Not Made Up: the Big Fella’s Briefcase (1932)


What a wild year.


The Depression was raging, and to counteract this, some Australian states had implemented austerity measures to try and reduce the impact on their populations. NSW’s Premier Jack “Big Fella” Lang, in contrast, had gone the Keynesian route and ordered a huge honking bridge linking the North and South shores of Sydney Harbour, with the aim of increasing employment, spending, and general economic activity while also getting a bridge out of it.

NSW was also supposed to be paying back debts incurred to England during WW1, but this didn’t seem to bother the Premier, who declared that “our [dead] sons… in Flanders Fields” would act in lieu of repayments. Unfortunately for him (but very fortunately for other people), dead bodies were not legal currency in NSW at that time.

The Federal Government (and also England) were unhappy about that and ordered NSW to pay back the debt or cede control of their funds to the Feds, who would manage the state treasury for them. Also, there were a lot of conservatives who were upset that Lang was handing out welfare left and right, because it looked a lot like communism, which is bad, obviously. Anyway, Lang just kept doing his thing, and on Saturday 12 March, Canberra passed an act that would take Federal control of the NSW Treasury, the Financial Agreement Enforcement Act 1932which would take effect on Monday 14 March.

Immediately on hearing about this – before the banks could close, because they didn’t have internet banking back then – old mate Big Fella waltzed into the bank with his security backup and withdrew every penny in the NSW Treasury, stuck the money in a series of briefcases, and went back to his office to run the entire State on cash.

That lasted for almost exactly two months.

In the meantime, a far-right group called the “New Guard” plotted to kidnap the premier, but that was too difficult, so they opted to send in this guy to fuck up the opening of the Harbour Bridge, which was finally finished:

Francis de Groot, or Franky the Fascist as I like to call him, was allowed to just get around with a sword on a horse because they pretty much let ex-military people do whatever they wanted back then. And get around he did, riding up to the ribbon at the formal opening ceremony and cutting it with his sword before the premier could get a look-in, declaring it open “for the decent people of NSW” (implying, I don’t know. People who have their own ceremonial swords, probably.)

It wasn’t even Frank’s horse. He’d stolen it from a little girl.

Anyway, the Governor of NSW ran out of patience and sacked Big Fella on the 13th of May. This is not the same as a double dissolution, but it was closer to what happened to Gough Whitlam in 1975. Governor Game stuck the state opposition leader in power, who promptly called and won an election, and things were back to normal.

It was a wild ride though.


Further reading:

Sydney Harbour Bridge site

1932 by Gerald Stone

Migration History NSW 

Meanwhile, in Western Australia…


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