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Frederick Gordon Grenfell (1914–1982)

by Harold Peden

Gordon Grenfell, ex-state president of the AMWSU passed away on March 31, 1982, aged 67.

His death highlights the fact that there is an ever-increasing incidence of asbestos-related diseases among metal workers, particularly those in the boilermaking trade.

Gordon became an executive member of the Kalgoorlie branch of the Boilermakers Society in 1936 and, after serving in the AIF in the UK, Middle East, Borneo and New Guinea, returned to work at Midland Railway Workshops where he had served an apprenticeship as a boilermaker.

He served the Boilermakers Society in the positions of shop steward, assistant secretary, vice-president, acting secretary and acting organiser until, in 1963, he was elected full-time organiser. With the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union he became state president.

Although Gordon's activity was best known through his union work in such matters as the 1952 metal trades strike, and the campaign for over-award payment in the 60s, Gordon played an important part in ALP politics during the period around 1954-55 when the rightwing forces attempted to dominate policy.

Gordon had a great belief in socialism. He supported the ALP and did not believe the Communist Party was relevant to Australian conditions.

Perhaps it could be said that his attitude to the parliamentary scene was similar to his attitude to the arbitration system. He contended that it was action by the people at grassroots level that mattered.

His support for the ALP did not stop Gordon's understanding that trade unions must have an independent identity, hence his work to assist in the formation of the WA Trades and Labor Council on which he served as a member of the disputes committee, and as vice-president.

On his retirement, Gordon was made a life member of the WA TLC and, shortly before his death, he became a life member of the ALP.

It's difficult to select a single incident from a vast experience that depicts the character and beliefs of a close colleague, particularly since Gordon's life covered such a broad spectrum of interests and activity.

However, I always recall Gordon's dry humor as he'd occasionally say that "when you're in a blind alley and you don't know where to go, go back to the people who pay your wages — go back to your rank and file. Never be afraid of going back to the workers."

While Gordon was usually talking about some particular struggle — it was also a philosophy he applied to his life.

Gordon lived a very full life including a close and loving relationship with his wife and family to whom Tribune extends its sincere condolences.

Original publication

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Citation details

Harold Peden, 'Grenfell, Frederick Gordon (1914–1982)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 July, 1914
Meekatharra, Western Australia, Australia


31 March, 1982 (aged 67)
Middle Swan, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death


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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