DEIN, Adam Kemball (1889–1969)
Senator for New South Wales, 1935–41 (United Australia Party)

Adam Kemball Dein, schoolteacher and businessman, was born on 4 March 1889 at Lucknow, a small mining town near Bathurst, New South Wales, fourth surviving son of Adam Francis Dein, a miner of German descent, and Elizabeth Ann, née Brook. Adam Kemball was known throughout his life as Dick. His grandfather, Adam John (1831–1910), was born in Bavaria, served in the German navy, and arrived in 1855 in Sydney, where, that year, he married Juliana Knar, also German-born. Dick’s father, Adam Francis, spent all his life in goldmining and participated in the Lucknow strike of 1898; later he and his sons struck two very rich patches of gold. He was a prominent local musician and bandsman, his favourite instrument being the concertina, which he played until his death, in Orange, in 1945.[1]

Dick was educated at a one-teacher school at Shadforth and would walk four miles a day to attend classes. About the age of fourteen he left school to mine for gold like his father; later he worked on a dairy farm. But he was ‘determined to make something more of his life’ and in 1907 spent two weeks in teachers’ college at Bathurst before joining the Department of Public Instruction as a probationary primary schoolteacher. Early in 1908 he started teaching at Hadsonville and Hanover, half-time one-teacher schools, several miles apart, near Blayney. Dein thus started his teaching career, in a remote part of New South Wales, spending the first two days of each week at one location, and riding by bicycle on Wednesdays to the other town, where he taught on Thursdays and Fridays. A fine cricketer, he seems to have moved about somewhat, for he played for Neville in its winning 1909 team as well as during 1913 and 1914, and for Brewarrina in 1912. On one occasion he was selected as a member of the country team to play against a visiting English side but the game was washed out. He also excelled at football and played Rugby Union for Neville in 1909, Warren in 1910 and Brewarrina in 1911.

He settled for some years at Neville, where on 17 December 1913 he married, in St Luke’s Anglican Church, Emily Jane Colburt, a baker’s daughter, who taught sewing at the local school. Dick and Emily went to Tasmania for their honeymoon, returning to live at Neville. In March 1914 Dick attended a school of military instruction at Bathurst and qualified as an instructor in junior cadet training. As a married man he did not enlist during World War I. The family’s German ancestry caused difficulties, despite his uncle, Walter Henry, serving in the AIF.

In January 1917, for reasons now unknown, Dein resigned from the Department of Public Instruction and the family left Neville, but in June he was re-employed as a teacher at Dubbo and in November was appointed to Narromine. In his spare time he studied diligently (without tuition) and passed the necessary examinations for promotion in the department. In January 1921 he joined the staff of Dulwich Hill Public School in Sydney’s western suburbs and moved his family to Robert Street, Marrickville, where he was to live for the next thirty years. Although he taught many subjects, including sport, his specialty was mathematics, and throughout his life, even as a politician, he would privately tutor students in this subject without charge. In 1926 he was successful in the examinations for classification as grade IIA and became deputy headmaster at Dulwich Hill, teaching ‘special 6th class’.

Always an enthusiastic participant in local activities, especially sport, Dein played with the Marrickville district first-grade cricket team during the 1920s and was a delegate to the New South Wales Cricket Association. He was, as well, adept at tennis, playing first-grade for Marrickville for several years, and was president of the Marrickville Lawn Tennis Club. He was a master of a nearby masonic lodge and president of the district progress association.[2]

Dein was active in the Nationalist Party from 1924, was president of the Dulwich Hill branch from 1926 to 1931, and consistently worked in general elections when he was not a candidate. He became close to the local business entrepreneur and leading conservative politician (Sir) Frederick Stewart. He stood unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives seat of Lang as a Nationalist in 1929. It was a bitter fight, but neither Dein nor the incumbent W. J. Long resorted to personality politics or recriminations. Dein contested the seat again in 1931. On this occasion, in the aftermath of the split in the Labor Party caused by J. T. Lang, there were two Labor candidates in the field. Espousing a policy of support for the Premiers’ Plan, favouring a review of the tariff, proposing that work should be substituted for the dole and that there should be no inflation, Dein won the seat for the UAP.

A hard-hitting contributor to the political controversies of the day, Dein peppered his speeches with attacks on the Labor Party, particularly the Lang faction in New South Wales. In 1932 he called for ‘the removal from the files of the Parliamentary Library of that disloyal, lying and scurrilous rag, known as the Labor Daily’. No stranger to the soap-box in the Sydney Domain, he once accepted a challenge by Labor firebrand E. J. Ward to stand on the platform and defend the Government’s policy on pensions. At a street corner meeting in West Maitland in April 1933, during the referendum campaign for reform of the New South Wales Legislative Council, he was struck in the face.

A redistribution made the seat of Lang easier for Labor, so Dein did not recontest it in September 1934, winning election to the Senate for the United Australia Party. Having ceased to draw his allowance as a parliamentarian and having handed back his gold railway pass in August, and, unable to return to teaching for the nine months before he took his seat in the Senate, he tried real estate, opening an agency in Pitt Street, Sydney.[3]

Dein was sworn in as a senator on 23 September 1935. A quiet man in his personal dealings, his parliamentary performance was combative. In the House of Representatives the Opposition had labelled him as ‘the outstanding example of a “party hack”’, and he continued his ways in the Senate where, it was alleged, he was ‘the Government’s champion muck-raker’. He claimed that Labor senators were ‘unwittingly, being used by outside propagandists and cranks’. Attacking ‘union bosses’ and ‘union parasites’, he explained that by this he meant, not trade unionists, but ‘those who live on their dues’. Accused of always making provocative speeches, he was a vigorous interjector and in the flurry of accusations that ensued on one occasion during an unseemly display of wartime hysteria in the Senate, he was attacked for his German ancestry. On another, in response to his linking Labor senators with communists, he was said to have ‘German associations’ and reacted angrily. At other times his outspoken support of compulsory military service in World War II resulted in pointed questions about his failure to serve in the forces in the previous war. On one occasion Dein accepted a challenge to a duel by Senator Ashley, to be held at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Nothing was heard of the outcome, though the Sydney Morning Herald anticipated that both senators ‘would practise assiduously’.[4]

In the Parliament Dein came across as an able backbencher and loyal to his party, his main preoccupations being pensions and unemployment. He was an advocate of the Government’s proposed national (compulsory) insurance scheme, urging more generous treatment for pensioners and veterans under existing legislation. He would refer to cases where injustices had occurred, and thus acquired a reputation as a defender of pensioners’ rights. He believed the solution to unemployment was a combination of standardisation of wages and conditions and shorter working hours. He opposed prohibitive tariffs, pointing out that the Government’s fiscal policy lay between the extremes of the ALP and the Country Party. He was a temporary chairman of committees in the Senate from December 1937 to November 1938 and Government Whip from October 1938 until he ceased to hold his Senate seat on 30 June 1941. He had been defeated at the 1940 elections, in which the UAP suffered a severe setback in New South Wales. Dein blamed the loss on the difficult position of the Government team on the voting paper, which had been drawn by ballot. In the 1943 general election, again a disaster for the conservative parties, he failed in another attempt to be re-elected to the Senate.[5]

Dein retained his active interest in conservative politics. He became involved in local government and from 1944 to 1950 was a councillor on Marrickville Municipal Council. He continued to be prominent in state and federal politics, being elected to the inaugural council of the Democratic Party (which replaced the UAP in New South Wales) in February 1944. An early member of the Liberal Party of Australia, in 1949 and 1951 Dein contested the federal electorate of Parkes as a Liberal candidate. On each occasion he failed narrowly to win the seat, losing to Les Haylen. He represented the Western Suburbs on the Sydney County Council (elected by aldermen from four constituencies) from 1949 until 1950.[6]

He had many interests other than politics. Gold continued to fascinate him. About 1933 he had visited New Guinea with colleague Tom Scholfield, MHR, to look at goldmining, and in March 1938 flew to Alice Springs, Lake Amadeus and Uluru (then Ayers Rock) with a party led by J. M. Morley Cutlack in the fruitless search for Harold Lasseter’s lost gold reef. But with teaching and politics behind him, in middle age he needed a new livelihood. His brother had a timber business in Orange and, having studied that industry, in 1939 Dein set up as a timber supplier. The company’s head office was at Marrickville and yards were opened at Brookvale about 1951 and Miranda about 1952. With the active involvement of his family, the business prospered, helped by the expansion of building in Sydney after the war.

In the early 1950s he moved to Manly, and for about a decade he concentrated on his business, but then he again took an interest in local government, founding during 1960 and 1961 the Manly Citizens’ and Ratepayers’ Association and winning election to Manly Council in 1962. As zestful as ever, he ‘shook Manly Council. He thumped and pummelled, but he also used astuteness and political “nous” to gain his ends’, bore no grudges and brought humour to council debates. Dein became Mayor of Manly in 1966—winning after a draw from the hat. He eventually retired from local government and from an active and extended public life in December 1968, at the age of seventy-nine.[7]

A big, ‘studious-looking’ man, Dein was five feet eleven inches tall, with pale blue eyes and sandy, thinning hair. He was known in the family, even as a young man, as ‘Baldy Gus’. Naturally left-handed, he had been forced to write right-handed at school, and was thereafter ambidextrous. All his life he was a non-smoker and a strict teetotaller and had excellent health. Not a regular churchgoer, he was a staunch Protestant, and a supporter, though not a member, of the Salvation Army. He was always keen on sport, and enjoyed watching cricket and football matches later in life. At home the family played cards, mostly bridge and solo. In 1961 Dein travelled for five months in England, Europe and the United States; he was disappointed that he was unable to trace any family connections on his visit to Germany. He died on 9 May 1969 at his Manly home, his occupation given as company director, and was cremated at Northern Suburbs Crematorium with Anglican rites. His wife, son Norman, and three daughters, Daphne, Loris and Marjorie, survived him. A successful teacher and self-made businessman, Dein had been a useful, conservative, and unlucky senator.[8]

Chris Cunneen

[1] The author gratefully acknowledges information supplied by Mrs Marjorie Abbott (Qld) and Mrs Loris Cunningham (Syd.), Dein’s daughters.

[2] Manly Daily, 13 May 1969, p. 1; Yvonne Hudacek, Lost and Found: A Family History, Forestville, NSW, 1994, pp. 21-2, 33-4; Pacific Times (Parramatta), 28 Nov. 1963; Frank Barr, Meeting the Challenge: The History of Public Schools in the Blayney District, Blayney High School, Blayney, NSW, 1983, pp. 85-7; Carcoar Chronicle, 16 Jan. 1914; Marrickville Free Press, 21 May 1969, p. 1; SMH, 11 Dec. 1931, p. 10; Bulletin (Syd.), 9 Mar. 1932, p. 13.

[3] SMH, 11 Dec. 1931, p. 10, 5 Oct. 1929, p. 16; CPD, 18 May 1932, p. 902, 22 Sept. 1939, p. 1067; DT (Syd.), 19 Sept. 1932, p. 6; SMH, 24 Apr. 1933, p. 9, 11 Apr. 1934, p. 13, 4 Sept. 1934, p. 8, 12 July 1934, p. 9, 4 Oct. 1934, p. 11; DT (Syd.), 10 Oct. 1934, p. 1.

[4] CPD, 24 July 1934, p. 631, 23 Nov. 1938, p. 1880, 9 June 1939, p. 1580, 14 June 1939, p. 1779, 29 May 1940, p. 1425, 22 Apr. 1940, p. 283; SMH, 23 Apr. 1940, p. 11; CPD, 22 Sept. 1939, p. 1067, 20 Sept. 1939, p. 759; SMH, 9 June 1939, p. 16.

[5] CPD, 23 May 1933, p. 1654, 22 June 1938, pp. 2454-61, 27 Nov. 1936, pp. 2468-9, 3 Dec. 1935, pp. 2327–30, 9 Nov. 1933, p. 4364–5, 19 Oct. 1932, p. 1366, 15 Mar. 1933, pp. 284-5; SMH, 6 July 1943, p. 4, 25 Oct. 1940, p. 10.

[6] SMH, 5 Dec. 1944, p. 8, 8 Dec. 1948, p. 16, 14 Feb. 1944, p. 7, 31 Mar. 1949, p. 1, 31 Mar. 1951, p. 1, 10 Feb. 1949, p. 1, 30 Dec. 1950, p. 4.

[7] Harry Purvis with Joan Priest, Outback Airman, Rigby, Adelaide, 1979, pp. 85-6; Marrickville Free Press, 21 May 1969, p. 1; SMH, 13 May 1969, p. 4, 5 Dec. 1962, p. 26; Manly Daily, 13 May 1969, pp. 1, 2, 15 May 1969, p. 5; Hudacek, Lost and Found, p. 34.

[8] Manly Daily, 13 May 1969, p. 1; Pacific Times (Parramatta), 28 Nov. 1963; Manly Daily, 11 Aug. 1961, p. 4.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 422-426.

DEIN, Adam Kemball (1889-1969)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, NSW, 1935–41

Member of the House of Representatives for Lang, NSW, 1931–34

Senate Committee Service

Library Committee, 1935–40

Printing Committee, 1938–41