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John (Jack) Bailey (1871–1947)

Mr. John Bailey, a former General President and N.S.W. Branch President of the A.W.U., who died at his home in Sydney on Sunday, October 26, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall on the previous day, was one of the most remarkable, and colourful figures in Australian political and industrial history.

A lifelong member of the Australian Workers' Union, Jack Bailey started his industrial career at the age of nine as a tar boy in the shearing sheds and became one of the best blade shearers in Australia.

As a shearer, he acted as Rep. for the Union in hundreds of sheds, but his activities on behalf of his workmates did not escape the notice of the squatters, many of whom blacklisted him. He then became an organiser for the Central Branch of the A.W.U., then located at Orange, N.S.W.

As an organiser Bailey was a tireless worker, and in one shearing season of 16 weeks his personal sale of tickets totalled £1000.

Jack Bailey succeeded E. H. Richards as President of Central Branch in 1915 and Ike Smith as Vice-President for New South Wales on the Executive Council in 1914.

He held both positions until the amalgamation of the two Branches and the reorganisation of the Union in N.S.W. in 1933.

Bailey also succeeded the late W. G. Spence as General President of the A.W.U. in 1916, but did not contest the ballot that year, which was won by the late Frank Lundie.

Bailey was actively associated with the great shearing strikes of the late 90's and in the early years of the present century.

In the political sphere he was a prominent figure at Labor conferences for nearly half a century and held the positions of State President, Vice-President and member of State and Federal Executives of the A.L.P.

With the late Bill Lambert, then Secretary of Central Branch, and later Lord Mayor of Sydney and Federal Member for West Sydney, Bailey founded the Industrial Section, which in 1916 succeeded in wresting control of the A.L.P. from the then Premier, the late W. A. Holman.

Bailey also played a leading role in both conscription campaigns during the first world war.

He became member for Monaro in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1918, and was returned for Goulburn in 1920 and 1922.

A man of remarkable physique, Bailey led an active life right up to the time of the unfortunate accident which caused his death at the age of 76 years.

He is survived by his widow and a grown-up family of two sons and two daughters.

His remains were cremated at the Woronora Cemetery on Tuesday last in the presence of a very large assemblage of friends, a great many of whom were associated with the Labor Movement and the A.W.U.

'The movement owes a lot to Jack Bailey. He was one of the foundation members, and was a very remarkable man,' said Branch Secretary C. G. Fallon, in expressing deep regret and extending sympathy to the widow and family. 

In recalling the splendid services to the Union given by Jack Bailey, Mr. Fallon recalled that Mr. Bailey's grandfather had been an explorer in an early expedition, his work being recognised by a grant of land. This land had been divided amongst his sons, and ultimately Jack Bailey became owner of a part of it. Often thereafter he had mortgaged this land to help the Shearers' Union in its early days.

Each year the Union would start without funds. There would be no money to pay an organiser's expenses when enrolling members. Jack Bailey, however, came to the rescue over a number of years by mortgaging his property, and raising the necessary funds, said Mr. Fallon.

'Jack was an outstanding athlete, and he knew how to use his hands,' said the Branch Secretary. 'That was very necessary in those days — he was then in his twenties — as an organiser wasn't allowed on station properties, and it was not infrequently an advantage to be a good grass fighter.'

Throughout his life Jack Bailey maintained his physical fitness, said Mr. Fallon. He was a teetotaller and did not smoke, and kept up physical culture exercise morning and evening till recent years. In the days of his early organising there were no cars, and though they were available when he was an organiser for the Central District of New South Wales, he still preferred to travel by rail, and then push on by bike from the rail head.

'He did much to lay the foundations of the Union, and I deeply regret his passing,' said Mr. Fallon.

'I am extremely sorry to hear of the passing of this old stalwart of the A.W.U., and an old mate of mine for many years,' said Queensland Branch President, Harold Boland.

Mr Boland said that Jack Bailey belonged to that grand company of men whose courage and singleness of purpose forced reforms that made for the advancement and welfare of their fellows.

His mighty efforts on behalf of the members of the A.W.U. in the western shearing sheds had earned him victimisation at the hands of the squatters, said the Branch President; but he had been rewarded by the gratitude of his fellow-unionists, and his work would remain as an inspiration while ever the pioneers of the A.W.U. were remembered.

The people generally had also come to know the great worth of Jack Bailey, said the Branch President, when he embarked on State and national affairs to leave his mark on the political life of his time. Mr. Boland expressed deep sympathy with the bereaved widow and family.

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'Bailey, John (Jack) (1871–1947)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

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