BEERWORTH, Frederick Hubert (1886–1968)
Senator for South Australia, 1946–51 (Australian Labor Party)

Frederick Hubert Beerworth, farm worker, railwayman and union leader, was born on 17 May 1886 at Quorn near Carrieton, South Australia. He was one of the eleven children of William Carl Beerworth, a German-born farmer, and Mary, née McInerney. He was educated locally, probably at schools in Pametta and Carrieton. Following farm work in the Carrieton area, Fred, as he was known, became an employee of the South Australian Railways, initially at Peterborough and Quorn as a cleaner, then as a rail motor driver at Gladstone, Port Lincoln and Mile End (Adelaide). According to his son, he joined the South Australian Railways on 14 May 1911, his service with the railways totalling over thirty years.[1]

Beerworth was thirty years of age when he enlisted in the AIF on 4 October 1916. On 6 January 1917, he married Ellen Beatrice Bourke at St Patrick’s Church, Grote Street, Adelaide. He embarked for England and France on 11 May. His medical examination for enlistment, dated 30 September 1916, recorded his height as 5 feet 5½ inches. He was appointed to serve with the 4th Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company as second corporal. Hospitalised for some months in 1918 and again in 1919, he left England in July 1919 and was discharged in Australia on 21 September, having joined the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League in August. On 19 November 1920 Ellen died; there were no children. On 22 September 1925, Fred married Nora Devitt Kenny.[2]

Beerworth joined the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen (AFULE) on 1 July 1921, becoming a member of its executive (South Australian division) in 1937, vice-president in 1939, and a member of the union’s state executive, then president between 1940 and 1941. At the union’s 1940 annual conference at Trades Hall, Adelaide, he exhorted ‘the footplate fraternity, whether they be steam or rail car’, to keep pace with motor competition. At this meeting a motion was passed supporting the withdrawal of the South Australian division from the AFULE, but the tenor of Beerworth’s comments does not indicate his support of this action. By 1946 Beerworth had given ‘long and valued’ service to the labour movement, having represented the AFULE at ALP annual conferences, and served as secretary of the party’s Hilton and Cowandilla branches. From 1944 to 1946 he represented the Labor Party as a councillor on the Municipal Council of West Torrens and in May 1945 was made a Justice of the Peace.[3]

At the federal election of 28 September 1946 Beerworth was elected to the Senate, along with party colleagues Ward and Critchley, all due to commence their terms of office on 1 July 1947. Beerworth, as the candidate who had topped the South Australian poll for the Senate, also filled the remaining ten months of the casual vacancy previously held by Liberal and Country League senator, Edward Mattner, who was defeated at the election. Beerworth was sworn on 6 November 1946, and, although it is an arcane point, was not sworn a second time when he took up his elected position on 30 June 1947.[4]

Beerworth had entered the Senate at the age of sixty, his older brother, James Michael Beerworth, having become a state parliamentarian some thirteen years earlier. Fred made three brief speeches. Two referred to the standardisation of railway gauges. In his first speech he stated:

The development and defence of this country depend primarily on rail transportation, and it is seriously hampered at present, because of the break of gauge which occurs so often in our railway systems. This is particularly noticeable in South Australia. A most glaring example is provided at Port Pirie, where the railway tracks in one marshalling yard are of three different gauges. During the war this situation led to the creation of one of the greatest bottle-necks in transportation in this country. Apart from considerations of national defence, however, the unification of railway gauges will be of great assistance to primary producers, because it will facilitate the rapid transport of stock and perishable commodities.

Persistent lobbying on this important subject by Beerworth and other South Australian Labor members and senators resulted in the Chifley Government agreeing to a preliminary survey with a view to standardising the gauge between Leigh Creek and Port Augusta.[5]

While undoubtedly modest in his contribution to debate, Beerworth asked a number of pertinent questions indicating his knowledge and concern about problems affecting his state. The first of these concerned the lack of hospital accommodation along the Trans-Australian Railway. In a second question on the same day, he asked the Minister representing the Minister of the Interior about the housing shortage for employees of the Commonwealth railways, particularly at Port Augusta and Quorn (where Beerworth had been stationed). Other questions included such subjects as coal production, hospital facilities, immunisation, kerosene, war service homes, tractors, tallow, wire netting, telephone services, sugar shortages, superphosphate, building materials, herbs, vehicle registration, war neurosis, subsidised wool and the Royal visit. Beerworth’s final question, like his first, was related to the railways.[6]

Both houses of the Parliament were simultaneously dissolved on 19 March 1951, thus cutting short Beerworth’s term. He did not stand again, but spent an active and happy retirement, driving his car around Adelaide until the age of eighty. Beerworth died on 17 May 1968, the eighty-second anniversary of his birth. After a Requiem Mass in St John Bosco, Brooklyn Park, he was buried in the Centennial Park Cemetery, survived by Nora and the only child of his second marriage, Peter James. Beerworth’s death notice mentioned his former association with the South Australian Railways.[7]

Peter C. Grundy

[1] Inconsistencies in the spelling of ‘Frederick’, even by Beerworth himself, probably relate to the occasional use of the German spelling; The author is indebted to Beerworth’s son, Peter J. Beerworth, for information on his father; Carrieton Centenary Book Committee (comp.), Carrieton in the Gum Creek Country: A Story of One Hundred Years, Carrieton, SA, 1978, p. 27; Locomotive Journal (Melb.), 8 Aug. 1946, p. 31; CPD, 22 Oct. 1947, p. 1061.

[2] The author is indebted to Mrs Marlene Wendelborn, Millicent, SA, for information on Ellen Beatrice Bourke; Beerworth, F. H.―War Service Record, B2455, NAA.

[3] AFULE Papers, E94/15, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, ANU; Locomotive Journal (Melb.), 8 Aug. 1946, p. 31, 11 Oct. 1945, pp. 23–4; Workers’ Weekly Herald (Adel.), 20 Sept. 1946, p. 4; Age (Melb.), 30 Sept. 1946, p. 5; Information provided by Corporation of West Torrens.

[4] See Senate Elections Act 1922. Mattner, who was defeated at the election, would have had to come first in the poll to have been eligible to continue to fill the vacancy after the election; Senate, Journals, 6 Nov. 1946; CPD, 15 Oct. 1947, pp. 724–5.

[5] CPD, 22 Oct. 1947, pp. 1061–2, 24 Nov. 1947, pp. 2504–5, 6 Oct. 1948, pp. 1198–9, 23 Sept. 1948, p. 763.

[6] CPD, 13 Nov. 1946, pp. 116–17, 30 May 1950, p. 3287, 23 May 1947, p. 2834, 15 Oct. 1947, p. 729, 28 Apr. 1948, pp. 1118–19, 8 Sept. 1948, p. 157, 11 May 1950, p. 2421, 5 June 1947, p. 3468, 29 May 1947, p. 3072, 12 Oct. 1949, p. 1211, 19 Apr. 1950, p. 1506, 15 Sept. 1948, p. 400, 28 Apr. 1948, p. 1121, 13 Oct. 1948, p. 1477, 17 Nov. 1948, p. 3013, 3018, 15 Oct. 1947, p. 733, 26 Apr. 1950, p. 1795, 13 Mar. 1951, p. 289.

[7] Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 19 Mar. 1951; CPD, 5 Mar. 1947, p. 325, 9 June 1949, p. 740; Advertiser (Adel.), 19 Mar. 1951, p. 1, 18 May 1968, p. 50.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 306-308.

BEERWORTH, Frederick Hubert (1886–1968)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, SA, 1946–51


Senate Committee Service

Printing Committee, 1946–50