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Laurence Elwyn (Laurie) Short (1915–2009)

by Tony Stephens

Laurie Short, n.d.

Laurie Short, n.d.

Laurie Short, described as one of the great figures of the Australian labour movement, has died aged 93.

Short was credited with holding together the Australian Labor Party in NSW during the 1950s when the party was torn apart over communism and split into sectarian camps.

He was secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association (FIA) — forerunner of the modern day Australian Workers Union — from 1951 to 1982.

Paying tribute to Short, the union's national secretary Paul Howes described him as one the great figures of the Australian labour movement.

"He was quite correctly credited with holding the ALP together in NSW at a time when the 1950s Labor split tore apart the party in other states," Mr Howes said in a statement.

"Key historians of the period argue that the FIA was able to play the important role of keeping the party together because it was widely respected as highly competent under Short's leadership."

Short was also credited with promoting a young Englishman — John Ducker — through the labour movement, leading him to become the legendary strongman of the NSW union movement and Labor Party.

In turn Ducker, with Short always nearby, steered the NSW labour movement away from fracturing along sectarian lines.

Labor's split occurred in 1955 when the then federal opposition leader, Bert Evatt, expelled leaders of the ALP industrial groups from the party.

They were members of the Catholic right who had successfully fought communist influence in the union movement though the 1940s and 1950s.

The split resulted in the formation of the Democratic Labor Party, which helped to keep a divided Labor Party out of government until 1972.

When Short retired from the FIA, the then NSW premier Neville Wran said the importance of the union leader's contribution could "hardly be exaggerated".

Mr Howes said Short and his supporters were at the centre of a bitter, tempestuous and sometimes violent struggle for control of the union during the 1940s and 1950s.

Initially a communist, he rejected communist ideas as the Cold War escalated and chose to stand with those fighting to maintain the values of a free, independent and democratic labour movement.

"The struggle between communists and anti-communists was acrimonious because of the critical role the union's numbers would play in the way the Labor Party eventually evolved, especially in NSW," he said.

Short headed the anti-communist faction which wrested control of the union from the hardline Stalinist leadership.

"The extraordinary legal and often physical battles ensured the FIA was fodder for almost daily screaming newspaper headlines," Mr Howes said.

Short was married to artist Nancy Borlase who died in 2002. He is survived by a daughter - journalist Susanna Short - and two grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tony Stephens, 'Short, Laurence Elwyn (Laurie) (1915–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Laurie Short, n.d.

Laurie Short, n.d.

Life Summary [details]


18 December, 1915
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia


24 March, 2009 (aged 93)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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