Issue 4 - May 4, 2010 enews home

Ted to research turbulent time in the Territory

Former NT Administrator Ted Egan

By Jason McIntosh

A former Administrator of the Northern Territory, Mr Ted Egan AO, is about to dig deep into the life of one of his predecessors who was best known for his forced resignation.

Mr Egan is enrolling in a Doctor of Philosophy at Charles Darwin University in which he will focus on the turbulent history of Dr John Gilruth, a Scottish-born veterinary scientist who was appointed by the Commonwealth in 1912 as the NT’s first Administrator.

Dr Gilruth’s appointment was cut short when he was forced to escape Darwin under escort in 1918 after an angry group of union-led protesters demanded his resignation. This incident is known as the Darwin Rebellion.

Mr Egan said that the outbreak of World War 1 saw the Federal Government divert promised resources from the Top End, which flamed the frustrations of local workers.

“They (the Commonwealth) promised the last man and last shilling to the British Empire and Darwin certainly wasn’t on their radar,” Mr Egan said.

He said he was also keen to question history’s negative view of Dr Gilruth.

“I’m fascinated why this man is held in such high esteem everywhere but the Northern Territory and I intend to scrutinise the background of unions that chose to take him on,” Mr Egan said.

“History has shown him to be a Scottish autocrat who lacked the social skills to deal with unions.”

Mr Egan has already tracked down relatives of Dr Gilruth who spoke of his warmth and compassion, which were at odds with history painting him as arrogant and insensitive.

“I asked a mate on the ABC to put a call out and the next day I received a call from his grandson, who lives near Tamworth.

“I then met his granddaughter. They both believe he was treated unfairly and have offered their full support (for the research).”

Mr Egan said as a supporter of unions he was also keen to explore the motives of people who were against Dr Gilruth.

“I want to check out the union leaders themselves and see how lily white they were.”

Dr Gilruth was an eminent scientist and after the Darwin scandal went on to co-found Australia’s CSIRO to great acclaim.

“Even then the Royal Commission into his Territory experience saw one unionist appointed to judge his actions in the Territory, which seemed loaded,” Mr Egan said.

“If he has been treated unfairly I will hopefully find out.”

Mr Egan will soon begin a PhD, which will include visiting Dr Gilruth’s home region of Forfarshire, now called Angus, in eastern Scotland.

“I look forward to unearthing the real story behind this man,” he said.