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January 21: Sir Isaac Isaacs

January 21, 2013
Isaac Alfred Isaacs was sworn in as Governor-General of Australia on this date in 1931. Isaacs (1855-1948) was the first Australian-born Governor-General, and the only person to serve both in that role and as Chief Justice of Australia. He was the son of a London-born mother and a Polish tailor who came to Australia during the Victoria gold rush of 1851. Isaacs excelled as a student and was a well-established lawyer by 1890; he also had conversational capacity in Russian, French, German, Italian, Greek, and Yiddish, and a smattering of Chinese. He became a legislator in 1892 and an attorney general in 1894, and tended to support social reform, legislative restraint of monopolies, women's suffrage, fair taxation, and the anti-racist work of the Australian Natives’ Association. Isaacs became chief justice of the High Court on April 5, 1930, but held the office for less than ten months when his appointment as governor-general was announced. He served for five harsh depression years, during which he surrendered one-quarter of his salary and declined to take his retired judge's pension. Sir Isaac was a lifelong, vociferous opponent of Zionism, which he regarded, even in the 1940s, as a form of nationalism and an expression of disloyalty to the British Empire. "He was a lone wolf and a determined, ambitious and unrelenting man. At the same time he retained wide popular support as a political leader articulating reformist ideas." —Zelman Cowen, Australian Dictionary of Biography