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Bird, Sidney (Sid) (1871–1955)

by Peter D. Gardner

Sidney Bird, Fairfax Corporation, 1930s

Sidney Bird, Fairfax Corporation, 1930s

National Library of Australia, 52081641

Sidney (Sid) Bird (1871-1955) miner, soldier, check weighman and trade union leader

Birth: 11 June 1871 at Spring Creek, near Young, New South Wales, seventh child of London-born parents William Charles Bird, a miner who participated in the Lambing Flats riots in 1860-1861, and Charlotte Fletcher, née Neale (1832-1881). Marriage: 16 January 1901 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, with Independent Presbyterian forms, to Queensland-born Margaret Ellen Vowles (1873-1943). They had seven daughters and three sons. Death: 2 July 1955 in Darlinghurst, Sydney. Religion: Anglican. 

  • According to his own account, Bird was orphaned at 11 and went to live with his married sister at Balgownie, Fairy Meadow, near Wollongong, on the south coast of NSW. At 14 he worked at Mount Pleasant mine, became a wheeler, and at 17 started on the coal. He had joined a trade union when he was 15. During the 1890s depression he combined mining with shearing, working in western NSW and Queensland. He also enjoyed football and cricket.
  • In February 1900 Bird enlisted in B Squadron, First Mounted Rifles, and served in the South African War as a private. Hospitalised with enteric fever and invalided home to Balgownie to a reception committee, he was presented with a handsome silver watch and gold chain in August 1900. He worked at Corrimal-Balgownie colliery and by 1903, he was elected miner’s lodge auditor on 25 February and check weighman on 3 December.
  • Treasurer, Illawarra Colliery Employees' Association (ICEA). He represented the union on the Wages Board but, with secretary Peter Bowling he resigned from the board over the presence of T. R. Morgan in 1911.
  • With A. C. Willis, he was ICEA delegate to the first meeting of the Central Council of the Australasian Coal & Shale Employees' Federation (AC&SEF), Sydney, 1915. President Southern District of AC&SEF 1913-1925.
  • From 1927 to 1932 he was general secretary of the NSW branch of the Australian Labor Party, then an industrial commissioner until dismissed by the new government in 1933. He successfully sued for lost pay and was awarded £2000, which he spent on a trip to England.
  • In his later years a pensioner, he lived at a hotel in Pitt Street, Sydney. A journalist in 1952, described Bird as a “bald, blue-eyed, 6ft 3 ins, 16 stone giant, with pendulous ears, hands like mechanical grabs”. A passionate “Labor man of the old school,” he lamented that Labor had “lost its philosophy – its soul” and that unionists “unfortunately, have allowed their unions to be ruled by power cliques”.

Sources
Great Southern Advocate
; Outtrim News; Korumburra Times; Edgar Ross, A history of the Miners' Federation of Australia ([Sydney] 1970; information from E. Ross, 1990.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter D. Gardner, 'Bird, Sidney (Sid) (1871–1955)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/bird-sidney-sid-32642/text40520, accessed 16 August 2022.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012