Our  namesake

Deakin University takes its name from Alfred Deakin,  the second Prime Minister of Australia and leader of the movement for Australian federation.

See also : Alfred Deakin's legacy  |  Resources on Alfred Deakin 

Naming our university

Alfred Deakin (3 August 1856 - 7 October 1919), Australian politician, was a leader of the Australian federation movement and later second Prime Minister of Australia. He served in this role for three terms (1903-4, 1905-8 and 1909-10).

In mid-1974 Interim Planning Council members deliberated on a name for the new university before settling on a list of historical figures who had some association with the area. As a born and bred Victorian, with ties to the region, Deakin was selected and forwarded to Victorian Minister of Education Lindsay Thompson for approval. Thompson agreed, and the university was named in September 1974. Deakin has maintained strong links with many descendants of Alfred Deakin. The Brookes and White families have been generous supporters of the university over many years.

Early Days

Alfred Deakin was born on 3 August 1856 in Fitzroy, Melbourne. His parents were British immigrants who had arrived in Australia in 1850.

Alfred was a clever boy who developed an early love of reading. He was educated with his sister at her small girls' school until commencing at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1864. He matriculated in 1871 and studied law at the University of Melbourne the following year. Although he had no particular interest in law, his quick comprehension skills and superb memory enabled him to pass his course and he was admitted to the Bar in 1877.

He continued to direct his energies towards books and writing and his reading included subjects such as history, biography, travel, literature, religion, philosophy, and science. Throughout his life he produced a vast array of notebooks and diaries containing his thoughts on books and authors and on topics that caught his attention.

His early law career proved to be unsuccessful, and it was an encounter with David Syme, the proprietor of The Age and The Leader, which enabled him to earn his living. Between 1878 and 1883, Deakin wrote for Syme's newspapers on a wide variety of topics.

A Victorian Politician

Deakin's work as a journalist helped direct his attention towards politics. The Reform League approached him in 1878 to stand as a candidate in the forthcoming election for West Bourke. He accepted and after a whirlwind campaign defeated the opposition candidate by ninety-seven votes and was elected to the Legislative Assembly. He was twenty-three years old. However, an electoral irregularity caused him to resign on principle, which he did at the conclusion of his maiden speech. He fought four more elections over the next eighteen months to secure West Bourke and establish himself in Victorian politics.

Deakin's concern for the welfare of the underprivileged (he also maintained an interest in the prevention of cruelty to animals for most of his life) led him to introduce legislation to curb 'sweated' labour and improve conditions in factories. Although his reforms were emasculated by the Legislative Council, the Factory Acts of 1885 and 1893 introduced some significant improvements, such as the regulation and inspection of factories, compensation for injured workers and the limitation of hours of work for women and children.

Alfred Deakin's interest in the underprivileged unfortunately did not extend to Australia's First Nations Peoples, as it was Deakin who was responsible for the Aboriginal Protection Amendment Act of 1886 which for the first time made a distinction between people of full and mixed Aboriginal descent. This law had a devastating and profound impact on Australia's First Nations People as it enabled the forced removal of mixed-race children (the so-called half-castes and quarter-castes) from reserves for incorporation into white society. The point of the legislation was expenditure; it would remove from the state the cost of the maintenance of mixed-race people, as those of 'full blood' were expected to die away. The repercussions of this legislation were immediate and catastrophic, as families and kinship groups were torn apart, and long-term generational trauma was the inevitable result.

Following the 1880s drought, Deakin developed a long-standing interest in irrigation. This resulted in his appointment as head of a Royal Commission into the subject. Due to the lack of available information on irrigation, he took a three-month research tour of the United States. Following the tour, he produced the 1885 report Irrigation in America, a concise and lucid explanation of the situation in the United States of America. This resulted in the 1886 Irrigation Act and the publications Irrigation in Italy and Egypt (1887) and Irrigated India (1893).

Alfred Deakin served in various roles in the Victorian Government, including Minister for Public Works and Water Supply, Chief Secretary and Solicitor General. He also led the Liberal Party from 1886. When the ministry fell in 1893 he returned to the, also returning to his legal practice to support his family.

Building a Nation

From 1887 to 1900 Deakin became increasingly involved in the movement for Federation. He became Victoria's most prominent representative in all the Federal Conferences and Conventions held to discuss this issue and develop an Australian Constitution.

Deakin was both a proud Australian Federalist and at the same time a staunch imperialist. It was these factors, and his skills and knowledge relating to law, history, oration, and negotiation which enabled him to play a vital role in the burgeoning Federation movement until its culmination in 1900 when the Constitution was finally passed by the British Parliament. It is widely noted that the debates around Federation largely ignored discussion about the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Edmund Barton became Australia's first Prime Minister and Deakin became the first Attorney General and Leader of the House. As Attorney General, Deakin was the chief architect of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 (also known as the White Australia Policy - see Deakin's Legacy below).

Deakin served three terms as Prime Minister: 1903-4, 1905-8 and 1909-10. As Prime Minister, Deakin was responsible for building the basic national government structure. He recognised the need for, and fought to establish, institutions such as the High Court, the Public Service and the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Immigration, trade protection, defence and labour legislation were framed by his Government, which gained an international reputation for experiments in welfare policies and reforms in working conditions.

It was during his second term as Prime Minister his demanding work and responsibilities began to take a toll on his health. His memory began to fail, and he wrote of his concern in his private journals.

Deakin was highly respected and regarded throughout his public life by both sides of the political spectrum. His stature and renown led to him being offered many honours and awards, including a knighthood; however, he refused all these.

Deakin retired from Parliamentary life in January 1913 with his health broken and his once magnificent memory virtually non-existent. Tragically, he was fully aware of his decline; his retirement was meant to be full of books and writing, but he was now unable to remember what he had read the previous day. Despite this, he was persuaded to chair a Royal Commission on Food Supply in 1914 and to act as president of the Australian Commission at the International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. He found both tasks extremely onerous and his mental state worsened. The loving support of his wife, family and friends provided him with a great deal of comfort and eased his life as much as was possible until his death on 7 October 1919, at the age of sixty-three.