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Lou Cunningham and the Electorate of Coogee

Mysterious Death of First Member
The first member for Coogee, Nationalist Hyam Goldstein, had previously served as a member for the proportionally-elected Eastern Suburbs from 1922 to 1925. He was found dead in 1928 at the bottom of the Coogee cliffs in mysterious circumstances. It was rumoured that his death was caused by the federal Member for Barton, Thomas Ley, (aka The Minister for Murder) who was suspected in the murder of his Labor opponent in the 1925 election, and later convicted of murder after moving to London.

Coogee was included in the five-member Eastern Suburbs electorate until 1927 when multi-member proportional representation in New South Wales was abolished. Coogee was a conservative stronghold until 1941.

Goldstein was followed by former Randwick Mayor John Dunningham who served for ten years from 1928 until 26th May 1938 when Dunningham collapsed and died of a heart attack in his office. He was replaced in a by-election by journalist, politician and historian Thomas Mutch (1885-1958). Mutch began his political career as a Labor man but got caught up in the internecine warfare of the ALP in the 1920’s and 1930’s and by the time he represented Coogee he was a member of the United Australia Party (UAP).

Lou Cunningham
Lucien Lawrence "Lou" Cunningham (4 June 1889 – 23 March 1948) born at Inverell, NSW to farmer, Eugene Cunningham, and his wife Mary, née Edgeworth, both born in Ireland. He was educated at Goonoowigall Public School and eventually ran the family farm. He became involved in the Australian Workers' Union, the No Conscription League and the Australian Labor Party. A Catholic, Cunningham was a staunch opponent of communism. In 1919 he defeated Labor defector William Webster to become the federal MHR for Gwydir which he held until the 1925 elections. He regained the seat in 1929 and held until 1931with the landslide against the Scullin government.

Lou Cunningham MP
Lou Cunningham MP

Cunningham married Catherine Crosby at Coogee on 3 September 1927 and though he maintained his links with rural NSW, lived in Coogee for the rest of his life. Unlike many colleagues, Cunningham remained loyal to the Labor Party through its many splits. Being tall and around 108 kilograms he was nicknamed "the Goonoowigall Giant" and "Australia's biggest cabinet minister".

He ran as a candidate for federal seat of East Sydney seats in 1932 but was defeated by Eddie Ward, then a Lang Labor candidate. Cunningham was a staunch opponent of Jack Lang. He then stood for Coogee in 1941 after Lang's removal as leader and won partly due to his political skills and standing in the local community and partly due to invigorated Labor under William McKell. He was, for instance, a supporter of the Coogee Bowling Club from its inception in 1946, and its patron, even though many members of his local ALP Branches opposed the used of the public land for the club. Cunningham retained the seat until his death on 23 March 1948 of a coronary occlusion at his home at 5 Stark Street, Coogee. His funeral was held at St Brigid’s Church, Coogee and was buried at Randwick General Cemetery. He was survived by his wife and two sons.

Transition Period
Demographic and economic changes and post-World War Two immigration created changes in the makeup of the eastern suburbs. The boundaries of the Coogee were pushed outwards as seats were created in the western suburbs as the expense of the east. This meant that a first there was a transition period where the seat see-sawed between parties and then a long period of Labor domination.

Lou’s widow, Catherine Cunningham, ran for the Labor Party in the following by-election but was defeated by the Liberal Party’s Kevin Ellis. Ellis lost to the ALP’s Lou Walsh in 1953, and the two engaged in numerous election battles over the next decade. Walsh lost to Ellis in 1956, winning the seat back in 1962 for one final term. Ellis held the seat from 1965 until his retirement in 1973.

The Labor Era
Michael Cleary, a champion athlete and clothing retailer, won the seat narrowly from the Liberal’s Ross Freeman in a 1974 by-election after Freeman’s narrow 8-vote 1973 win was overturned by a Court of Disputed Returns. Cleary went on to serve as the Member for Coogee for 17 years – the longest serving Member for Coogee.

At the 1990 redistribution, the seat of Waverley was abolished and absorbed into Coogee and Vaucluse. Ernie Page, a former Waverley Mayor who had been the member for the seat of Waverley since 1981, succeeded Michael Cleary for Labor in 1991 and held the seat for 12 years until 2003. He was then succeeded by another former Waverley Mayor, Paul Pearce for eight years until 2011.

New Era?
In 2011, Bruce Notley-Smith won the seat for the Liberals, the first time in 38 years that his party had control of the seat. Perhaps this means the wheel has turned again and the seat is on it was way to becoming safe for the conservative side of politics. Only history will tell.

Harry Goldstein Nationalist 1927-1928
John Dunningham Nationalist 1928-1931
John Dunningham United Australia Party (UAP)    1931-1938
Thomas Mutch UAP 1938-1941
Lou Cunningham Labor 1941-1948
Kevin Ellis Liberal 1948-1953
Lou Walsh Labor 1953-1956
Kevin Ellis Liberal 1956-1962
Lou Walsh Labor 1962-1965
(Sir) Kevin Ellis Liberal 1965-1973
Ross Freeman Liberal 1973-1974
Michael Cleary Labor 1974-1991
Ernie Page Labor 1991-2003
Paul Pearce Labor 2003-2011
Bruce Notley-Smith   Liberal 2011-
The Sun 23rd March 1948. Ross McMullin, 'Cunningham, Lucien Lawrence (Lou) (1889–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, Vol. 13, 1993. Melb University Press.

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