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Lyons Cottage Historic Site


The Cottage

The cottage itself seems to have originally been part of an allotment that included an adjacent hotel property. The hotel was built by Joe’s father, Michael Lyons, in 1849.  He sold the hotel in 1854 but retained the lot where the cottage now stands.

It is not known exactly when the cottage was built but it was certainly constructed before 1870 as it appears in a photograph taken in that year.

The cottage is just one storey and, when first built, would have only had four rooms – two at the front, one more and a kitchen
at the rear. It was also constructed fairly cheaply – from plain timber on the exterior, and with interior paling boards rather than more expensive lath and plaster.  It really is quite a modest dwelling, even for the time.

Renovations most likely took place during the early twentieth century, and additional rooms have been added to the rear at some point.  It was acquired by Parks and Wildlife (PWS) in 1976 and, at that time, was in a fairly poor state of repair.  In 1979 PWS undertook repairs of the building in order to retain the original and humble appearance of the home, similar to how it looked when Joe Lyons was born in 1879.

Joe Lyons - Early life

Joseph Aloysius (Joe) Lyons was born in 1879 in the home that is now known as Lyons Cottage in Stanley.  His parents were Irish-born Michael and Ellen (nee Carroll) Lyons.

Joe Lyons only lived in the Alexander Terrace cottage for the first few years of his life.  Soon, his family moved to Ulverstone where his father ran various business including a butchery and bakery.  When his parents fell on hard times, Joe had to leave school at just nine years of age in order to work to support his seven siblings. He held a number of jobs, including errand boy, farm labourer and printer’s devil (an apprentice in a printing house).

When Joe was 12 his two unmarried maternal aunts invited him to live with them in Stanley so they could support him whilst he went back to school.  He did so, eventually qualifying to become a teacher in 1901 when he was 17 years old. He then taught at a number of country schools.  Whilst he was working in Smithton he began public debating, which he showed a talent for. He also joined the North-West League of the Workers’ Political League.  This was to be a forerunner of the Labour Party in Tasmania.

Joe Lyons – Political Life

Joe resigned from teaching in 1909 in order to pursue his political career. In the 1909 elections he was a candidate in the Wilmot electorate for the Tasmanian House of Assembly.  He was elected and between 1914 and 1916 he was Treasurer, Minister for Education and Minister for Railways in the Earle Labour Government. Earle left the party over the issue of conscription, which he was in favour of.  Joe, who had remained anti-conscription, became leader of the party in his place.

For several years his party remained in opposition; however, in 1923 Labour was returned and Joe Lyons became Premier of Tasmania, as well as Treasurer and Minister for Railways. He remained Premier for four years until being defeated in 1928.

In 1929 Lyons was elected to Federal Parliament.  The re-appointment of former Treasurer E. G. Theodore led to his resignation in 1931 as he believed the appointment to be both unethical and unwise politically. Theodore had been charged with fraud and dishonesty and, whilst he was away from politics during the trials, Lyons was appointed treasurer. He was vehemently opposed to Theodore’s return and, when it became reality, he resigned from the party.

Lyons was not the only one to be disgruntled with the Theodore decision. Lyons’ colleague, James Fenton, also left the party. Together, with a few other supporters, they formed the United Australia Party (UAP).  It was with this party that, later that year, Lyons became the first Tasmanian to be elected as Prime Minister. He also held the position of Treasurer.

Lyons was to be Prime Minister from 1931 until his death in 1939. He was the only Prime Minister to have won three consecutive elections.

Joe Lyons - Family Life

In 1913, Lyons had met Enid Burnell, a trainee teacher.  Two years later they married; he was 35 and she 17. Whilst Enid’s father was concerned about the age difference in the beginning, the couple became a very successful and supportive partnership. Indeed, in a letter to Enid just after his election to Prime Minister, Lyons wrote, “whatever honours or distinctions come are ours, not mine”. 

The couple had eleven children together; six daughters and five sons.  Lyons was the first Prime Minister to use the official lodge in Canberra as a family home; the large family was spread between the lodge, their home in Devonport, and the children’s schools in Melbourne.  Enid would travel between the three, as well as taking an active role in political life.

In 1943, four years after Joe’s death, Enid became the first female elected to the House of Representatives.  She was also the first woman appointed to the Federal Cabinet when, in 1949, she was appointed Vice-President of the Executive Council in the Menzies Government.

Two of the couple’s children also made their way into politics.  Kevin Lyons became Deputy Premier in the Liberal Government between 1969 and 1972 whilst Brendan Lyons served in the ministry of Robin Gray in the 1980s.