John Cain Senior portrait

John Cain, premier 1945-47, 1952-55
Title Premier John Cain (Senior)
Artist Shirley Bourne
Date 1980
Medium Oil on canvas
1208 x 957 x 57 mm

Premier 14th September 1943 – 18th September 1943

Premier 21st November 1945 - 20th November 1947

Premier 17th December 1952 – 7th June 1955

John Cain was born at Greendale, near Bacchus Marsh on the 19th of January 1882. After leaving school at age 13, he worked as a farm hand in the Goulburn Valley before moving to Melbourne around 1907. Settling in the Northcote area, Cain worked as a green grocer and theatre spruiker and was active in the Victorian Socialist Party (VSP). During World War 1 he was a vocal anti-conscriptionist. In 1926 he married Dorothea Vera Marie Grindrod.

In 1915 Cain was elected as the Labor Party (ALP) candidate to the Northcote City Council and in November 1917 won the seat of Jika Jika in the Legislative Assembly. He was minister without portfolio in the George Predergast’s 1924 Labor government, and Minister of Railways and of Electrical Undertakings during Edmond Hogan’s 1929-1932 government. Cain’s management of the difficult railways portfolio contributed to his promotion to deputy leader in 1932 and in October 1937 he became leader of the Victorian ALP.

Cain briefly became premier on the 14th September 1943 when Labor supported a United Australia Party (UAP) vote of no confidence, against Premier Albert Dunstan. UAP leader Tom Hollway had negotiated with Cain for a Labor supported UAP ministry on the promise of electoral re-distribution. When the Governor unexpectedly commissioned Cain instead of Hollway to form a government, the UAP joined with Dunstan’s Country Party on the 18 Sep 1943 to end Cain’s premiership.

At the November 1945 election, Labor was able to form government with the support of two independents. In difficult a post-war environment, Cain’s achievements as premier included legislation to establish independent wage and condition tribunals for public sector employees, a housing agreement with the Commonwealth, the Soil Conservations and Land Utilisation Bill and amendments to the Soldier Settlement Bill. 1946 was a turbulent year of continuing industrial unrest and internal Labor Party intrigue. Cain’s premiership survived until late 1947 when the Legislative Council blocked supply in protest over the Federal Labor government’s desire to nationalise the banking sector.

From 1950 to 1952 Labor supported a minority Country Party government. The disproportionate power of the Country party was a bone of contention with both Labor and Liberal (the renamed UAP) parties, which Cain deployed popularly to secure an outright majority in the December 1952 election. Within a year the Electoral Districts Act was passed. Other achievements from Cain’s third government include further amendments to The Workers’ Compensation Act and the relocation of Tattersall’s Lotteries to Victoria.

The Labor Split of 1955 ended John Cain’s government. Tension within Labor factions, grew to outright hostility when federal Labor leader Dr. H.V. Evatt denounced members of B.A. Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement faction. Federal and state expulsions of ALP members followed and on the 19th of April 1955, a group of ALP defectors crossed the floor and brought down the Victorian Government. Cain remained leader of the Victorian Labor Party in opposition, and died of a cerebral haemorrhage while campaigning for Queensland ALP on the 4 August 1957. His son, John Cain Junior followed his father as Premier of Victoria between 1982 and 1990.

This portrait by Shirley Bourne OAM (b.1924 d.2006) was painted posthumously.


© Shirley Bourne