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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Burns, Albert (1875–1948)

There passed away, quietly within the fortnight, so quietly as scarcely to cause a ripple in the stream of industrial life, Albert Burns, one of the leading lights of the Miners' Federation of a former generation.

He was prominent in the Federation long before the big majority of the mineworkers of to-day entered the industry though there remain many, amongst those who have retired, who knew him well when he was a force in the conduct of Federation affairs.

He began his career as secretary of Hebburn No. 1 miners' lodge, was elected a member of the old Delegate Board, and when this became too cumbersome and expensive and gave away to the Board of Management, he, with Arthur Biggers and the late Arthur Teece, became the representatives for the whole of the lodges in the South Maitland district on that Board.

It was as a member of this Board that he played a leading part in the famous Peter Bowling strike of 1909-10; and because of his advocacy of the strike at aggregate meetings, he was arrested for conspiracy under the provisions of emergency legislation introduced by the Wade government, and, with Peter Bowling, William Brennan and Amram Lewis, thrown into prison.

When travelling from Sydney, where they were convicted to gaol, they were subjected to the indignity of wearing legirons, and it was this incident that led to the downfall of the Wade government some months later. The legiron incident was made an election cry. On the return to power of Labor under the late William Holman, Burns, with the other Federation officers, was immediately released.

Albert Burns continued for some time to play a prominent part in the determination of Federation policy, but as he found it increasingly difficult to get employment, he was given victimised pay by the Federation. This did not appeal to his independent nature, and rather than be a burden on the organisation, he left the industry, and went into a small business in Kurri.

As the years went by he began to take an interest in local government, and for a long period represented the Kurri district on the Kearsley Shire Council.

Albert Burns belonged to a great team of born industrial fighters whose rugged eloquence used to sweep the many thousands who attended aggregate meetings in those days behind the policy enunciated by the Board of Management. Petty strikes were unknown. When the mines ceased work in those days it was for issues of great pith and moment. Consequently the miners attended these meetings, held in the open, in their thousands. They were inclined to be unruly, at times, and not infrequently openly hostile to their leaders. It was then that Peter Bowling would take the platform and begin to batter down the opposition with his cool, precise, logical arguments. He would be followed by Arthur Biggers, who was always effective because of a good voice, clear delivery, and grasp of his subject.

Burns would next come to grips with the crowd. A few interjections and this fiery, little man would be right into his stride, pulling none of his punches, and revelling in the tough going. He was courageous, forthright, and could never be accused of being job-conscious. He was honest and always gave of his best. Sitting on a rail was repugnant to him.

Teece, Lewis, and Brennan would bring up the rear. These men always came prepared to advocate a certain line of action. At the Board of Management the issues at stake had been carefully weighed in the light of all available information, and a policy agreed upon. This was adhered to by all the speakers, and the men were given a good lead.

They did not throw the reins on the horse's neck, so to speak, and say to the meeting: 'You are the bosses, tell us what to do.' As leaders they always gave a lead, because they knew the position as no others in the Federation could know it — it was their business to know; they were paid for that very reason.

Albert Burns, as president of Kearsley Shire Council, was never in two minds about any question. He was always able to give a lead and on all matters of public interest never hesitated to proclaim his views, regardless of any considerations but those dictated by the highest considerations.

The Mayor of Cessnock (Alderman Brown), and his old colleague Arthur Biggers, both of whom have known him for a lifetime, paid a rich tribute this week to this 'fearless little fighter' for his work for the rank and file and his services to local government.

And so we join with all those who hold him in affectionate remembrance for the good he accomplished for his fellows; for his courage and honesty of purpose; for his genial good nature.

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'Burns, Albert (1875–1948)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/burns-albert-32136/text39711, accessed 8 December 2021.

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