Billy Hughes was diminutive in stature but gargantuan in achievements. He bestrode the world’s stage during and after the Great War, alienating and irritating renowned figures. President Woodrow Wilson called him ‘that pestiferous varmint’. Viscount Cecil disparaged him as ‘that shrimp Hughes’. Archbishop Mannix excoriated him as ‘that little Czar’, while Lloyd George reviled him as that ‘damned little Welshman’.
If Hughes could intimidate and annoy the world’s statesmen, what hope did mere underlings have? This is the story of the endless parade of private secretaries of the man who dominated the first half century of Australian federal politics, who either infuriated their irascible boss or who could not tolerate his temper. They usually lasted just weeks, days or hours. There were so many of them that one of their legion – possibly Morris West, the author – suggested they could form an organisation with their own club tie.