Werriwa – a century of shifting boundaries

Werriwa boundaries, 1900 redistribution. Click to enlarge.
Werriwa boundaries, 1900 redistribution. Click to enlarge.

Gough Whitlam represented the federal electorate of Werriwa from a 1952 by-election until his resignation in 1978. The electorate has a long history of being held by Labor, ever since the 1930s. From 1934 until 2005, the seat was only held by four MPs, three of whom rose to a high rank in the federal ALP. Gough Whitlam from 1952 to 1978, and then John Kerin from 1978 to 1994 and Mark Latham from 1994 to 2005. Kerin served as Treasurer in the Hawke government, and Latham led the ALP to the 2004 election. From 1954 to 2005, every change of MP in Werriwa took place at a by-election.

The 2005 by-election was won by Chris Hayes, who held the seat until 2010. In 2010, he shifted to the seat of Fowler, immediately north of Werriwa, and Laurie Ferguson, who had represented Reid since 1990, took over Werriwa.

I have a particular personal interest in Werriwa. I lived in the electorate for most of my life until 2010, and ran in the electorate in 2004 and at the 2005 by-election.

Werriwa is a particularly fascinating seat, and that’s what I want to cover today.

Werriwa has existed continuously as a federal electorate since 1901, but the seat covers a very different area today to its original territory in 1901. Werriwa originally covered a large part of southern New South Wales, including Lake George (which gives the seat its name) and what is now the northern suburbs of Canberra.

With the use of historical maps, I’m going to trace how Werriwa shifted regions gradually over time, moving from a southern NSW rural electorate to a suburban seat in south-western Sydney.

Werriwa boundaries, 1922 redistribution. Click to enlarge.
Werriwa boundaries, 1922 redistribution. Click to enlarge.

The first set of federal electoral boundaries were drawn in 1900, and Werriwa was a large, rural electorate. The seat included the major centres of Yass and Goulburn. It also stretched south to the Molonglo River, covering what is now the northern suburbs of Canberra. The seat did not include Cootamundra, but included areas immediately to the east of Cootamundra.

The name “Werriwa” is the local indigenous name for Lake George, a lake immediately to the north-east of Canberra.

Werriwa boundaries, 1948 redistribution. Click to enlarge.
Werriwa boundaries, 1948 redistribution. Click to enlarge.

The original seat of Werriwa was won in 1901 by the Free Trade party.

At the next redistribution in 1906, Werriwa began its shift towards Sydney, losing those areas now contained in Canberra, and its southern border ran along the northern shore of Lake George. The seat also gained Cootamundra, and continued to cover Yass and Goulburn. The new boundaries in 1906 saw the seat won by Labor for the first time. Labor retained the seat in 1910.

The 1913 redistribution saw the seat shift further north, losing Yass and more areas near the current city of Canberra. The seat became a thin seat running east-west, from Grenfell in the west to Mittagong, Picton and Moss Vale in the east. At the 1913 election, the seat was won by the Liberal Party, but Labor won the seat back in 1914. Labor MP John Lynch left the party in 1916 over the conscription fight, and was re-elected once in 1917 as a Nationalist. He lost his seat in 1919 to Labor’s Bert Lazzarini.

Werriwa boundaries, 1955 redistribution. Click to enlarge.
Werriwa boundaries, 1955 redistribution. Click to enlarge.

The 1922 boundaries shifted Werriwa further east, reaching the coast and the outskirts of Sydney. The seat stretched as far west as Boorowra, but on its eastern boundary it included Wollongong, Heathcote, Campbelltown, Camden and Cabramatta. The seat still contained Goulburn.

Lazzarini held on to the seat from 1919 to 1931, but in his final year he left the ALP to join the Lang Labor breakaway party. Lazzarini lost Werriwa in 1931 to the Country Party’s Walter McNicoll.

In 1934, another set of boundaries saw Goulburn distributed out of Werriwa for the first time since Federation.

The new boundaries saw the seat entirely contained in the Illawarra region, the Southern Highlands and the southwestern fringe of Sydney, including Cabramatta, Holsworthy and Sutherland.

The new boundaries were more friendly to Lazzarini, who won the seat back (as a Lang Labor candidate). He rejoined the ALP in 1936.

Werriwa shrunk even more in 1948, coming closer to Sydney. The 1948 redistribution saw a large increase in the number of electorates, so Werriwa was one of many seats covering a smaller area.

The new Werriwa covered Cabramatta, Fairfield, Liverpool, the entire Sutherland region as well as Helensburgh.

Werriwa boundaries, 1968 redistribution. Click to enlarge.
Werriwa boundaries, 1968 redistribution. Click to enlarge.

Lazzarini was re-elected on the new boundaries in 1949 and 1951, but died in 1952. The 1952 by-election, won by Gough Whitlam, was fought on the 1948 boundaries, and Whitlam was re-elected in 1954.

New boundaries were drawn for the 1955 election, and Werriwa lost the Sutherland area and moved deeper into Western Sydney. Werriwa in 1955 stretched from Holsworthy in the south to Wentworthville in the north. Gough Whitlam was re-elected to represent this area in 1955, 1958, 1961, 1963 and 1966.

Werriwa finally began to resemble the seat of today after the 1968 redistribution. This electorate stretched from Ingleburn in the south to Cabramatta and Canley Vale in the north.

These were the boundaries that Gough Whitlam represented as Labor leader, winning this version of Werriwa in 1969, 1972, 1974 and 1975.

The next redistribution, in 1977, cut out Cabramatta and shifted Werriwa south to take in the centre of Campbelltown. Werriwa has remained a seat based on the Campbelltown and Liverpool local government areas since the 1977 election. Gough Whitlam won Werriwa one last time in 1977, and resigned in 1978. The 1978 by-election was won by John Kerin.

Werriwa became a seat almost entirely contained in the City of Campbelltown in 1984, and shifted slightly north into Liverpool in 1992. The 2000 redistribution saw Werriwa lose the Campbelltown city centre and gain more parts of Liverpool LGA, and the seat has only undergone minor changes at the 2006 and 2009 redistributions.

Werriwa boundaries, 2009 redistribution. Click to enlarge.
Werriwa boundaries, 2009 redistribution. Click to enlarge.


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  1. Well, I’ll be suggesting it be renamed ‘Whitlam’ at the next redistribution!

    Assuming a rural seat gets abolished, “Whitlam” will probably end up getting pulled southwards again, out of Liverpool and to take in most/all of Campbelltown…

  2. I will recommend that a new “Whitlam” division is created too, but as Werriwa is a Federation division, I’ll suggest Fowler (or Lindsay or Blaxland) is renamed.

  3. Mark Mulcair
    Whilst southwards might seem least invasive to “Whitlam”. i expect this seat to change hugely as a result of cascading effects from elsewhere. Possibly as much as 40% of voters finding themselves in a different electorate.
    this seat could well be virtually split in half (east west) & be joined with the liverpool parts of Hughes & Fowler.

  4. Thanks for putting this up!
    It’s a wonderful insight into what Werriwa looked like over time, and in that respect a reflection of how much this wonderful country has grown. Absolutely amazing!

  5. Just because a seat’s name dates back to federation doesn’t mean it can’t be abolished. Kalgoorlie bit the dust a few years ago, long after the name stopped making much sense. Werriwa’s name makes even less sense, considering the lake it’s named after hasn’t been in the electorate for a century. As Hume is also a federation electorate, it’s unlikely to be renamed Werriwa just because Werriwa gets renamed Whitlam – that’d be way too confusing.

    Assuming the tradition of naming seats after former prime ministers continues, NSW will need to find ones for Whitlam, Keating, Howard and Abbott in the next few decades. Unless parliament gets enlarged, that’s gonna be an interesting game of musical chairs. It already happened a bit with the 2010 redistribution, with the fiddle that got both Lowe and Prospect abolished so both Reid and McMahon could exist while NSW lost a seat – they couldn’t just rename Lowe to McMahon. Blaxland could be reserved for Keating, but you never know… a similar mess might happen.

  6. winediamond:

    I’m thinking a rural seat is abolished, so Macarthur gets pulled back into the Southern Highlands, and most of its share of Campbelltown gets put into Werriwa/Whitlam. That’s about a “40% change” right there.

    bird of paradox:

    Sydney still has a few geographic names like Berowra, Warringah, Parramatta, and North Sydney that could easily be replaced with a former PM. Berowra has already been identified in previous redistributions as a renaming target….that would be a no-brainer for a new “Howard” seat.

  7. Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s probably appropriate to rename Werriwa, and its history isn’t enough to protect it. I just have a personal attachment to the seat name so it’s a bit sad.

  8. Mark Mulcair
    Yeah i get/got that. However it could easily go the other way. The north coast, ,Newcastle NSW seats are the real problem. There is a case for Page going west into New England. NE going south into Hunter. Berowra going north into Robertson – Dobell, & then Charlton being abolished. Also there is the issue of Hughes moving SE, & pushing Cunningham, Throsby ,Gilmore south. In this scenario eden Monaro gets pushed north to Goulburn. It will be very complex in some areas. Small adjustments won’t do it. The AEC did an appalling job last time, the big changes they made didn’t work, & the ones they ought to have made are still necessary.

  9. I think there will be a seat abolished on the border of the Hunter and the north-west of the state. About half of that seat’s population will be absorbed by under-quota seats in the Hunter, North Coast, Central Coast and New England. The other half will gradually be absorbed by the under-quota seats in western NSW (which could see other seats changed so much that they are basically new seats), so by the time that flow of seat changes reaches south-western Sydney I think it will be relatively minor. Macarthur shifts further into Wollondilly and out of Campbelltown, Werriwa gains a bit more of Campbelltown, but not that much more.

  10. Bof P
    i don’t think anyone would back abolishing Hume, just moving the name. Werriwa is a great name, & we lose history by just dumping it.

  11. Ben
    Yes. What you are suggesting is the easiest option for the AEC. However it really won’t resolve the issues on the Nth coast, even if Maitland goes into Patterson,for example. It is going to inflame a lot of local, & community feeling.

  12. Ben
    Yeah. Just because it’s a tradition doesn’t mean it’s good . Remember what Sir Winston said to the R.N admiral about tradition.

  13. It’s a matter of being respectful. You can’t just stop because it’s a prime minister from a side you don’t support

  14. What’s your argument against it? Haven’t Prime Ministers contributed enough that they atleast deserve to be remembered by having an electorate in a parliament they served

  15. Observer
    Yeah sure. However what about other outstanding individuals. Politicians are richly rewarded with pensions & other benefits

  16. It’s actually specified in the guidelines for naming divisions that former Prime Ministers should have special consideration when it comes to naming electorates. Of course, it also says that federation divisions should if possible be retained, so who knows what that means regarding Werriwa (although I suspect it’s enough of a misnomer at this point that renaming might win out).

  17. Fraser would be a tricky one. When he dies, would Wannon (the seat he held) be renamed, or would they just keep the existing ACT seat and consider it as referring to both the PM and whoever the other guy was? (Names can refer to more than one person, eg: Hasluck.)

  18. I know of three seats named after two people, but they are all married couples – Hasluck, Lyons and Macarthur. Naming a seat after two unrelated politicians, one Labor and one Liberal, would be unusual.

  19. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia it is named after James Cook, which would suggest Joseph Cook is the only PM who doesn’t have a seat named after him. So maybe Fraser won’t get a seat specifically named after him.

    I’m planning a blog post on the possible seat of Whitlam early next week.

  20. i’d like the seat of Phillip restored. Arthur was a pretty important historical figure. Also the east suburbs of sydney really do need another seat.

  21. Observer
    Where it used to be. Between Wentworth, & Kingsford- Smith. Phillip could constitute the entire Randwick LGA, & maybe some or a lot of overflow from Waverly LGA.
    Just think it is more appropriate.

  22. I don’t think there is enough of a population to do that unless you wanted some bizzare suburb based seats. This would probably benefit the libs though wouldn’t it with an additional seat in eastern suburbs?

  23. Observer
    There wouldn’t be an additional seat. The re-distribution means this is afoot already.If Wentworth loses its part of Sydney LGA big flow on effects/problems for all other inner city electorates. Makes more sense to transfer the whole of Botany LGA into Grayndler. That would make Kingsford Smith very marginal, so you are right.

  24. I don’t see what problems are caused by Wentworth losing parts of the City of Sydney. Kingsford Smith is right on quota, and Wentworth is only a bit over. It will just bring Sydney a bit further east and the same with Grayndler, but that doesn’t seem problematic.

  25. Observer
    The AEC will decide which way it wants to go. Everyone can strategise all they want. All i’m saying is that it will go one of 2 ways. The libs will either benefit in K-S or they won’t. A little more objectivity is called for.

  26. I think considering that it will be a regional seat that is abolished, sydney won’t be as affected as delivering liberals a better result in the metropolitan. Honestly can’t see a major redistribution that would alter the inner city seats enough to give Botany Bay to grander but guess we will see. What seat do u expect to be abolished, I suspect possibly Patterson

  27. It would be ridiculous to make unnecessary changes to Kingsford-Smith when there’s an easy change to be made to the Wentworth boundary. Adding all of Botany Council to Grayndler makes no sense from a numbers perspective – Grayndler is already over quota and would go way over, while Wentworth would shift substantially into Sydney and Sydney would shift further into the inner west, leaving Grayndler as a long thin seat running from Botany to Ashfield.

  28. Ben
    1/ few will want to lose Malcolm as MP, for Tanya. if only for self interest. Money spent in electorate etc.
    2/ community of interest protest will be intense. This area sees itself as “better” & enjoys an eastern association !!.
    3/ the AEC won’t want to admit their stuff up in this area over the last 2 distributions.
    So it won’t be easy in the first place.

  29. i dont think the electoral commission takes popularity of constituents with their local MPs when making the redistribution. There hasn’t been a stuff up to admit with Wentworth.

    Why Hunter, because its a labor seat?

  30. Ben
    Looking at it sequentially. So Sydney gets around 10,000 voters from Wentworth. So then Sydney has nearly 20,000 going into Grayndler . Grayndler has to then lose 25000 + into Watson. What is that going to look like F.F.S.???. Campsie, Strathfiled, Leichardt , Balmain in one electorate ???. It is anything BUT simple or minor.

  31. Observer
    The popularity IS irrelevant per se. However it will motivate a lot of submissions.
    Wentworth has been more than 8% OVER QUOTA for nearly 15 years. That is a huge stuff up.

  32. I honestly doubt that constituents would love there MP so much they would make a submission to the AEC so they can keep their MP. Voters don’t care enough and it’s a pretty bad reason to change boundaries because voters prefer Malcolm turrnball to matt thislethwaite.

    So why hunter then?

  33. Observer
    AS i said it would be in east Sydney not Randwick.
    Losing a Newcastle centric seat makes it easier to bring the north cast seats up to quota, or over. It could just as easily be Hunter,as Patterson. All i’m saying is that the adjustments will need to be far more substantial than previously.

  34. Winediamond, you significantly exaggerate the inner-city over-quota problem.

    Also it’s not the AEC’s mistake, they draw Wentworth to fit with the quotas, it’s just an area that is growing in population.

    Wentworth is 8,000 voters over. Sydney is 4849 voters over, Grayndler is 2415 voters over. If you assume all those shifts have knock-on effects, Grayndler will need to lose 15,000 voters. It is a lot but it just means Grayndler moves east, gaining more of Newtown or possibly Annandale and Rozelle.

    The problem isn’t solved by moving a huge chunk of Kingsford-Smith into Grayndler – you’re still stuck with the problem of the inner city being significantly over quota, and you’ve basically just redrawn all four seats to have no relationship to their former boundaries. Not going to happen.

  35. Hardcore redistribution debate….this is my kind of discussion!

    There is an excess which can be easily addressed by removing Auburn/Lidcombe from Reid. Re-uniting Strathfield and Burwood in Reid (the old Lowe) pushes Graydnler and Sydney slightly eastwards as Ben suggests above. Wentworth and K-S get their excess taken up, and the south-western seats rotate back out of Sydney to take up the slack from abolishing a rural district. Looks pretty straightforward really.

    If Grayndler got the rest of Newton/Sydney Uni area, the Greens would be laughing. They’d be a serious show of winning there.

    I still think it will be one of Hume or Riverina that gets the chop. The Hume corridor is the least messy in terms of major adjustments, and most redistributions have abolished seats along here. If you put the Riverina area in Farrer, Broken Hill goes back into Parkes, the northern bits of Riverina and Hume can top up Calare and Parkes, and then the excess can flow into Hunter/New England (e.g. Mid Western Shire, Moree Plains Shire) which then flows on to top up the north coast.

    Wrt Fraser, there is a redistribution of the ACT federal boundaries coming up, so a name change could be applied then. I’d actually suggest Fraser be renamed “Canberra”, since it has the Canberra CBD in it. The current Canberra could be renamed “Namadgi”, bringing back the name of a former seat. Fraser then gets reserved for Wannon in Victoria.

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