Armed with 'a magnetic personality' and 'a charm which melted the bitterness of his opponents' (Ellis, 1958, p. 141), Charles Downey Hardy jnr rose to fame in early 1931 when he orchestrated a mass anti-government rally of 10, 000 protesters on the banks of Wagga Wagga beach, which launched the Riverina Movement and his political career. The rally, aimed principally at NSW Premier J. T. Lang (1876-1975), threatened Riverina secession if both State and Federal Governments failed to provide much needed financial relief to primary producers.
Hardy jnr was born in Wagga Wagga on 12 December 1898. His father, Charles Hardy snr, inherited and built up a successful building company, C. Hardy & Co., in Wagga Wagga which young Charles Hardy jnr joined after he left school. His grandfather, Charles Hardy, who settled in Wagga Wagga in 1862, founded the company which was responsible for the construction of most of the major civic and private buildings in and around Wagga Wagga. Educated at Wagga Wagga High School and the Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Hardy jnr returned to Wagga Wagga in 1915 and secured an apprenticeship as a carpenter. During the First World War he enlisted as a sapper in the Australian Imperial Force, serving in the 1st Pioneer Training Battalion and 1st Field Company Australian Engineers before being gassed in March 1918. He remained in London after the war and gained experience in concrete engineering and draughtsmanship. On 11 July 1922, Hardy jnr married Alice Margaret Ann Trim at St Hilary's Anglican Church in Melbourne. Later in 1924, he travelled to the USA to study afforestation, timber-handling techniques and industrial relations. After his father died in 1934, Hardy jnr took over the firm.
Hardy jnr also took a keen interest in politics, forming the Riverina Development League in 1928, joining the United Australia Association in 1930, and becoming leader of the Riverina Movement in 1931. The success of the river bank rally at Wagga Wagga encouraged Hardy jnr and other active members of the Movement to conduct similar rallies at Narrandera and later Deniliquin, Hay, Tocumwal and Jerilderie, prompting Smith's Weekly to comment: "the countryside is blazing more and more with dangerous passions of resentment against city politicians". By the time the Riverina Movement was placed on a more permanent footing, a number of key players, including Hardy jnr, were beginning to soften their stance on action. Hardy jnr no longer advocated secession. What Hardy jnr did want was to abolish all state governments and replace them with self-governing provincial councils. The New England Movement, which had been active since the 1920s, rejected the provincial plan, and instead, continued to push for new statism in the north. Over the following months, Hardy jnr came to blows with the New England Movement leaders on just what model would suit provincial and regional NSW should both regions break away from the rest of the state.
Meanwhile, Hardy jnr kept busy and employed the services of O'Brien Publicity Co. to campaign and promote the Movement around the state. He flew around in an aeroplane and delivered his 'demagogic speeches' of hope and salvation, earning him the title 'Cromwell of the Riverina'. Further, he did not shy away from describing himself as a Fascist at the time, nor did he deny a 'Silent Division' within the movement. Hardy dubbed this division 'the country method of upholding law and order', which others have interpreted as a secret paramilitary force much like the New Guard. Not surprisingly, his 'truculent oratory' drew the attention of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch.
The failure of the petition to the Commonwealth Government calling for the abolition of state parliament and the creation of provincial units, forced Hardy jnr and his fellow new staters in New England to merge the Riverina, New England, Western and Monaro-South Coast movements as the United Country Movement (UCM). The UCM continued to press for reforms and establish a political base. Shortly afterwards, consensus was reached between the regional movements to merge the UCM with the Country Party. Not all within the Riverina Movement were happy. For many, the politicisation of the United Country Movement represented a step back from its anti-political idealism.
After the demise of the Lang government, Hardy jnr's political career was more conventional. He stood as a United Country Party (UCP) candidate in the Federal election of 1932 and won a seat in the Senate. As UCP leader in the Upper House from October 1935 to June 1938, Hardy jnr initiated a number of debates on the issue of separatism, but experienced a sense of frustration concerning the attitude of Senators from other states. After his defeat in 1938, Hardy jnr served as honorary co-ordinator of works with the Royal Australian Air Force and as liaison officer to the business member of the Air Board during World War Two. He was then seconded to Department of Defence, and was killed in an air crash at Coen, Queensland, on 27 August 1941. He was survived by his wife and two sons.
Compiled by : James Logan.
Sources : Ellis, Ulrich, The Country Party: a political and social history of the party in New South Wales. F. W. Cheshire: Melbourne, 1958; Moore, Andrew, 'Charles Downey Hardy (1898-1941)', in Bede Nairn and Geoffery Serle (Eds.). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 9, 1891-1939, Gil-Las. Melbourne University Press: Melbourne, 1983; ___________, The Secret Army and the Premier: conservation paramilitary organisations in New South Wales 1930-32. NSW University Press: Kensington, 1989.