King O’Malley – The Bald Headed Eagle from the Rocky Mountains

Day 58 of Colourisation Project – July 4

There is no character in Australian politics more intriguing than the legendary King O’Malley. Born either July 3 or July 4, in 1854 in either the USA or Canada, he is considered the father of Australia’s national capital, Canberra.  King O’Malley is one of the more colourful and enigmatic characters to have graced the halls of Australia’s Parliament. His shadowy past and flamboyant character did not get in the way of a political career spanning nearly two decades.

There is some evidence to suggest he was born in the USA but in order to stand for Parliament he needed to claim Canada, which was part of the British Commonwealth, as his place of birth.  O’Malley was somewhat of a fabulist and always courting controversy because one never knew if he was telling the truth, lying or exaggerating for good effect.

What we do know with some certainty is that he was educated in New York City, worked in his uncle’s bank, and travelled widely around the United States as an insurance and real estate salesman. Whilst in Texas, he founded the Waterlily Rock Bound Church, the Red Skin Temple of the Cayuse Nation and assumed the role of First Bishop”, in order to take advantage of government land grants that were being offered to churches at the time. After losing his first wife, Rosy Wilmot to tuberculosis just before she was due to give birth in 1886, he set sail for Queensland, Australia.

King O'Malley

Photographer unknown – National Library of Australia – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Despite his sketchy origins he was a fundamental part of Canberra’s early history. He is widely regarded for his role in the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank and in the planning and selection of Canberra as the national capital.

O’Malley was a prominent figure in Australian public life during the early years of Federation. He was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly from 1896 to 1899; then became a member of Australia’s first Federal Parliament in the Australian House of Representatives from 1901 to 1917. He was also Minister for Home Affairs in the second and third Fisher Labor ministry between 1910 – 1917. His commitment to the anti-conscription cause led him to resign in protest from Billy Hughes’s Cabinet, thereby ending his political career. Shortly after he retired to Melbourne.

Ever wondered why the Australian Labor Party has adopted the American spelling of the word Labor?  O’Malley…that’s why. He gave the ALP its spelling of Labor in 1912.  Up until then it had always been the Australian Labour Party. Being a spelling reform enthusiast he persuaded the party that “Labor” was the more modern form of the word, and so our early fathers went with it.   So much for O’Malley’s Canadian roots!

O’Malley has both a suburb and an Irish pub in Canberra named after him, which is somewhat ironic as O’Malley was a temperance fighter, responsible for the state of prohibition in Canberra from 1911 to 1928!

O’Malley died in Melbourne on 20th December 1953 at the age of 99. The man who referred to himself as the “bald headed eagle from the Rocky Mountains” was given a state funeral as he was the very last survivor of Australia’s first national Parliament of 1901, which included a set of future Prime Ministers; Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin, Chris Watson, George Reid, Andrew Fisher and Billy Hughes.

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“Never say die until a dead horse kick you.” King O’Malley

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