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Jean Morant (1899–1984)

Jean Morant (nee Young), an outstanding communist activist of the 'thirties and 'forties, died in Queenscliffe, Victoria, last week at the age of 85.

Born in Dumfries, Scotland, Jean migrated to Australia in 1927 where she was forced to work for nearly two years as a domestic under the migration scheme of the time. 

She finally landed a job as a linen keeper at the Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda and tried to join the Labor Party. The ALP told her she wasn't eligible but fortunately put her in touch with the Militant Women's Group whose headquarters were in the same building in Russell Street as the Communist Party's. 

The MWG and the CPA were virtually alone in their support of the bitterly fought timber workers' strike of 1928 and received a lot of police attention for their trouble. Police arrested thirty in a raid on the building but neglected to arrest Jean. "She's only a whore, anyway," they said. 

Later, however, police waged a campaign of harassment against Jean and threatened her with deportation for mixing with people of "ill-repute" (ie communists). But that didn't stop Jean from joining the CPA in 1930. The following year she was given responsibility for what was called "work among women" in those days.

Jean played an important role in the Unemployed Workers' Movement Women's Committee and helped to promote The Working Woman, the CPA's women's paper. It was hard going. Communist women didn't have much success in getting into factories and had to content themselves with selling outside factory gates. They were often pleased if they managed to sell three copies. Home sales were more successful, however. Living conditions were usually appalling and home visits provided lots of opportunities for discussing problems like unemployment.

In 1931, Jean helped to organise the first International Women's Day march in Melbourne which was attended by 170 women — mostly the wives of unemployed workers — but received no press attention.

Later that year, she started full-time work for the CPA, on a wage of 10s per week, managing to survive, like other generations of Party workers, by sharing accommodation with other comrades and walking everywhere.

Wonthaggi became Jean's second home during the 1934 coal strike. She became involved in the Miners Women's Auxiliary in which Agnes Doig (recently immortalised in the film Strikebound) played a leading role.

The work around the strike — miners' meetings, boycotts of anti-strike shopkeepers, fund-raising — bound the group closely together. Shortly before her death, she recalled that the women were all very fond of her but suspected that her fine Scots brogue may have endeared her more than anything else!

Later in the 'thirties, when the CPA embarked on a major campaign in industry under the slogan, "Faces to the Factories",' Jean got a job at the Victoria Palace hotel and became active in the liquor trades fraction.

Militants were eventually voted into union leadership positions but had to fight a long legal battle before they could occupy the union offices. Jean then worked as an organiser for the Liquor Trades Union, managing to unionise large numbers of women in the catering industry. She led important stoppages at Myers, Coles and the Hotel Alexandra.

Ill-health forced her to leave her union position in 1942, but she afterwards became CPA secretary for the South Metropolitan area, spending most of her time building up industrial branches and the shop stewards movement.

The CPA grew rapidly in the factories and in the local areas as well. It rented shop fronts in a number of areas — St Kilda, Port Melbourne, South Melbourne ... — which made it easy for people to contact the party. The CPA often joined forces with the ALP in the area and distributed joint publications in factories and elsewhere.

In later years, Jean was considerably handicapped by illness but maintained a passionate interest in the CPA, the women's movement and politics generally. Her tenacity, great organisational ability and courage will be long remembered.

Tribune extends its deepest sympathies to Jean's family and friends. A memorial gathering will be held at a later date.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Morant, Jean (1899–1984)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/morant-jean-34517/text43372, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Young, Jean
  • Samson, Jean
Birth

1899
Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Scotland

Death

10 September, 1984 (aged ~ 85)
Queenscliff, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.

Occupation
Key Events
Key Organisations
Political Activism