BUZACOTT, Richard (1867–1933)
Senator for Western Australia, 1910–23 (Labor Party; National Labour Party; Nationalist Party)

Richard Buzacott was born at Emu Flat, near Clare, South Australia, on 7 September 1867, son of Richard Buzacott, a farmer of Emu Farm, Armagh (near Clare, South Australia) and his wife Margaret, née McKinnon. An elder brother, Nicholas, was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council (1899–1933). Richard was educated at Stanley Flat Primary School. In 1891, he went to work in the Broken Hill mining industry. Later, in one of his rare bursts of parliamentary eloquence, he spoke of ‘some of the finest men in Australia, who were absolutely murdered by the industrial conditions, which existed twenty and twenty-five years ago’. Buzacott was to spend eight years in Broken Hill, moving in 1899 to the base metal fields of North Queensland and in 1900 to Western Australia. He began as a prospector on the Goongarrie field about 150 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie, but then moved to nearby Menzies. Here at Christ Church on 31 March 1908, he married Mary Lucy Marshall according to the rites of the Church of England. They had one son, Richard Norman.[1]

Early in his time at Menzies, Buzacott took a leading role in the local trade union movement. He was president of the Menzies branch of the Australian Workers Association (1901), the Amalgamated Miners Association (1903) and the Australian Labor Federation (1904). He was secretary of the Menzies Miners’ Institute (1906–07), resigning because of pressure of work in March 1907, but becoming president in 1909. Buzacott arrived on the goldfields at a time when Western Australia had two Trades and Labor Councils, one based at Kalgoorlie, and the other, more strongly craft-based, in Perth. Their amalgamation and the fall of the first Western Australian Labor Government in 1905 left the goldfields sector of the Party in a position of influence for several years, and this may have fostered Buzacott’s entry into federal politics.

In the state elections of 1904 and 1905, he stood as endorsed Labor candidate for the Legislative Assembly seat of Menzies against the Minister for Mines, Henry Gregory, each time losing with 47 percent of the vote. Campaigning as ‘a practically unknown man’ in inclement weather, it was said that ‘some interesting snapshots could have been had of a Labor candidate dragging the sulky when the horse knocked up’. Third time lucky at the 1908 elections, he defeated Gregory by 1220 votes to 1213, but Gregory appealed successfully to the Court of Disputed Returns, and regained the seat at the ensuing by-election by a margin of 56.[2]

Perhaps in compensation for this disappointment, Buzacott was given Labor endorsement at the Senate elections of April 1910 and came in second in the poll. Then, and at every later election he gained an extra margin of support from goldfields voters. His portrait at this period reveals a solid, thickset physique and heavy moustache, his solemnity redeemed by a not inelegant buttonhole. A decent backbencher, he spoke comparatively seldom, but was extremely meticulous—few better—in attending and voting in divisions. He confined himself mostly to questions or statements about bread and butter issues affecting the mining and pastoral outback of Western Australia: the post office at Wyndham, the needs of the Black Range rifle club, the use of indentured Asian labour in the Broome pearling industry.

His one flight of fancy was an enduring belief in the agricultural potential of the Macdonnell Range region, considered as a factor in planning an Adelaide–Darwin railway. He took a sustained and detailed interest in the progress of the transcontinental line between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta, speaking a number of times on labour conditions, and once suggesting sleepers could be cut by the unemployed. He upheld King O’Malley’s controversial appointment of Henry Chinn as engineer, and served as a member of the abortive select committee investigating the contractor, Henry Teesdale Smith, a notorious bête noire of the Western Australian trade union movement.[3]

Even before the outbreak of war in 1914, Buzacott showed an interest in defence matters, and hostilities found him firmly on the patriotic wing of the Labor Party. Advocating increased defence spending in Western Australia, he favoured higher taxation to build up the Royal Australian Navy, informing the Senate in May 1915 that this will not be ‘the last great war’. He also favoured increased powers for the Federal Government. Sympathetic to the financial problems of enlisted family men, he raised questions about pay, separation allowances, and mortgage cover for AIF members serving overseas. A concern for job protection led him to ask Senator Pearce for assurances that Asian labour would not be introduced during wartime. Naturally he supported compulsory military training, even forecasting that shortage of labour might oblige the Australian army to raise recruits in Britain or Russia. At the Labor split of November 1916, he sided with W. M. Hughes.[4]

He was re-elected in 1917 as an endorsed Nationalist candidate, but his change of allegiance seems to have left him more silent than ever. In the ensuing six years, he defended Tasmania’s Senator Ready over the latter’s resignation to make room for a Nationalist appointee, spoke once on an income tax proposal affecting prospectors, asked one question on the supply of cornsacks and another on the manufacture of shellcases, and seconded the nomination of Senator Bakhap as Chairman of Committees. Apart from introducing without comment several reports from the joint committee of public accounts, on which he served not inactively from 1920 to 1923, these were his sole contributions to Hansard, although he continued to attend and vote diligently. From 1917 to 1918 he was one of the twelve members of the parliamentary recruiting committee. He also served on the select committee which investigated the ill effects of liquor on serving and returned soldiers, siding with the 4 to 3 majority who stopped short of recommending prohibition, but favoured a ban on ‘shouting’ and other restrictions.[5]

Since at least 1912, Buzacott had resided in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick. Nevertheless, he was given second place on the Western Australian Nationalist ticket at the December 1922 Senate elections. The poll was complicated by the competition of a Country Party team, and Buzacott was defeated, retiring on 30 June 1923, but attending to the last. He continued to live in the Melbourne suburbs, describing his profession as ‘investor’ until his death at his residence in Balwyn on 10 January 1933. He was buried in Brighton General Cemetery. His wife and son survived him.

Buzacott must have been one of the least loquacious members of the Senate, but this does not necessarily imply that he was among the least useful.[6]


Geoffrey Bolton


[1] J. S. Battye (ed.), The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol. 1, 1912, Hussey & Gillingham, Adelaide, p. 305; CPD, 11 December 1913, p. 4136.

[2] Westralian Worker (Kalgoorlie), 8 September 1905, p. 7, 6 May 1904, p. 1; West Australian (Perth), 5 October 1908, p. 5.

[3] CPD, 27 November 1913, p. 3498, 4 December 1913, pp. 3712–3715, 22 October 1913, p. 2299, 22 August 1912, p. 2513, 26 September 1913, p. 1507, 28 November 1913, p. 3591, 6 May 1915, pp. 2890–2891, 5 September 1911, pp. 22–23, 10 September 1915, p. 6888, 24 September 1913, p. 1423, 11 September 1913, p. 1105, 1 October 1913, p. 1623, 13 May 1915, pp. 3075–3076, 31 July 1912, pp. 1445–1446, 21 May 1914, pp. 1194–1195.

[4] CPD, 10 December 1914, p. 1499, 6 May 1915, p. 2889, 11 May 1916, p. 7816, 19 July 1917, pp. 267–268, 11 May 1916, pp. 7797–7798, 17 May 1916, p. 7917, 3 October 1916, p. 9226, 22 September 1916, pp. 8943–8945, 11 May 1916, pp. 7816–7817; Argus (Melbourne), 23 November 1916, p. 8.

[5] CPD, 13 March 1917, pp. 11258–11259, 29 May 1918, p. 5178, 1 May 1918, p. 4232, 26 March 1920, p. 883, 21 July 1920, p. 2834, 6 July 1921, p. 9680, 4 November 1921, p. 12470, 6 December 1921, p. 13722; CPP, Report of the select committee on the effects of intoxicating liquor on Australian soldiers, 1918.

[6] Argus (Melbourne), 12 January 1933, p. 6, 13 January 1933, p. 6; West Australian (Perth), 12 January 1933, p. 12.


This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 365-367.

BUZACOTT, Richard (1867-1933)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, WA, 1910–23


Western Australian Parliament

Member of the legislative Assembly, Menzies, 1908

Senate Committee Service

Library Committee, 1913–17

House Committee, 1914–23

Select Committee on Mr Teesdale Smith’s Contract—Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway, 1914

Select Committee on Intoxicating Liquor—Effect on Australian Soldiers, etc., 1918

Joint Committee of Public Accounts, 1920–23