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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Foley, Horace John (1900–1989)

by Michael Hogan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Horace John Foley (1900-1989), medical practitioner, mayor and alderman, was born on 23 November 1900 at Mudgee, New South Wales, fourth of five children of James Foley, schoolteacher, and his wife Margaret Mary, née English, both born in New South Wales. Educated at Mudgee High School, Horace studied medicine at the University of Sydney (MB, Ch.M., 1926). He began general practice at Strathfield but worked at Glebe from the early 1930s until his retirement in 1980. On 23 November 1932 he married Sarah Agnes May Farmer at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Rockdale.

A member of the local Australian Labor Party branch, Foley stood unsuccessfully for Burwood in the 1932 State election, representing Jack Lang’s State Labor Party. In December 1934 he gained a seat on the Glebe Council. Soon the acknowledged ward boss of the district, he served as mayor in 1937 and 1938. He clashed with Lang’s `Inner Group’ over control of inner-city branches of the ALP and, consolidating control of his branch and the council, led his `Foley Labor Party’ to victory against a Langite team in the municipal elections of December 1937. He contested, closely but unsuccessfully, the seat of Glebe in the 1938 State election for the anti-Lang Industrial Labor Party led by Robert Heffron.

In 1938 Foley was convicted of misusing council vehicles, fined £300 and hence disqualified to act as an alderman. Next year the Glebe Council was dismissed and an administrator was appointed. Foley was his own worst enemy in his frequent litigation, preferring bluster and attack of witnesses to answering questions directly.

Prompted by his anti-communism Foley returned to the Lang Labor Party, standing unsuccessfully for West Sydney in the Commonwealth elections of 1943 and 1949 and for King in the State polls of 1944, 1947 and 1950. In 1945 he won a by-election for the Phillip ward on the Sydney Municipal Council. At another by-election in 1947 he won a seat on the Glebe Council while still an alderman in the city. When Glebe was absorbed by Sydney City Council in 1948, Foley’s Lang Labor ticket won both Glebe ward seats against the official ALP team. He resigned in 1950, but served again on the SCC in 1953-56.

In 1957 Foley was readmitted to the ALP. Within a short time he assumed control of his old branch, now called Glebe North. A councillor (1962-65) on the Hornsby Shire Council, he became an alderman for the Glebe ward when it was transferred to the Leichhardt municipality in 1968. He gave up his ambitions for public office in 1971. Bespectacled and podgy, he was prominent in ALP faction fights in inner suburban branches during the 1970s.

Dr Foley’s significance is as a middle-class, socially conservative, Catholic political leader in a largely working-class Australian inner-city community. Although regarded as ruthless by his enemies, he commanded loyalty because of his supposed expert knowledge and contacts, and his reputation for generosity to the poor. From 1927 to 1944 he had been a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve. A park in Glebe was named after him. He died on 3 July 1989 at Croydon and was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery. Predeceased by two daughters, he was survived by his wife and their son and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Hogan, Local Labor (2004)
  • Glebe Observer, 30 June 1950, p 1
  • Glebe and Western Weekly, 12 July 1989, p 6.

Citation details

Michael Hogan, 'Foley, Horace John (1900–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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