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Frederick William (Fred) Watson (1904–1972)

by Joe Palmada

One of the largest funerals ever held in the NSW South Coast area paid tribute to the memory of Fred [Frederick William] Watson, whose sudden death was reported in a December issue of Tribune.

Fred Watson was a Communist Party member for over 40 years and was secretary of the South Coast branch of the Waterside Workers' Federation for 14 years.

The funeral halted Wollongong traffic for 20 minutes as over 2000 people marched down Crown Street.

Who was this communist who commanded such respect from so many people of diverse political views?

Fred Watson the man was an Australian by choice. He was born in Hartlepool, in England, in 1904, son of a railway worker who was killed in the 1914-18 war. His uncles were coalminers in Durham, and the miners' militant struggles for justice had on the young Watson a deep effect which was to last throughout his life.

The crises of the postwar period and the lack of job opportunities caused Fred Watson to join the British army. He was sent to Constantinople, and from there in 1924 he found his way to Australia and became an itinerant bush worker mainly around western NSW.

The great depression from 1929 on forced him to the South Coast in search of work. He arrived in Port Kembla in the early 1930s and stayed in that area for the rest of his life.

His natural ability as a leader, and his deep human feelings for all who were oppressed, thrust him into the leadership of the Unemployed Workers' Movement on the South Coast, and he organised demonstrations for work.

Already a marked man by the Establishment, he had to use an assumed name to get work in the steelworks. He later worked casually on the waterfront, and in 1939 he was admitted as a permanent member of the Waterside Workers' Federation.

During his 34 years as a federation member he held an executive position for a total of 31 years.

He joined the Communist Party in 1930 and remained an active member until his death.

The role of Fred Watson the communist in serving the oppressed was inseparable from his untiring efforts to get them organised.

His unselfishness sprang from a deep-seated humanism and compassion for people, and he responded willingly to every call for assistance, whether large or small.

He knew every member of the federation branch by name, and their problems, visiting them when they were sick, or injured. He spent more time on the wharves than in the office, listening to problems, offering advice.

He was frank to the point of bluntness. If this sometimes upset some, his sincerity and integrity were never in question.

It was typical of the man that he devoted himself so deeply to the movement against the Indochina war. He unhesitatingly signed the Declaration of Defiance against the conscription law, challenging the Government to jail him alongside the young draft defiers.

Every social injustice was his cause, and he took his place in mobilising people against it.

Like all of us, Fred Watson had his human weaknesses and frailties. But he was a revolutionary who strove always to identify with the oppressed and their cause, and this is why he will be most remembered and why 2000 people turned out to pay their respects to a worker who served his class so well.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • photo, Tribune (Sydney), 26 November 1969, p 12
  • funeral, Tribune (Sydney), 16 January 1973, p 4

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Joe Palmada, 'Watson, Frederick William (Fred) (1904–1972)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 February, 1904
Hartlepool, Durham, England


10 December, 1972 (aged 68)
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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