poster

 

Billy Hughes 

A 50-minute stage play for one actor, based on the life of William Morris Hughes.

 

Australia has few legends.  After the bushranger, Ned Kelly, our war time Prime Minister, "Billy" Hughes, probably could lay the strongest claim to that title.  So strong were his convictions that he abandoned the political party that had been his life for thirty years, and joined his former opponents to keep his country in the First World War against Germany.  Germany controlled New Guinea to our north.  If England had been beaten, then Australia also was lost.

 

The allies were victorious, but Hughes' battles were still not over.  This time the enemy was the American President, Woodrow Wilson, who was intent on handing the former German colonies in the Pacific, including New Guinea, over to the Japanese.  Hughes, recognising the expansionist policies of Japan, fought Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference, and won.  If he hadn't, at the outbreak of World War II, Japan would probably have had their armies of occupation in place, and Australia may well have been lost.  That, at least, is the way Hughes saw it.

 

Hughes was revered by the Australian troops.  They called him "The Little Digger".  His private secretary, H.V. Lowe, described him thus: "He was the most irascible and unreasonable little demon that you could conceive of, but at the same time he was extraordinarily likable.  Anybody who associated with Hughes for any length of time developed an intense personal liking for him, and not only a liking, but a vast respect for his knowledge, his breadth of vision, and his kindliness of nature.  He was extraordinarily tolerant of all human failings."

 

This play deals with the period in Hughes' life up to the end of the First World War, and the subsequent Paris Peace Conference.  The political issues of the time, such as an anti-British under­current, banks run by the State, corruption, a strong fear of Japanese domination, and a concern for US parochialism, have a surprising relevance today.  But the real aim of the play is to get inside Hughes' head, to experience with him the agony of sending the young men he idolised to war, to die for a cause that he regarded as vital to his nation's survival.  This was the toughest of all tough decisions.

 

The play is a challenge for a talented actor and an imaginative director.  It requires quick changes of character and accent, as the actor steps for short periods into different roles.  But the prime role is Hughes, whose moods range through anger, love, bitter sarcasm, defiance, soul searching, and humour, as he does battle with the arch villains of King O'Malley, Archbishop Mannix and President Woodrow Wilson.

 

There are still many who cannot see past Hughes' betrayal of the Labor Party.  In this play, I have tried to give Hughes the last word.  I like to feel that this is the play he would have liked to write.  In any case, I am sure he would recognise it, for many of the words are his own.


Billy Hughes was performed by Roger Newcombe in the Inaugural One-person Play Festival at the Bakehouse Theatre in 2000. To obtain a copy of the script, and to discuss performance issues, please email me