So here we are again, it’s election time in NSW. We take it for granted that we will get a chance to vote for our politicians, even if we don’t believe everything they say or don’t want to go and do it, we know we can vote.
This of course was not always the case. Democracy is a relatively new idea and the idea that everyone gets the vote even more recent.
The first elections for Government in NSW were held in June 1843 (Sydney City Council had been elected in 1842) for the Legislative Council, now the Upper House. The Council had actually been formed in 1824 but was fully appointed by the Governor of the day to act as an advisory council to him. The new idea of actually electing someone had come from Britain where an Act of the British Parliament gave NSW the rights to establish our own. As transportation of convicts had by then ceased to NSW (1840) it was determined that we were now capable of having our own say in things.
The Governor would still be in charge but he would be expected to listen to the elected Council and take into consideration their advice. He would also get to appoint six colonists, with six appointed by the British government and 24 others being elected, making a total of 36 covering 18 electorates across the state, including 2 (with 6 members) covering Port Phillip as Victoria was still attached to NSW administratively.
The elections were staggered across the electorates, with the Sydney going first on the 15 June, the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carter by King John in 1215 (800 years this year). Candidates had been spruiking for some time with five candidates running in Sydney. Rallies were held in the Domain, Hyde Park, Macquarie Place and other public spaces. As they were often fuelled by alcohol they were lively affairs.
Voters were restricted to property owners, with country voters needed to own more than £100 of property and city householders to those paying at least £10 rent per year. This restricted voting to about half the male population.
The day was marked by violence. While voters came out in good numbers, as the results began to become clear, the backers of the losers began to cause trouble at polling stations and through the city. Supporters of the winning candidates (WC Wentworth and William Bland) were harassed, others chased and beaten and one was killed. A gang of sailors from whaling ships in the harbour advanced through the city armed with harpoons, whaling spears, blubber spades and other weapons until confronted and broken up by mounted police. It’s a long way from a sausage sizzle that election days are remembered for now.
And so it was, we were represented. In 1856 the first fully elected parliament was voted established in NSW, when the lower house Legislative Assembly was formed. In 1858 male suffrage based on residential address was introduced given most men the opportunity to vote. Women joined in in 1902. It took until 1971 for 18 years old to be given the vote and incredibly it was not until 1978 that the Legislative Council was fully elected without appointed members.
Nothing comes easy or quickly, but nothing comes if you aren’t involved.