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Meehan, John Charles (Jack) (1865–1930)

from Australian Worker

When Mr. John C. Meehan died, after a sudden and short illness, at his residence, Woollahra, Sydney, last Sunday night, aged 65, Australian Unionism in general, and the A.W.U. in particular, lost a lovable stalwart with a memorably fine record— and a man who by thought and action, and heartbeats, truly and if splendidly, interpreted the real meaning of Mateship.

Jack— somehow Jack was never 'Mr.' Meehan, not even officially, and scarcely would have understood the appellation had it been spoken in his hearing — was a native of Ireland, a circumstance possibly that accounted in no small measure for his unequivocal and, therefore, never mistakable hatred of compromise or recreancy in the realms of Unionism.

Yet, for all that, Jack's was a fine faith that more than occasionally was tempered with charity. On innumerable occasions his gift in this direction was responsible for the creation of converts from what, to others, might have seemed most unlikely human material.

Arriving in Australia at the age of 15 or so, Jack matriculated in the rough-edged University of Hard Knocks, and soon became vitally conscious of the current and potential benefits of Unionism— not for himself for Jack didn't know how to be selfish, but for the working class to which he inviolably belonged.

Consequently it was not surprising — indeed, merely inevitable — that comparatively early in his career he was made an A.W.U. Organiser— in the travailed days long before motor bikes annihilated big distances, and made swiftly-running ribbons of a network or more or less macadamised roads.

Up in the hot regions of the Paroo and the Warrego Jack enlisted members— and some of those old A.W.U. members to-day still proudly possess the historic slips of paper — though they may be frayed and worn— that were issued to them by the broad-shouldered man whose surname was Meehan, but whose dinkum Christian — and Unionistic—name was plain Jack.

In due course, Jack, after functioning as Secretary in the Bourke office of the A.W.U. (where he had been in good company with the late Donald Macdonell) was elected to the N.S.W. Assembly (in August, 1904) for The Darling.

The winning of that election was a notable event, for in those days in The Darling district the squatters — much more than now— constituted a force to be reckoned with. In a way the West was their Kingdom, and the mere workingman who disputed their autocracy was secretly, if not openly and brazenly, tabbed for various forms of punishment.

However, Jack wasn't the type of man to be intimidated by such candid or implied threats. He went on — and, what was more, for over nine years retained the Outback seat, despite the fact that (according to the local squatters and their Sydney Press) he was doomed to a quick parliamentary extinction.

Later when electoral boundaries were altered in compliance with the best — that is to say, the worst — of gerrymandering, traditions Jack did good work in the Ballarat Office of the A.W.U. Still later he was transferred to Melbourne, and eventually appointed to the Sydney Head Office, where he conscientiously, capably, and popularly worked till within a few days of his death.

Jack had the gift— indeed the genius — of True Humanitarianism. He was generous almost to a fault — so much so that many old Unionists who, in times of adversity, sought his assistance will say, or at least think, in their own Bush-lore way:

He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world: 'This: was a Man.'

Telegrams of sympathy were received by the widow from the following among others: A. Blakeley, Minister for Home Affairs; J. McNeill, M.P.; F. W. Lundie, Secretary, Adelaide Branch, A..W.U. ; W. B. Dale, Secretary, Vic.-Riverina Branch; A. Watts, Secretary, West Australian Branch; T. Jude, Secretary, Tasmanian Branch; L. McDonald, Secretary, A.L.P, Executive; Queensland; W. B. Robinson, Organiser, Mildura; E. J. Brady, ex Editor, 'Australian Worker'; J.' Thom, Vic.-Riverina Office.

Telegram from Prime Minister. — The following wire was received at 'The Worker' office from Mr. J. C. Scullin, Prime Minister: 'Regret exceedingly to learn of the sudden death of Jack Meehan. He was one of the truest and staunchest Unionists Australia has produced. Am wiring his widow expressing deepest sympathy in her sad bereavement.'

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Citation details

'Meehan, John Charles (Jack) (1865–1930)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/meehan-john-charles-jack-32404/text40172, accessed 7 December 2022.

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