Joe Cahill in 1956
|29th Premier of New South Wales
Elections: 1953, 1956, 1959
2 April 1952 – 22 October 1959
|Preceded by||James McGirr|
|Succeeded by||Bob Heffron|
|Born||John Joseph Cahill
21 January 1891
Redfern, New South Wales
|Died||22 October 1959
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
|Resting place||Rookwood Cemetery|
|Political party||Australian Labor Party|
|Spouse(s)||Esmey Mary Kelly|
John Joseph Cahill (21 January 1891 – 22 October 1959) was Premier of New South Wales from 1952 to 1959. He is best remembered as the Premier who approved construction on the Sydney Opera House, and for his work increasing the authority of local government in the state.
Joe Cahill, as he was popularly known, was born in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern, and was educated at St Brigid's convent school, Marrickville and the Patrician Brothers' College, both close to central Sydney. He became an apprentice at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops in 1916.
Politically active even at the age of fifteen, he was even more politically active during his twenties. He opposed Conscription in 1916, and lost his railway job in 1917 after taking part in a workers' strike. After that, he had difficulty finding permanent employment, working in many temporary jobs (including selling insurance for a year) when working at all. During the early 1920s, though, his prospects improved; and in 1922, he married Esmey Mary Kelly.
The first attempt Cahill made to enter New South Wales's parliament, in 1917, failed. He ran on an Australian Labor Party ticket for the Legislative Assembly seat of Dulwich Hill that year, but was defeated. Eight years later, he won another Sydney constituency, St George. He was never among the close allies of ALP Premier (and fellow-Catholic) Jack Lang, and his progress in the ALP was delayed by false rumours that in 1927 he had been bribed to help bring down the Lang government; these rumours were repeated by Lang's own newspaper, Labor Daily. With the abolition of St George in 1930, Cahill ran for Arncliffe and was appointed party whip. He failed to be re-elected in 1932 in the anti-Lang landslide.
This defeat, nevertheless, proved to be only a temporary setback. In 1935, Cahill returned to Parliament, again as Member for Arncliffe. He remained in Parliament for the rest of his life, although when Arncliffe was abolished in 1941, he switched to the new electorate of Cook's River. Also in 1941, William McKell became the new ALP Premier, defeating the anti-ALP administration of Alexander Mair. Once in office, McKell appointed Cahill to the job of Secretary for Public Works.
In 1944 Cahill became Minister for Local Government, a position he would hold for eight years; he used this position to augment local governments' powers. He established the State Dockyard at Newcastle and the State Brickworks at Homebush Bay. In addition, he supervised the establishment of the Electricity Authority, which brought electricity to much of rural New South Wales, and the Cumberland County Council plan. James McGirr (who in 1947 took over the premiership from McKell) made Cahill Deputy Premier in 1949.
McGirr, enfeebled by Labor's near-defeat in 1950, resigned as Premier in 1952; and Cahill assumed the role, having beaten Robert Heffron in the party's leadership contest. Cahill held the position until his death in office. He won the state elections of 1953, 1956, and 1959. It was in November 1954 that he first began to champion the idea of an opera house in Sydney, though the building was not completed and opened to the public until 1973. (A plaque within the building commemorates his activism in this regard.)
Cahill's political skills, his determination to avoid another Lang-style split in the party, and (in particular) his government's close alliance with Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Sir Norman Gilroy, ensured that Labor in New South Wales avoided the devastating divisions which forced the party out of office in Victoria, Western Australia, and Queensland during the 1950s split. No earlier premier of New South Wales had remained in power as long as Cahill did (except for Sir Henry Parkes, who served a total of 13 years in the post, but discontinuously); and no later premier would manage to surpass the length of Cahill's tenure until Sir Robert Askin in 1972.
A heavy smoker, Cahill suffered increasingly poor health during 1959. He died at Sydney Hospital of a myocardial infarction in October of that year, and was buried at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney. Heffron succeeded him in the premiership.
Over the years Cahill was given several awards. He received an honorary LL.D from the University of Sydney in 1952, a D.Litt from the University of New England in 1956, and a D.Sc from the New South Wales University of Technology in 1956. The new public high school in his former seat decided to honour his memory by naming themselves in 1961 as the "JJ Cahill Memorial High School".
In 2009 Cahill became the subject of a biography, They Called Him Old Smoothie: John Joseph Cahill, by Peter Golding (Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, Victoria, 2009).