Worried republicans rushed the letters editors and talkback to respond to the report by a socialite journalist that Prince William is interested in becoming Governor–General. If they really believed their propaganda, they should have been delighted. Would this not have hastened a republic? Of course not-they knew the appointment would be popular.
A common theme of the more abusive ones was that the position should be no longer reserved for useless aristocrats and royals.. As is so often the case, this is wrong. It is absolutely wrong about each and every nomination of a member of the Royal Family – there were two –and it was absolutely wrong about each other of the British born Governors-General since the first Australian born appointment. (With the exception of Sir Ninian Stephen, and Royal appointments, there were four. Two held the Victoria Cross, and two the Military Cross. They were not useless aristocrats, but war heroes.
The first appointment of an Australian born Governor General, Sir Isaac Isaacs was made in 1931. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, King George V had opposed the appointment not because Sir Isaac was an Australian, but because he was a “local man” with heavy involvement in the political and legal life of the nation, there had been no prior consultation, Sir Isaac at 76 was elderly and he was personally unknown to him. But in late 1930 the Imperial Conference confirmed that a governor-general should be appointed on the advice of the Dominion government concerned, though only after informal consultation. In an audience with The King in November, 1930, Prime Minister Scullin stood firm, so The King, a constitutional monarch, reluctantly approved the appointment.
Sir Isaac’s successor was the British born Lord Gowrie who certainly was no aristocratic lay-about. We quoted a 2003 AAP report in our column of 7 August, 2006 on Governors- General, which said that “..no Governor-General can match the record of Brigadier General Alexander Gore Arkwright Hore-Ruthven, the 1st Baron Gowrie and Governor-General from 1936 to 1945. As Captain Hore-Ruthven he won a VC in Sudan in 1898 for rescuing an officer who lay wounded "within 50 yards of advancing Dervishes”. He also wore the DSO and Bar as well as the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest award for bravery, all received during World War I.
Lord Gowrie was the first Governor-General to represent Australia abroad, visiting the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, in1938 – in the world of diplomacy and international law, a Head of State, although no one bothered with that obscure term, or entered into what a leading republic calls that “arid and irrelevant” debate.
Lord Gowrie was also called on to exercise the reserve powers of the Crown, where the Governor-General acts at his own discretion and not on advice. This he did impeccably. When the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons died in April 1939, he commissioned Sir Earle Page, the leader of the Country Party, as Prime Minister until the United Australia Party could choose a leader. Three weeks later he commissioned Robert Gordon Menzies, the new UAP leader to form a government. After the election in 1940, Mr. Menzies led a minority government, and depended on the votes of two independent members. Mr. Menzies subsequently lost the confidence of his party, and resigned as prime Minister on 28 August 1941. Lord Gowrie then commissioned Arthur Fadden , the Country Party leader, to form a government. But the independent members crossed the floor and Fadden resigned, as constitutional practice requires. The Governor-General sent for the independent members and, wisely, sought undertakings from them that if he were to commission John Curtin, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, to form a government, they would end the period of instability and support him. They agreed, and John Curtin became Prime Minister in October, a position he held until his untimely death just before the end of the war. Lord Gowrie was to retire in 1939, and a successor was chosen, Prince George, the Duke of Kent. This was delayed when war broke out, and tragically, the Duke was killed while on active service. Lord Gowrie agreed to stay on until 1945. He was a most distinguished Governor-General.