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George Michael Prendergast

1854 – 1937

George Michael Prendergast (1854-1937), printer and premier, was born to an Irish goldminer and his wife and was apprenticed to the printer of the Pleasant Creek News in 1868. He was employed for several years on a Ballarat newsepaper and worked in Sydney for five years on the Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and elsewhere. Secretary from 1881 of the New South Wales Typographical Society, he briefly managed the Narrandera Argus before returning to Victoria in 1888. President of the Trades Hall Council in 1893-1894, he was a tireless advocate of a legal minimum wage and became first secretary of the Progressive Political League in 1891. He was elected for North Melbourne in 1894, lost the seat in 1897, won it again in 1900 and remained in the assembly, from 1927 as member for Footscray, until his death. In 1894-95 Prendergast was president of the Eight-Hours Committee; in 1897 he joined the Victorian Socialists' League, then its successor, the Social Democratic Party. He was a founder of Commonweal and Workers' Advocate (1891-93), joint-owner of the short-lived weekly Boomerang (1894) and the originator and manager of Tocsin (1897-1906); from 1903 he was closely involved in efforts to establish a Labor daily and in 1912 was trying to found a monthly. He was mayor of North Melbourne in 1902-1903. In 1904 Prendergast became parliamentary leader, a position he was to hold for all but five of the next twenty-two years. In June 1924, when the Nationalist-Country Party coalition broke down, Labor emerged as the largest party and Prendergast found himself Premier and Treasurer. He resigned the leadership in March 1926, despite caucus protests. In the first Hogan ministry he was chief secretary, but was not a contender in the second, of 1929-32. Popular, optimistic and a joker, yet renowned for his honesty and integrity, he was accorded a State funeral at which Sir Stanley Argyle spoke of the ‘extraordinarily beautiful traits in his character’.

Updated 2018