Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

John Sidney (Sid) Toohey (1881–1952)

With the death of Mr J. S. [John Sidney] Toohey last Saturday, Victorian printing employees lost one of their best friends and advocates in the last 40 years. Mr Toohey was an official of their union for 40 years until his retirement two years ago. There are few officials in the Trade Union Movement who had a more colorful career industrially than Mr Toohey.

He became assistant secretary of the Melbourne Typographical Society in 1912, and when the MTS amalgamated with the PIEUA in 1921 he continued as assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of the union. This position he occupied until 1932, when, following the death of Mr Robert Elliott, who was secretary of the Victorian branch, he succeeded Mr Elliott to the secretaryship. He continued as secretary till April 29 last.

This long span of 38 years as a full-time official in the Printing Union is a fine tribute of continued confidence by members in a worthy officer.

As well as branch activities, Mr Toohey first became a Federal councillor of the union in 1926.

From 1931 he was continuously a member of the Council and attended seventeen meetings. From 1933 he has also been a member of the Federal executive of the union.

No one with knowledge of the Printing Industry Unions can think of trade unionism without thinking of Mr Toohey.

He was a big man in stature, of great ability, enthusiasm, integrity and energy, with a keen desire to serve.

His early associations with trade unionism were first as a member of the board, vice-president and president of the Victorian Typographical Society, and later as a full-time official of that body.

When the present branch, in its enlarged form, established in 1921, he was elected assistant secretary-treasurer.

In the Federal sphere he filled the positions of councillor, vice-president, advocate and acting secretary-treasurer.

Mr Toohey's outstanding ability, character, and power in debate put him well in the front of every move made to better wages and conditions of the membership. In fact, he did much to advance the conditions of workers in general throughout the Commonwealth.

When in 1924 the PIEUA resolved to approach the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and secure an award covering wages and conditions for the industry, he entered into the job with his usual enthusiasm and effort.

The Victorian branch relieved him from his duties to assist the general advocate, Mr E. C. Magrath. The job was one of unremitting toil for a period of a couple of years.

Mr Magrath has, from time to time, enthusiastically acknowledged the generous support given by Mr Toohey. Later, when Mr Magrath was appointed as deputy president of the Industrial Commission for New South Wales, Mr Toohey accepted the full responsibility of the position of advocate, and much success was achieved by him in that position.

He had been prominently associated with the whole of the union's activity in the Federal Court. In Victoria up to 1925 wages and working conditions were regulated by the State Wages Board Determinations.

Although not a member of any wages board, it was evident, however, that Mr Toohey was the power behind the throne, always delving to find and supply matter to those whose duty it was to present a case to the various boards.

During the period in which he was active, wages for a craftsman increased from £2/12/- per week of 48 hours to £9/15/- per week for 40 hours. When the rate was £2/12/-, overtime was not paid until after 48 hours was actually worked. Public holidays were not paid for, no sick pay or annual leave was provided. Workers' compensation, child endowment, maternity and other social benefits have been won from time to time since those days.

All these things are the fruits of years of effort by such men as Mr Toohey. The benefits of their efforts are evident to all.

Notwithstanding his many activities in the industrial and political wings of the great Labor Movement, he found time to keep himself abreast of all modern developments for the improvement of the many crafts within the printing industry, and he was an acknowledged authority on all matters pertaining to the industry.

As a negotiator he had few equals. The members employed in the daily newspaper section of the industry, in this and in other States, are indebted to him for many of the advantageous conditions enjoyed by them today.

The wages and working conditions of this section, like those of every other section, are not as good as they could be, they are not as good as the prosperity of the industry warrants, but they are considerably better than those of many other industries.

They would certainly be very much worse were it not for the skilful negotiations carried out on behalf of members by Mr Toohey.

He also achieved a high degree of success on behalf of members employed in country and provincial districts, Truth and Sportsman Ltd, Commonwealth Note and Stamp Printing Branch, the Victorian State Government Printing Office, and many other special groups of the membership.

Those who were associated with him in the fight for a 44-hour week from the year 1920 until 1928 will be ever grateful for the important part played by him throughout the several strenuous campaigns for that reform.

By no means did his work begin and end with the PIEUA. His counsel and aid were sought by many in the union and political spheres, also by many in private life.

His happiest moments seemed to be when he was engaged assisting others. He possessed an unfailing courtesy and remained calm even in adversity.

In his spare time (it is doubtful if he had any) he found time for activity in friendly society matters.

He was for many years secretary of a lodge of the Manchester Unity Order, and was also actively associated with a friendly society dispensary. He was also a member of many successful debating teams.

Throughout the greater part of his life, he was-actively associated with politics. As a very young man he was secretary of the Social Democratic Party, then for the rest of his life a hard worker for the Australian Labor Party.

At every election campaign, and between campaigns. Mr Toohey was always hard at work furthering the prospects for Labor.

Some years ago he was a candidate for the old seat of Nunawading (true blue anti-Labor). His vote was so great that the other side received the greatest fright in their careers.

It can be safely asserted that Mr Toohey gave to the union and the Labor Movement a most unselfish service. His outstanding ability made him capable of holding the highest positions in either the industrial or the political wings of our Movement.

He would have succeeded in any other executive or administrative position. He also would have experienced great success had he entered business on his own account.

Sid Toohey deliberately made a choice: To graft hard for the Movement which he loved and believed in.

Mr Toohey also gave much time, and imbued enthusiasm, in the interest of The Industrial Printing and Publicity Co Ltd, of which he was chairman of directors at the time of his death. He had been a director of the Company for about 20 years, and became chairman following the death of Mr D. McNamara, then Federal secretary of the Australian Labor Party.

Mr Toohey was buried at Box Hill cemetery on Tuesday. The cortege which left Sacred Heart Church, St. Kilda, was one of the biggest that has followed the remains of a trade union official.

Every section of the Trade Union Movement was represented by officials at the graveside, evidence of the wide respect held for Mr Toohey.

Pall-bearers were Messrs E. G. McGrath, A. Leavold, representing the Printing Industry Employees' Union: J. V. Stout, representing The Industrial Printing and Publicity Co Ltd; R. R. Broadby, representing the ACTU; S. Morgan, director of 3KZ Broadcasting Co; and E. J. K. Thompson, representing the Melbourne Newspaper Proprietors' Association.

Mr Toohey is survived by three sons and two daughters. His wife predeceased him several years ago.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • photo, Herald (Melbourne), 7 April 1927, p 6

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Toohey, John Sidney (Sid) (1881–1952)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


12 January, 1952 (aged ~ 71)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism