Harold George Nelson

Harold George "H. G." Nelson (21 December 1881 – 26 April 1947) was an Australian politician and trade unionist who was the first person to represent the Northern Territory in the House of Representatives. He arrived the territory in 1914 to work as an organiser for the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), and was a leader of the Darwin rebellion of 1918. He subsequently served in the House of Representatives from 1922 to 1934, initially as an independent and then as a member of the Labor Party.

H. G. Nelson
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Northern Territory
In office
16 December 1922  15 September 1934
Preceded byNew seat
Succeeded byAdair Blain
Personal details
Born(1881-12-21)21 December 1881
Botany, New South Wales, Australia
Died26 April 1947(1947-04-26) (aged 65)
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
Political partyLabor
Maud Lawrence (m. 1904)
Children5, inc. Jock Nelson
OccupationTrade unionist

Early life

Nelson was born in Botany, New South Wales, the son of Elizabeth Ann (née Tighe) and John Nelson. His father was a Scottish-born shopkeeper. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, "little is known of his early years and nothing of his education". Nelson moved to Queensland as a young man, working as an engine-driver at Gympie and Mount Perry.[1]


Nelson, his wife Maud, and their five children moved to Pine Creek, Northern Territory in 1913 where he continued to work as an engine driver and began his involvement in union affairs. Nelson started work as an organiser for the Australian Workers' Union in 1914 and became the first secretary of the AWU's Darwin branch.

The influence of the AWU in the Northern Territory grew in significance and so did Nelson. By the end of 1917, 40% of all white men in the Territory belonged to the AWU and Nelson used his standing in the community to gain election to Darwin Town Council.

Described as a "medium-sized nuggety man" and a fiery orator, Nelson was an effective campaigner, as can be seen by his successful campaign to significantly raise the wages of Darwin meatworkers in 1917. He also led protests against the Northern Territory Administrator Dr John A. Gilruth, which officially originated in November 1918 when Gilruth refused requests from barmaids for time off to celebrate the end of World War I (although tensions had been simmering between Gilruth and the union movement for some time). On 17 December 1918, in what has since been called the Darwin Rebellion, Nelson led a protest march to Liberty Square, in front of Government House, to demand Gilruth's removal as Administrator. Continued protests eventually led to the removal of Dr Gilruth from the Administrator position in February 1919, followed by the departure of other senior officials soon after.[2]

Nelson then turned his attention to campaigning for Northern Territory representation in the Australian parliament, including refusing to pay taxes in an echo of the American War of Independence cry of "no taxation without representation". After a brief gaol stint, Nelson's campaign resulted in the establishment of a Northern Territory-based seat (albeit non-voting) in the House of Representatives.

After standing down as AWU secretary, Nelson successfully stood for the new seat as an independent at the 1922 election (although he would join the Australian Labor Party soon after).

Nelson spent his time in parliament campaigning for greater expenditure and self-government for the Northern Territory, with little success. Following his defeat at the 1934 election, Nelson moved to Alice Springs to work as an agent.[1]

Personal life

Nelson married Maud Alice Lawrence on 17 March 1904 in Mount Perry, Queensland. The couple had five children, including John Norman "Jock" Nelson who followed his father into politics.[1]

In 1922, Nelson attempted to cross Australia north-south on a 1922 Velocette motorcycle, but failed, and nearly died of dehydration en route.

Nelson died from unexpected cardiac failure after a long illness in Alice Springs on 26 April 1947,[1][3][4][5] survived by his wife and five children. His son Jock Nelson also served as member for the Northern Territory and in 1973 became the first Territory born Northern Territory Administrator.


The Northern Territory Electoral division of Nelson is named for him.

As Nelson is usually referred to by his initials "HG", it is unclear whether Australian comedian Greig Pickhaver named his character H. G. Nelson in honour of Nelson.


  1. Carment, David (1986). "Nelson, Harold George (1881–1947)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  2. Powell, A. (1988) Far Country: A Short History of the Northern Territory (2nd Edition), Melbourne University Press, Carlton. ISBN 0-522-84377-8.
  3. "First M.H.R. For Nthn. Territory Dies". The Mail (Adelaide). 35, (1, 822). South Australia. 26 April 1947. p. 2. Retrieved 17 December 2018 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  4. "OBITUARY". Townsville Daily Bulletin. LXVIII. Queensland, Australia. 3 May 1947. p. 2. Retrieved 17 December 2018 via National Library of Australia.
  5. "Harold Nelson: First N.T. Member and Former N.A.W.U. Secretary Dies". Northern Standard. 2, (18). Northern Territory, Australia. 2 May 1947. p. 1. Retrieved 17 December 2018 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Northern Territory
Succeeded by
Adair Blain
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