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Donald Edmond Black (c. 1875–1945)

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Donald Edmond Black (c.1871-1945) trade union leader 

Birth: c.1871 in Korn, Argyllshire, Scotland, son of a storekeeper. Unmarried. Death: 1945, Sydney. Religion: Presbyterian. 

  • Pursued a seafaring career, travelling the world.
  • Arrived in New South Wales in 1892 apparently at same time as William Morris (Billy) Hughes whom he closely resembled ‘in stature … manners, aggression and attitudes’.
  • Domain speaker. In 1894-5, reputedly with Billy Hughes, was prominent in advocating unemployment relief measures. Showed prescience in arguing the need for irrigation of the inland, and the setting up of an Australian iron and steel industry.
  • In 1902 was a member, Sydney Labor Council executive and Central Executive of Political Labor League (Australian Labor Party). Part-time organising/fund raising for the Labor Council among workers led to secretaryship of newly formed branch of Electrical Trades Union (ETU), New South Wales, in 1903, though he was not an electrician himself, remained secretary of the NSW Branch until 1940.
  • In 1912 following federal registration was appointed federal president of ETU. From 1917 to 1939 was general secretary. Career highlights included breaking down opposition of Railway Commissioners and Sydney City Council to trade union membership, and controlled system of apprenticeship that laid basis for Apprenticeship Councils later embodied in State Industrial Arbitration Act.
  • Long association with Sydney Technical College led to creation of ‘Donald Black Technical College Scholarship’, endowed by ETU.
  • ‘A cautious, conservative man but an indefatigable worker’. W. J. McKell recorded his high regard for Black.
  • Following retirement moved to central coast of NSW to pursue love of boating and fishing, but died of a cerebral haemorrhage with injuries sustained in traffic accident.

John R. Pola, ETU 1902-1982: The Greatest Servant: A Social History of the Electrical Trades Union (NSW Branch), (Sydney, 1983); AW, 7 May 1924; LD 13 Jan 1937; The Electrical Trades Journal, 31 May 1940, 29 Sept 1945; Electrical Trades Union, New South Wales Branch, Souvenir Program, 6 Dec 1940 with The Electrical Trades Journal, 21 Dec 1940; ETU News, Dec-Jan 1969-70.

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Citation details

'Black, Donald Edmond (c. 1875–1945)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


c. 1875
Korn, Argyll, Scotland


20 September, 1945 (aged ~ 70)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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