The night of Tuesday 25 July 1939 was described by the Meteorological Bureau as a ‘cold and frosty night’ and on this wintery eve a curious parliamentary event occurred at Parliament House, Hobart. The Examiner reported that the ‘entire lighting and heating system of the building failed.’ In particular, and at an undisclosed time after Parliament reconved at 7.30 p.m., for some twenty minutes the Legislative Council ‘conducted [debate] in complete darkness and a situation bordering on the farcical was reached’, the newspapers concluded.
Major Alexander Evans (MLC Launceston), an accountant by profession, was on his feet speaking when the power failure occurred. Making his time count, Evans continued talking in the dark about transport matters on the West Coast without the ‘slightest hesitation’, albeit ending with the humorous comment; ‘Now I shall try to find my seat’! ‘Without so much as a match to guide him’, the press report went on, Albert Bendall (MLC Macquarie) ‘took up the debate. His voice ‘rose clearly and distinctly’ from the gloom, only distinguished by the ‘glow of cigarettes’ as other MLC’s left the room. As members bumped about a ‘lighted candle stuck in a saucer cut a fiery path’, wrote the journalist entertainingly. Four candles were actually used, wrote the Examiner, but it was only, when the ‘tall figure’ of Charles Eady (MLC Hobart) was seen to rise in the gloom, that a call for an adjournment of proceedings was made.
C. J. Eady
In an appropriate, but somewhat unparliamentary fashion, the President of the Legislative Council, the Hon. Thomas Murdoch apparently declared that the ‘Ayes’ had supported an adjourment, but Colonel Archibald Blacklow, (MLC Pembroke), called for a division. His apparently unmistakable voice was heard to say: ‘Where I live we are in the dark and we are used to it. We bog about in the mud and make light of it.’ Blacklow, a prominent farmer, had been born locally in Bagdad, and gone on to distinguished and high-ranking military service before returning to Tasmania in 1924. He served in the Legislative Council from 1936 until 1953, where his ‘outstanding interest was dairy produce legislation’, which helped him gained an OBE in 1944. Eady, a lawyer, also served the Upper House from 1925-1945 and was its President for his last year as an MP.
Meantime, in response to Blacklow, Murdoch ‘resignedly announced’ that a division in darkness was impossible. The power blackout, or 'outage' as they are known today, ‘precluded the use of the division bells’. Then a ‘desultory tingling of an anaemic bell broke the silence.’ Explaining this, Murdoch said that an emergency bell had been 'discovered.', but even so, the division to adjourn was lost by 6:7 votes. Except that a ‘moment or two later’, a journalist reported, ‘the room was flooded with light. Radiators began to colour the scene. Cigarette butts were stubbed and foolishly blinking eyes rubbed. Finale!’. We too can blink at the 'glow of cigarettes' inside the Chamber — it was as a feature of the times — but the Legislative Council's 'darkest hour' was over.