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On the death of Dr H J Foley in 1989, The Glebe (12 July) carried the following report:

“A legendary figure of inner west local politics was hailed as a ‘wonderful bloke and a fabulous doctor’ after his death …” adding that “… he will always be remembered as a champion of the underdog and the worker.”

H J Foley

Horace John Foley was born in 1901, and died in July 1989. He was the son of a country school teacher, and won a bursary to Sydney University where he graduated in medicine in 1926. He moved from Burwood to 202 Glebe Point Road about 1932 where he conducted his medical practice until he retired in 1979.1 He was a member of the Glebe Municipal Council from 1934-39, and was Mayor during the years 1937 and 1938.2

To say the least, Dr Foley had a lively career in Glebe local politics for the four years from December 1934 to December 1938. In December 1935 he was elected Deputy Mayor, and he became Mayor in December 1936. Solling and Reynolds report that during this time “… Foley was able to make Glebe his fief.”3 The Council Minute Books contain some spirited interactions, confirmed by newspaper reports for the period, revealing that his time there was more than somewhat controversial. In April 1937 he was asked on notice “Does a state of chaos exist in the Glebe Municipal Council …?” Not to waste words, Foley’s answer was a simple “No”.

That year five men were fired from the Council owing, Dr Foley said, to the stringent state of the finances …. Later the men took action in the Industrial Court where they alleged they were dismissed for refusing to join “Foley’s Labor League”. The Mayor denied the existence of such an organisation (SMH 14.12.38).

In May 1937 there was an altercation involving the NSW Trotting Club which was asked by the Council “to remove all obstructions and encroachments erected by it upon Ross and Crescent Streets …”. Council passed a motion the following month authorising that steps be taken to enforce this request. It appears from the Council record that Mayor Foley himself demolished the Club’s turnstiles and ticket boxes in Ross Street on a Saturday evening. Solicitors for the Trotting Club wrote to Council about the matter.

Several aldermen disassociated themselves from the Mayor’s provocative action, one complaining that it had been announced on the wireless that the Dogs would be held that night, and asking why the Mayor chose that particular time to exercise his power. “Because it suited me” responded Foley. The alderman countered “It is the general consensus of opinion of the Public that you are temperamentally and mentally unfit to hold the position of Mayor”. Foley demanded the remark be withdrawn, but the alderman refused because it was, he said “quite true” and, refusing to apologise, he eventually left the Chamber.4

This matter ended up in the Equity Court, where it was alleged that Foley had demanded monies from the Club in exchange for Council works. The SMH (28.6.37) reported that the Chief Judge in Equity had condemned the Mayor’s conduct and evidence, and said that “Alderman Foley had made corrupt admissions and had wilfully given false evidence”.

More questions on notice to the Mayor were given in October that year suggesting that all was not “above board” with Council’s administration. One alderman asked to be furnished with a copy of the recent report on Glebe Council made by the Local Government Examiner of Accounts. Mayor Foley simply refused to comply with this request.

Nevertheless in December 1937 the aldermen re-elected him as Mayor. He was congratulated by all, including the Town Clerk, and said to be “a gentleman of outstanding ability and character and [that] great credit was due to him for the manner in which he discharged his duties”.

During 1938, his last year of office, another matter involving Foley had ended up in Court: a dismissed Council clerk had laid charges claiming that the Mayor had used the services of Council employees for his own personal benefit, as well as the Council car and petrol. In September the Town Clerk reported that the Mayor was “confined to his room through illness”, and the aldermen sent him a get well letter. During this time he was often absent from Council meetings, though he was chosen as one of its representatives at the Local Government Conference that year.

The SMH (14.10.38) reported that the Mayor had been found guilty and fined £100 on each of the three charges. In his decision, the magistrate referred to evidence that men employed by Council as “grass cutters” were in fact working “days and weeks” on Foley’s election campaign. The Mayor’s requests for further extensions of leave of absence resulted in his not returning to Glebe Council and in March 1939 a special meeting was held to review the Council vacancy caused by his disqualification.

Dr Foley had been charged and convicted under Section 30 (3) (d) of the Local Government Act 1919 which states that a person is subjected to a special disqualification if he “by virtue of his office accepts or acquires any personal profit or advantage of pecuniary value …”, and he was disqualified from holding any civic office for a period of seven years from the date of conviction.

This, however, did not constrain his fellow aldermen from speaking of “Honest John” Foley “in eulogistic terms”, and the December 1938 Council meeting which elected the next Mayor unanimously (and incredibly) carried a motion “that an appreciation of the invaluable services rendered by [Foley] to the Municipality of The Glebe both as Mayor and Alderman be placed on record, and a copy of the resolution forwarded to Alderman Dr. H.J. Foley under seal of the Council”.

Solling and Reynolds acknowledge that his “community involvement at a time of hardship, which included, among other things, giving free medical treatment to the poor, earned him local support and a territorial base for a career in local politics”. 5

Other views of Dr Foley can be found in Labor and local newspapers of the time. In September 1938 the Labor Daily praised his “public spirited outlook” noting that: “As a doctor he has been a friend to hundreds of people, but, like many other lovable and good natured men, who desire to assist their fellows, his actions are sometimes not appreciated”.

In its valedictory message The Glebe (19.7.89) expressed sorrow at his death, and praised his “unrelenting service”, adding that he was “a fighter for the ordinary bloke who will be remembered for his untiring work commitment, understanding and benevolent attitude to those in need”. It credited him with being instrumental in the setting up of the Meals on Wheels service in Glebe, encouraging the building of parks, roads and facilities for the aged, and giving significant service to the Sydney Homoeopathic Hospital.

Long time Leichhardt Council aldermen Issy Wyner and Nick Origlass admitted that Foley had the support of the residents: “He always did the right thing by the little bloke”. 6

A Forsyth Street resident was quoted as saying: “I don’t think he’ll ever be forgotten here, especially because of all the good he did during the Depression years” and a Glebe old timer told how the doctor treated patients free of charge, adding: He always asked if they needed money and “slipped them a bob or two” if they needed it. 7

I asked my Lombard Street neighbours, who had lived in Glebe for 40 years. what they thought of “Doc” Foley: “He was a funny bloke, into everything – but that’s the sort of bloke you want around these parts. I wish we had him now. I tell you what, he done that many people good turns, you wouldn’t know. And then they turn around and want to roast him”.

After investigations into allegations about its administration, Glebe Council was dismissed in May 1939. Just seven years later Dr Foley was elected to the City of Sydney Council, where he served during 1945-50 and 1953-56. He was an alderman on Leichhardt Council from 1968-71, when Glebe was transferred from the City.

Notes:

  1. “The Labor Party in Inner Sydney”, Max Solling, Leichhardt Historical Journal 22, 2002, pp3 ff
  2. He was later an alderman on boththe City (1945-50 and 1953-56) and Leichhardt (1968-71) Councils.
  3. Leichhardt: on the margins of the city, Max Solling and Peter Reynolds, 1997. Ch 14, p186
  4. The minutes of the meeting were confirmed and signed by Mayor Foley without alteration
  5. Solling and Reynolds, op.cit
  6. The Glebe, 12 July 1989, p6
  7. ibid.

Much of this information is taken from Minute Books of The Glebe Municipal Council, 1934-1939; I have not followed up Dr Foley’s local government career in either the City or Leichhardt Councils (see Solling “The Labor Party in Inner Sydney” referred to above).

Posted on December 15, 2016 by Admin

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  1. Comment by John Robertson on August 27, 2017 at 3:01 pm:

    I warmly remember “Doc” Foley. My father and he got on extremey well. My father hated sitting in confined crowded places so when he neeeded to visit “the doc” he would phone him and the doc would say “Come through the backyard in 15 minutes” and then would let dad through the back door. Always a jovial man, wearing small specticles and much older than his picture displayed on this page. Dad and the doc also took time out to chat about how their families were faring. I don’t know when or how their association started but my earliest memory of their relationship (guestament)1952-53. However it began a lot earlier than that. My father was always full of praise for the “Doc”; saying that he would write/issue notes for pregnant ladies and young mothers so they could obtain butter during the war. From my understanding, many doctors wouldn’t. He did many good things for “battlers”.

    I remember at around the age of 8yrs when I was ill and hallucinating. Dad could not get hold of the doc SO called another physican (as they were then called) who diagnosed meningitis. This was a home visit. The ambulance had been called and was waiting out the front of our house in Ross St. When Dr. Foley turned up carrying his black bag. “Doc, they have already examined him, the ambulance is waiting” says dad.

    “Hmmm, yes, but is it ok if I have a quick look Jack?” asked the Doc pulling out his stetascope.

    Permission was given, the ambulance was sent away, diagnosis?? sun-stroke.

    I also remember helping dad deliver election fliers for Dr. Foley, most likely around 1953.

    In 1969 my young wife and new born son were in separate hospitals. I could not get any information regarding their wellbeing. Doc Foley acted as an intermediary opening a reluctant pathway of communication with hospital doctors.

    About 1976-77 my father trained a pacer (harness racing) for “The Doc”. His name was Maroon Boy; unfortunately and to dad’s disappointment he wasn’t a success. Dad arranged for him to race in Queensland where he won 2 races for Dr. Foley. Dr. Foley was mightily pleased.