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George William (Pongo) Grant (1905–1953)

from Newcastle Morning Herald

George William Sweeney Grant held the post of General Secretary of the Miners' Federation from 1941 till his death.

"Pongo" Grant, as he was familiarly known, was rarely called by his first Christian name. In fact, there are stories that he has been confused with other members of the federation when someone spoke about "George" Grant.

Everywhere, whether he was at an aggregate meeting of miners on the Coalfields or in the more dignified rooms of the Arbitration Court, he was popularly called "Pongo"—an apellation he gained when quite young because of his nose.

Mr. Grant was born in Newcastle 48 years ago, the son of a miner, and had his schooling at Kurri Kurri.

He had a colourful career in the Miners' Federation, beginning his union activity when only 15.

He was an active federationist for all the time he worked in the coal industry. Although he had a good working knowledge of the industry when he first started to seek high office, he did not have the serious and dialectical turn of mind of other federation leaders.

For most of his time in the industry, Mr. Grant was a contract wheeler at Hebburn No. 1 colliery.

His first lodge position, when only in his teens, was as wheelers' representative. Later, he became lodge Chairman for six years. 

He was first elected to the Central council in 1934, representing lodges in Kurri Kurri-Weston area, and defeating Mr. W. Crook, now M.L.A for Cessnock.

He became Vice-president of the federation in 1937. Three years later, to the surprise of many, he was elected General Secretary, succeeding to the office vacated by Mr. W. Orr.

Although strongly challenged several times since, he won by substantial margins.

He was first re-elected unopposed last year.

Mr. Grant politically was a supporter of the Labour Party all his life. He was a member for many years.

Despite this active political affiliation, he often took an independent stand on industrial issues. He belonged to that group of moderates who placed his union first and political party second. 

Mr. Grant once unsuccessfully opposed Mr. Rowley James in an A.L.P. pre-selection ballot for the Hunter seat.

In his term as General Secretary — believed to be a record — he served on many commissions and boards and took part in innumerable negotiations with Prime Ministers, Premiers and Ministers.

There were several long and bitter industrial struggles in his term of office.

He often remarked to friends that he considered the war years as the most trying for leaders of the Miners' Federation because of the need almost overnight to suppress industrial measures ordinarily taken in disputes, but which were barred because of war conditions.

Mr. Grant took part in the infamous march to Rothbury in December, 1930, and was only about 30 yards from Norman Brown, who was fatally shot by police on that day.

He always believed that the miners should retain their strike weapon, this attitude being strongly inculcated in him when he led a strike committee at Weston in 1936.

Mr. Grant went to gaol in the general coal strike in 1949 for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of union funds which had been hidden following the introduction of fund-freezing legislation by the Chifley Government.

Even then, friends noticed that his health was failing.

But his health showed spasmodic improvements, which prompted him to continue in office.

He was sometimes ill this year at sittings of the Coal industry Tribunal (Mr. Gallagher) on the miners' log for a new award.

In his younger days, Mr. Grant was known as an amateur entertainer on the Coalfields. He took part in many efforts to raise funds for strikers and other needy people.

He is survived by his widow.

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Citation details

'Grant, George William (Pongo) (1905–1953)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 January, 1905
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia


15 October, 1953 (aged 48)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

brain hemorrhage

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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