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Baker, John Simms (Jack) (1908–2001)

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John Simms (or Sims) Fleming (Jack) Baker (1908-2001) telegraphist, trade union leader, folk singer, author 

Birth: 10 October 1908 in Quorn, South Australia, youngest of seven children of SA-born parents Frank George Wakefield Baker (1868-1956), carriage decorator, and Maria Isabel, née McNamara (1866-1952). Marriage: 12 February 1948 in Camberwell, Victoria, with the rites of the Unitarian Church, to Joyce Morley, née Motteram, a divorced telegraphist. Death: 2 January 2001 in Woodport Nursing Home, Erina, New South Wales. 

  • Brought up in Quorn, SA, where his father was a prominent Freemason, Anglican layman and candidate for the municipal council.
  • Jack became a trainee telegraphist with the Postmaster General’s department after leaving school aged 14. Posted to remote parts of northern SA and learned morse code in the telegraph station. To Melbourne in 1938, where he served as S.A. representative on the Public Service Union (PSU) executive council. Publicity Officer for the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations.
  • To Sydney in 1939, where he became NSW Branch Secretary PSU and ‘entered upon a series of successful campaigns within the Postal Department that shocked the most militant of the militants’.
  • Active in campaigning for war loans during World War II and as broadcaster for PSU in Sydney radio stations. A polished and eloquent speaker he once spoke for 4½ hours to present the case of NSW Branch of the Telegraphists and Postal Clerks’ Union to annual conference. General Secretary of PSU 1947-1967; full-time 1967-1973. Leader of industrial campaigns for leave and margins in early 1960s.
  • Folk singer. Recorded tunes such as Oh Pay Me, Pay Me, My Margin's Down and The Basic Wage Dream.
  • Advances in technology used for surveillance of participants in industrial activities concerned him. Secretary, Darlinghurst Branch of Australian Labor Party, delegate to East Sydney electorate council, ALP and annual conference, NSW Labor Council. Campaign director for Labor in Fitzroy Ward for municipal elections and endorsed candidate. Regularly chaired large (2000+) open-air political meetings, King’s Cross, and campaigned for land and voting rights for indigenous Australians. Union representative on the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders before 1967 referendum when aborigines were given constitutional recognition.
  • Together with musician, Gary Shearston he organised the song We Are Going, which became the anthem for the 'Yes' case in referendum campaign. The author of many plays including Billy and the Anarchists, Wild Colonial Kelly, Second Fire and Plague Island; and a book on the union’s industrial struggles, The Communicators (UPCT, 1980). Retired in 1973, and travelled with his wife to Yugoslavia, USA, Mexico and Paris.

Sources
The Australian Telegraphist
, 21 April 1947; Sydney Morning Herald, 10 February 2001 p.64.

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Citation details

'Baker, John Simms (Jack) (1908–2001)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/baker-john-simms-jack-32514/text40354, accessed 30 January 2023.

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