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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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John Brian (Johnnie) Healy (1922–1988)

by Rick Divers

About 500 people last Friday attended an overflow memorial service for the late John Healy, who had died two days before after a long illness.

John Healy had been a seaman and wharfie for 45 years and had been president of the Sydney branch of the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF) for nine years. Those attending the overflow meeting at the Sydney WWF rooms included his many mates and comrades from the maritime industry, as well as a broad range from the union movement and left political parties.

Orations were given by current WWF Sydney secretary Rick Divers and by Pat Geraghty, federal secretary of the Seamen's Union, and at a later service by Leo Lenane, WWF acting General Secretary, and Joe Palmada, representing the CPA.

We publish here an edited version of Rick Divers' oration.

John Healy, who died on March 9 at the age of 66, was a typical maritime worker. Born in Manchester, the son of Big Jim and Betty Healy, he came to Australia at the age of three, growing up in Mackay until he was 13.

At the age of 15, John went to sea out of Melbourne. He was a seaman through the war years until 1948, when the responsibilities of family life took him ashore — but not out of the maritime industry.

Johnnie joined the waterfront and became one of the founders of the Job Delegates Association, which played so important a part in making the Sydney branch of the federation a pioneer and examplar of grassroots union democracy. He became branch president in 1973 when he was 51. He'd never sought office, had never even been a branch executive member, but always a job activist.

When he contested and won the branch presidency, it was against the odds. He came to the job without experience or education except for that gained in the school of hard knocks called the class struggle, and nowhere was it harder than on the Sydney waterfront. Yet he became an acknowledged expert on compo, one who studied and mastered the subject as well as any legal eagle and better than most.

He was a lifelong socialist who never deviated from his belief in the need for, and possibility of, a truly human and compassionate society. Yet he was never afraid to express his views about problems in socialist countries and movements. A true friend of the Soviet Union, he was an early critic of Stalinism who was enthused by the sweeping changes now taking place in that great country.

He joined the Communist Party over 40 years ago and remained a member until his death.

Johnnie Healy is one of a past generation whose struggles were epic and whose sacrifices big. The modern working class faces different enemies, different tasks, different issues; but unless we can guard and build on the spirit and the devotion of people like John Healy, it will be hard to win the fights ahead.

— Rick Divers.

Tribune expresses its condolences to John's wife. Peg, and daughter Pat, to the rest of his family and to all his many friends and comrades.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • tribute, Tribune (Sydney), 21 July 1982, p 5

Citation details

Rick Divers, 'Healy, John Brian (Johnnie) (1922–1988)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 January, 1922
Manchester, Greater Manchester, England


9 March, 1988 (aged 66)
Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (larynx)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Organisations
Political Activism