Elections in Australia

I’m typing this on my laptop as I’m watching the election coverage on the ABC.

I must admit that when I saw in Ancestry that they had released some Australian electoral rolls it never occurred to me that perhaps they timed the release to coincide with our federal elections! I guess I don’t associate Americans with knowledge about Australia – after all, the site talks about counties rather than states and electorates.

This is not to take anything away from their achievement. I am really looking forward to other rolls becoming available in the next few weeks (as I hope they will be!).

What is interesting me in watching the coverage is the names of the electorates and their continuity from the last century and the one before. Instead of just watching my own electorate, which has already been called, my ears prick up when I see the electorates my ancestors lived in as well.

Are the seats Liberal or Nationals or Labor or still undecided?

How close is the vote?

What were they when my ancestor was alive?

How close was the vote in my ancestors’ time?

How much has changed since then?

What were the parties’ names then?

What did my ancestor vote? Were they swinging voters?

How excited were my female ancestors when they got the vote?

How were campaigns conducted in those days?

What was the radio coverage like?

Were there the multitude of fringe parties in the Senate that there are now?

All interesting questions.

I’m sure there are many others. Some of them I can almost answer myself. I remember when the Senate voting form was much smaller than the tablecloth it is now. No TV, and certainly no graphics with almost vote-by-vote counts. More restrained newspapers without lots of photographs. No cartoons in the newspapers either! And they didn’t talk about “aspirational”seats and “battler” seats.

NSW Electoral Rolls new on Ancestry

Ancestry has just released what I assume will be the first of many electoral rolls for New South Wales and other states. So far only 1930 and 1936 have been released for NSW, with more years available for other States between 1901 and 1936. Indexes allow searching for a name – surname with or without first name – within country, state, district or subdistrict. Once you have a list of possible suspects the image of the electoral roll page can be viewed, showing other people with the same surname in the same subdistrict.

Electoral rolls are enormously useful in showing the residences and occupations of our ancestors. In the absence of censuses this information is invaluable, helping us track movements (or not) over time. Electoral rolls for NSW go back to the 1860s, and for some divisions to the 1840s, but in those days not everyone had the right to vote – only men, and only those with property.

Ancestry is slowly increasing the number of Australian databases it holds, currently including convicts, early censuses and directories, and is well worth checking out. Subscriptions are for unlimited searches for a specific period. It is worth enquiring whether your local library or family history society has a subscription.

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