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Thomas McLellan (Tom) Millar (1904–1980)

by Pete Thomas

As a Queensland coalminer, as a State and national miners leader and as a communist, Tom [Thomas McLellan] Millar, who died in Ipswich last week aged 75 , was always a spirited battler for the things he ardently believed in.

"Bluey" Millar (the nickname stuck, though the red hair had long since gone) was a sixth generation coalminer, and started in coalmining when he was 16 at Ipswich. Later, the family moved to Collinsville, in North Queensland, to work at what was for many years the State's biggest colliery.

Collinsville — like the Victorian coalmining town of Wonthaggi — became renowned for its trade union militancy and its strong communist base. Bluey Millar was an active figure in Collinsville community life, as a soccer representative, a cornet player in the Collinsville brass band and as a member of the cooperative and hospital boards.

At the mine, he became the miners' branch scrutineer, then treasurer, and then State president, taking office in 1942.

As State president, Bluey led Queensland miners through their solidarity action in the nine-weeks Queensland rail strike of 1948 and then the six-weeks national coal strike of 1949.

With the onset of the cold-war climate, Bluey Millar became a target of the Santamaria-Industrial Group faction which was then a powerful extreme-rightwing influence within the ALP. As a result, Tom Millar was beaten as Queensland miners president — but only by 21 votes — in the 1952 ballot.

Faced by blacklisting by employers, it took 5½ months of effort by him and his union before he could get a job back in the mines.

His 1952 defeat was very temporary. In 1953 he was elected back as Queensland president; he then held that position until he retired, at 60, back in 1964.

Bluey Millar was a head-on battler. In tough times, he would never flinch from standing up to hostility, such as he faced from sections during the rail and coal strikes. At a Rosewood meeting, he was undaunted by a threat to throw him in the creek. He ended another meeting to find the tyres of his car let down.

Before another meeting there were muttered threats, so Bluey opened the meeting by saying: "I hear that some of you have been saying that you're going to give Bluey Millar a kicking. Well, here's Bluey Millar. Now who wants to start attacking?" But he said afterwards, "I always came out alive" — and eventually, too, he came out on top.

The development of differences within the communist movement saw Bluey Millar, together with some other fine mining union men, join the SPA. Members of the CPA regretted that decision, but respected it.

Bluey and Nell Millar have two daughters and a son — Heather, Shirley and Stuart — and there is one surviving brother of Bluey's — Sandy — who also was a Collinsville miner and one of whose daughters, Isabel works in the CPA's State office in Brisbane.

Original publication

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Citation details

Pete Thomas, 'Millar, Thomas McLellan (Tom) (1904–1980)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/millar-thomas-mclellan-tom-33118/text41297, accessed 15 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

21 October, 1904
Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland

Death

15 July, 1980 (aged 75)
Ipswich, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

stroke

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