston, which he lost narrowly in 1949. The Liberals won Boothby in 1949 and have not been seriously challenged there ever since.