John Tonkin

John Trezise Tonkin AC (2 February 1902 – 20 October 1995), popularly known as "Honest John", was an Australian politician.

John Tonkin

20th Premier of Western Australia
In office
3 March 1971 – 8 April 1974
GovernorSir Douglas Kendrew (1971–74)
Sir Hughie Edwards (1974)
Preceded bySir David Brand
Succeeded bySir Charles Court
ConstituencyNorth-East Fremantle (1933–1950)
Melville (1950–1977)
Personal details
John Trezise Tonkin

2 February 1902
Boulder, Western Australia
Died20 October 1995 (aged 93)
Perth, Western Australia
Political partyLabor
Spouse(s)Rosalie Cleghorn (m. 1926)
Joan West (m. 1971)

A member of the Labor Party, he served as a Member of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly for a record 44 years from 1933 to 1977, and was the 20th Premier of Western Australia, serving from the 1971 election, where his party defeated the ruling LiberalCountry coalition led by David Brand, to the 1974 election, where the Labor Party was defeated by the Liberal–Country coalition led by Charles Court. A number of landmarks were later named or renamed after him, including the Tonkin Highway and John Tonkin College in Mandurah.


John Tonkin (no relation to South Australian Premier David Tonkin) was born in Boulder, Western Australia, on 2 February 1902. He was the son of John Trezise Tonkin and Julia Carrigan [1]. Of Cornish descent,[2] he attended Boulder City Central School and Eastern Goldfields High School, and began working as a schoolteacher, teaching in several schools in country Western Australia. By 1923, he was teaching at Forest Grove, near Witchcliffe in the South West, where he established a branch of the Labor Party (ALP). He married Rosalie Cleghorn on 29 December 1926 at St. Mary's Church in West Perth.[3]

At the 1933 state election, Tonkin was elected to the seat of North-East Fremantle, with the ALP, led by Philip Collier, winning 30 out of the 50 seats available. His campaign manager for the 1933 election was Jerry Dolan.[4] In May 1935, he received the Silver Jubilee Medal of King George V.[5]

In December 1943, Tonkin was made Minister for Education, succeeding William Kitson, a position which he held until the 1947 election.[6] He had previously served as Minister for Agriculture.[7] As a part of a major redistribution before the 1950 election, his seat, North-East Fremantle, was abolished. Tonkin ran for the newly formed seat of Melville, which he won.

Tonkin was made Deputy Premier on 23 February 1953 as part of the Cabinet of Albert Hawke. He regained his role as Minister for Education, and was also appointed Minister for Works and Minister for Water Supplies. In April 1956, he was stripped of his education portfolio in favour of Bill Hegney, as part of a cabinet reshuffle.[7] The Labor Party lost government at the 1959 state election. After Labor, again under Hawke, lost both the 1962 and 1965 elections, Tonkin was elected Leader of the Opposition in January 1967. His party lost the 1968 election, but gained two seats. His wife, Rosalie, died in 1969 of cancer. He married his second wife, Joan West, in Wesley Church, Perth, on 13 June 1971, with a reception being held at Perth Airport.[8]

Tonkin gained power at the 1971 state election, narrowly defeating the coalition led by Sir David Brand. Tonkin was in a rather shaky position. Labor had only won government by one seat in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly. Owing to a severe malapportionment that over-represented rural areas, Tonkin had to contend with a legislative council in which Labor was outnumbered by almost 2-to-1.[9] He was also not helped by the unpopularity of the Whitlam federal Labor government.[10] As a result, despite gaining a modest swing in the Perth area, Labor lost its majority in the 1974 state election Although the Liberals came up two seats short of a majority in that election, the balance of power was held by the National Alliance, a merger between the WA branches of the Country and Democratic Labor parties. Liberal leader Charles Court quickly formed a coalition with the National Alliance, forcing Tonkin to resign. He was thus one of the few state premiers to have been turned out of office after only one term. He stayed on after the election as State parliamentary leader of the ALP, forming a shadow ministry, until his retirement in 1976, when Colin Jamieson succeeded him as Labor leader.

After his first wife and daughter died of cancer, Tonkin campaigned for many years for radio-wave therapy treatments for cancer sufferers; and he set up a treatment clinic run by cancer surgeon John Holt in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. At the time he became Premier and married his second wife in the early 1970s, he was already renowned for his tireless support of the Tronado anti-cancer machine.

In the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1977, John Tonkin was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia.[11] He died in Perth in 1995, at the age of 93.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ WA BDM. Record 847:
  2. ^ Payton, Philip. The Cornish Overseas, 2005.
  3. ^ "TONKIN–CLEGHORN" – The Sunday Times. Published 16 January 1927. Retrieved from [ Trove], 6 December 2011.
  4. ^ Dolan, John (Jerry) (1901–1986) – Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  5. ^ "JUBILEE MEDALS." - The West Australian. Published 7 May 1935. Retrieved from [ Trove], 6 December 2011.
  6. ^ Black, David; Bolton, Geoffrey (2001). Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of Western Australia, Volume Two, 1930-1990 (Revised ed.). Parliament House: Parliament of Western Australia. ISBN 0731697839.
  7. ^ a b John Trezise (Labor) Archived 12 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine – Constitutional Centre of Western Australia. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  8. ^ "She kept him waiting" – The Age. Published 14 June 1971. Retrieved from Google News, 7 December 2011.
  9. ^ Penrose, Sandra (December 1974). "Australian Political Chronicle: May–August 1974". Australian Journal of Politics and History. 20 (3): 414. ISSN 0004-9522.
  10. ^ Hamilton, Barbara (August 1974). "Australian Political Chronicle: January–April 1974". Australian Journal of Politics and History. 20 (2): 256–259. ISSN 0004-9522.
  11. ^ It's an Honour
  12. ^ Edmonds, Leigh (1997). The vital link: a history of Main Roads Western Australia 1926-1996. Nedlands, Western Australia: University of Western Australia Press. ISBN 1-875560-87-4.
  13. ^ Liz Constable, Minister for Education. "New Mandurah high school named after former premier" – Ministerial Media Statements. Published 12 September 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  14. ^ Liz Constable, Minister for Education. "Mandurah school named for John Tonkin" – Ministerial Media Statements. Published 16 November 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  15. ^ John Tonkin East Freo / Zephyrs Cafe – A Coffee in the Park. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  16. ^ John Tonkin's House (fmr), description – Heritage Council of Western Australia. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  17. ^ John Tonkin's House (fmr), other listings – Heritage Council of Western Australia. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
Political offices
Preceded by
David Brand
Premier of Western Australia
Succeeded by
Charles Court
Preceded by
Tom Evans
Treasurer of Western Australia
Succeeded by
Charles Court
Western Australian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Hubert Parker
Member for North-East Fremantle
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Member for Melville
Succeeded by
Barry Hodge