Frank Anstey

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Not to be confused with F. Anstey, the pseudonym of British author Thomas Anstey Guthrie
The Honourable
Frank Anstey
Frank Anstey 1930s.jpg
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Bourke
In office
13 April 1910 – 7 August 1934
Preceded by James Hume Cook
Succeeded by Maurice Blackburn
Personal details
Born (1865-08-18)18 August 1865
London, England
Died 31 October 1940(1940-10-31) (aged 75)
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Katherine Mary Bell McColl
Occupation Tramway worker
An early photograph of Frank Anstey

Francis George "Frank" Anstey (18 August 1865 – 31 October 1940),[1] Australian politician, served 38 years as a Labor member of the Victorian and Commonwealth parliaments.

Anstey was born in London, England, the son of an iron-miner, who died five months before he was born, and had little formal education. He stowed away on a passenger ship when he was 11, and arrived in Melbourne in 1877. He spent ten years working on ships to the South Pacific islands. After spending a period as an itinerant worker (a "swaggie" in Australian slang), he moved to Sale, where he met Katherine Mary Bell McColl and they married in 1887—they had two sons. He became a cleaner in Melbourne, where he soon became involved in politics. He worked on the Melbourne tramways and became President of the Tramways Employees Union. Self-educated, he wrote extensively for Labor newspapers such as Tocsin and Labor Call.[1][2]

Political career[edit]

In 1902 Anstey was elected as a Labor member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly for East Bourke Boroughs,[3] and from 1904 was member for Brunswick, in the working-class suburbs of Melbourne. At the 1910 election, he switched to federal politics, winning the seat of Bourke in the House of Representatives.[1]

Despite his English birth, Anstey was an Australian nationalist. He saw Australia as an economic colony of the finance houses of the City of London, which he (like many in the labour movement at this time), described as the "money power." His views were typified by this passage from a 1907 editorial in the newspaper of the Australian Workers' Union:

The Money Power! It is the greatest power on earth; and it is arrayed against Labour. No other power that is or ever was can be named with it.... It attacks us through the press – a monster with a thousand lying tongues, a beast surpassing in foulness any conceived by the mythology that invented dragons, wehr wolves, harpies, ghouls and vampires. It thunders against us from innumerable platforms and pulpits. The mystic machinery of the churches it turns into an engine of wrath for our destruction.

— The Brisbane Worker[4]

In 1914 Australia, under the Labor government of Andrew Fisher, entered World War I on the side of Britain. Anstey was one of the few Labor members who opposed the war from the start, and was for a time highly unpopular as a result, but by 1917 antiwar sentiment was growing and Anstey became one of the leaders of the movement against conscription for the war.[1]

Anstey published a book called The Kingdom of Shylock, in which he described the "money power" which he said controlled and manipulated capitalism from behind the scenes. "London is, so far, the web centre of international finance," he wrote. "In London are assembled the actual chiefs or the representatives of the great financial houses of the world. The Money Power is something more than Capitalism. These men constitute the Financial Oligarchy. No nation can be really free where this financial oligarchy is permitted to hold dominion, and no 'democracy' can be aught but a name that does not shake it from its throne."

Anstey described this system as the "Black Masonic Plutocracy." "These men constitute the Financial Oligarchy, this group of speculators properly designated and distinguished as the Money Power, controls the whole mechanism of exchange, and all undertakings in the field of industry are subject to its will and machinations. It wields an unseen sceptre over thrones and populations, and bloody slaughter is as profitable to its pockets as the most peaceful peculation."

In The Kingdom of Shylock, Anstey identified the leaders of the "money power" in London as a group of private financiers associated with the circles of the infamous Morgan family in the United States. "After Medina came the Jew, Manasseh Lopes," Anstey wrote. "Then came Samson Gideon and the Goldsmids – Abraham and Benjamin. They were succeeded by the Rothschilds."

The fact that some of Anstey's prominent targets were Jewish has caused critics to accuse him of anti-Semitism. The Australian labour historian Peter Love writes: "The anti-Semitism in The Kingdom of Shylock was no aberration. It arose from the logic of his [Anstey's] analysis combined with the cultural tradition of which he was a part. The vulgarities of Christian mythology had built up an accretion of hatred and suspicion towards Jews over many centuries. The resulting stereotype of the greedy and cunning Jewish financier was a commonplace convention in the writings of British radicals and American populists. It was also a persistent theme among Australian labour radicals."

In 1922 he became Assistant Leader of the ALP in the House which he held until 1926.[5]

Following Labor's win at the 1929 election, Anstey became Minister for Health and Minister for Repatriation in the government of Prime Minister James Scullin. But Scullin's government soon fell victim to the Great Depression. Anstey supported the Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, who advocated repudiating Australia's debt to British bondholders (see debt moratorium) and using the funds to create employment in order to increase production. This may be compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal." In March 1931 Anstey was dumped from the Ministry by the Labor Caucus for supporting the "Lang Plan."[1]

Despite this, Anstey did not follow Lang out of the Labor Party. Demoralized and cynical, he stayed on the backbench until his retirement at the 1934 election, when he and his wife moved to Sydney. After his wife's death he moved back to Melbourne, where he died of cancer.[1] Ironically, he had devoted his last years to financial speculation, and had become a wealthy man.

Anstey is principally remembered as the mentor of John Curtin, on whom he had a great influence in Curtin's early years. Like Curtin, he was a heavy drinker. He wrote extensive unpublished memoirs but burned them shortly before his death. It is often rumored that he burnt these papers in a drunken rage, but this is unsubstantiated. Frank Hardy wrote in his book, The Hard Way, that Frank Anstey received a visit from John Wren, immortalised in his other book Power Without Glory, who asked him to eradicate any reference to him in his memoirs, to prevent it from being an exposé of his gambling empire. Anstey railway station in Melbourne is named in his honour.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Turner, Ian (1979). "Anstey, Francis George (Frank) (1865–1940)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 12 January 2008. 
  2. ^ "Frank Anstey: Labor's First MP in Brunswick". Brunswick Labor Net. Retrieved 12 January 2008. 
  3. ^ "Victorian Politics". Kalgoorlie Western Argus. Trove, National Library of Australia. 7 October 1902. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  4. ^ "Editorial". The Brisbane Worker. 5 January 1907. 
  5. ^ "Labour Pioneer Dies". The Argus. Trove. 2 November 1940. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
Victorian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
William Thomas Reay
David Methven
Member for East Bourke Boroughs
Served alongside: Frederick Hickford (1902–03)
David Methven (1903–04)
District eliminated
New title Member for Brunswick
Succeeded by
James Jewell
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
James Hume Cook
Member for Bourke
Succeeded by
Maurice Blackburn
Political offices
Preceded by
Neville Howse
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
John McNeill
New title Minister for Repatriation