The Federation Press

Good Iron Mac

The life of Australian federal father Sir William McMillan KCMG


Sir William McMillan, K.C.M.G., popularly known as “Good Iron Mac”, is one of the key figures in Australia’s nationhood, a Federation Father as influential as Deakin and Barton. Arriving in Australia from Ireland in 1869, he achieved financial success importing soft-goods, and selling them from his horse and buggy throughout NSW, before entering the NSW Parliament in the 1880’s.

Resident of and NSW representative for Burwood, then later resident of Randwick and Federal member for Wentworth, in 1888 he organised Australia’s first modern political party, The Free Trade and Liberal Party. For the next 15 years McMillan was at the centre of political life as Australia made the momentous change from colonies to nationhood. On Federation in 1901, he became leader in the first national parliament.

With the coming centenary of the Australian Constitution and the Commonwealth of Australia, this is a timely work. “Good Iron Mac” also importantly contributes a Conservative history, which in the area of Australian political biography, is currently weighted toward Labor history.

In the Foreword to the book, eminent historian A.W. Martin writes that, “Good biographies place their subjects in their times, and this book is no exception. The main thrust of the book is of course political....But there is also embedded here an intriguing personal story...”

The author, Peter Gunnar, has reason to uncover the personal story of his subject, being Good Iron Mac’s grandson. Gunnar, an American, did not ever meet his mother’s father, but was inspired by the task of research to get to know him both as a politician and as a man. “Only through my research have I come to know him as more than a sepia portrait” says Gunnar.

Born in London in 1924 and raised in America, Peter Gunnar is a retired lawyer, judge, politician and businessman. The research and writing of “Good Iron Mac” has brought him to Australia a number of times.

Table of Contents

Prologue for a merchant in politics
1850-early 1887

Lessons in Legislation, life and leadership
March 1887-March 1889

The treasurer: firming finances and forecasting federation
March 1887-November 1889

The treasurer: from a constitutional conference to circular quay
early 1890-November 1890

The treasurer: a foundation for federation
early 1891-April 1891

The treasurer: constancy and courage
April 1891-October 1892

Remarriage and rethinking
last of 1892-October 1892

Panic, peril, and perseverance
late 1892-december 1896

Compromises for a Constitution
January-April 1897

Changes and Completion
April 1898-May 1901

Referendum, rejection, and recovery
April 1898-May 1901

Finishing the Federal Fabric
May 1901-September 1903

Fate’s Feckless Fancy
late 1903-end of 1906

Epilogue for a Politician in Commerce

Of interest...