Golden age of double-barrelled surnames begins in federal parliament

How the 2022 election heralded a double-barrelled bonanza.

Amid the frenzied noise and historic results of the 2022 Australian federal election, a quiet revolution took place. Never before have so many individuals with double-barrelled surnames been elected to the Australian parliament at the same time. Double-barrelled surnames have been growing in popularity across the country in recent years. However, until this year’s election, the double-barrelled parliamentarian had remained among the rarest of political animals. To date, just 22 individuals with double or hyphenated surnames have served in the federal parliament, but the 2022 election may well prove a harbinger of change in more ways than one.

The history of double-barrelled Australian parliamentarians dates to the very first federal election in 1901. Former Glasgow-born butcher and Rockhampton mayor Thomas Macdonald-Paterson was elected to the House of Representatives as the inaugural Member for Brisbane and the first double-barrelled parliamentarian of the fledgling federation. Born to Helen Macdonald and Andrew Paterson in 1844, Macdonald-Paterson lost his seat after just one term and died shortly thereafter — too soon to see the election of the next to follow in his footsteps: Sir Walter Massy-Greene in 1910. A protégé of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, Massy-Greene may well have become Hughes’ successor and Australia’s first and only double-barrelled prime minister had he not lost his seat in the 1922 election. Undeterred, he moved to the Senate in 1923 where he joined Senator Edmund Drake-Brockman, who had taken his seat three years prior.

Fortunately, the departure of Massy-Greene did not leave the House of Representatives without a double-barrelled member, since the election of 1922 also saw the ascension of Jack Duncan-Hughes, former private secretary to the Governor-General. Defeated in 1928 but seemingly finding politics irresistible, he would later serve six years in the Senate before returning to the lower house for another term in 1940.

Sir Billy Kent Hughes was the first of the post-war double-barrelled MPs and the first to be part of the modern Liberal party. A hurdler at the 1920 Olympics, Kent Hughes added Kent to his surname to avoid confusion with the far more prominent Prime Minister Billy Hughes. Known as the Victorian “Minister for Starvation” during the Great Depression, a defender of cricket’s Bodyline tactics, and author of a 1933 article entitled ‘Why I have become a Fascist’, Kent Hughes nevertheless became Chairman of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Organising Committee and served in parliament until his death in 1970, outlasting the one-term William Bridges-Maxwell.

Meanwhile, in 1958, Sir Tom Drake-Brockman would break a 20-year drought of double-barrelled senators, following in his older relative Edmund’s footsteps as the sole double-barrelled senator between 1959 and 1978. His only company throughout the 1970s was a brief appearance from the first double-barrelled Labor MP, Alfred Ashley-Brown in the lower house.

The next two years would be the last time in Australian history that the federal parliament lacked a single double-barrelled politician. By 1981, Liberal senators Noel Crichton-Browne and Florence Bjelke-Petersen had been elected. Bjelke-Petersen, or ‘Lady Flo’ as she was known, was placed at the top of the Queensland ticket at the behest of her husband, infamous Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and served for 12 years. Powerbroker Crichton-Browne would be expelled from the Liberal party in 1995 for harassment of a journalist and later pleaded guilty to fraudulently claiming taxpayer-funded expenses.

Leader of the Australian Democrats Natasha Stott Despoja would be elected in 1995, followed by Concetta Fierravanti-Wells ten years later. However, it would be the 2007 election of Sarah Hanson-Young to the Senate that heralded the coming of a double-barrelled bonanza, particularly among the Australian Greens.

The 2022 election was a watershed moment for double-barrelled parliamentarians. For the first time in Australian history, there are nine double-barrelled surnames in parliament, where there had previously never been more than four serving concurrently (beside a brief 12-day period of five in 2017, prior to Skye Kakoschke-Moore’s resignation). The lower house picked up four members, breaking a near half-century drought — Elizabeth Watson-Brown, Michelle Ananda-Rajah, Max Chandler-Mather and Louise Miller-Frost. Meanwhile, Penny Allman-Payne and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price joined the Greens’ Hanson-Young, Jordon Steele-John and Peter Whish-Wilson in the Senate. Six of the nine current double-barrelled parliamentarians are now members of the Greens.

Despite their small number, double-barrelled parliamentarians have had a tenacious presence in Canberra, with at least one sitting in parliament in all but two of the last 70 years. There have only been 15 years since federation in which there have not been any. Internationally, thanks to the 2022 election boosting double-barrelled representation in parliament to four per cent, Australia now compares favourably to other Western states such as Canada (3.6%), Ireland (3.6%), New Zealand (3.3%), the United States (2.8%) and the United Kingdom (2.6%).

Historically, particularly in the United Kingdom, double-barrelled surnames have often been a sign of privilege and status, used by nobility to pass down family names connected to estates. This can lead to absurd constructions, such as the famously quintuple-barrelled Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville. For others, however, a double-barrelled name is an opportunity to push back against patriarchal naming conventions, in a more inclusive approach that reflects a sense of belonging to multiple families. In a statement to Honi, Labor MP for Boothby Louise Miller-Frost said she adopted her surname to match that given to her children.

“This reflects my feminist values,” said Miller-Frost. “The children are as much of my family as they are of their father’s family and giving them both surnames reflects that they belong to both families.”

Once posh and now popular, the double-barrelled surname has a long, but untold history in the nation’s legislature. Whether the 2022 election becomes an outlier or a new normal, a golden age of double-barrelled surnames in parliament is at hand.

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