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William Patrick (Bill) Brislan (1906–1973)

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William Patrick Brislan, known as ‘Tom’ and ‘Bill’ (1906-1973) labourer, postal worker and Communist organiser 

Birth: 10 December 1906 at Murrumburrah, New South Wales, son of native-born parents James Peter Brislan (1876-1945), farmer later wool classer, and Mary Amanda, née Hughes, late Plowes (1872-1932). Marriage: 1939 in Queensland to Eva Caroline Crowley. They had two sons. Death: 29 June 1973 in hospital at Brisbane, Queensland. 

  • His father enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in December 1915 [giving his occupation as grazier], served in France with the 7th Field Company Engineers from August that year until March 1919 and was discharged in October 1919. After the war the marriage collapsed and the family was brought up by his mother.
  • ‘Tom’ joined the Communist Party of Australia in 1930 and was a pastoral worker and organiser of CPA ‘dual union’, the Pastoral Workers’ Industrial Union of Australia, in the 1930s, especially effective in Queensland where he played hooker for Longreach rugby league team to show that communists were not ‘bad blokes’.
  • Became especially hard-minded Stalinist and all-round hard nut. An amateur wrestler with no teeth.
  • Early 1940s was an iron worker and secretary of Federated Ironworkers’ Association, Balmain branch.
  • In 1943 was a combatant in a legendary, ideologically-directed fist fight with Trotskyist Nick Origlass at Mort’s Dock. The fight caused his banning from Mort’s Dock.
  • Control of Balmain branch and FIA wrested away by Laurie Short faction, partly due to Brislan’s unfulfilled promises.
  • Became rank and file member of postal workers union. Member of the Federated Engine Drivers’ and Firemen’s Association of Australasia.
  • in 1948 was a member of the CPA’s Central Committee. March 1946 became a paid organiser. Tutor in political economy at the Marx school in 1948. CPA candidate for federal seat of Mitchell, NSW, in 1949 elections. Had left the party by 1954, after disagreement with leaders. Worked in the Post Master General’s Department in the 1950s. Assessed as a security risk.
  • From 1960 to 1973 was a journalist and radio commentator in country areas in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.
  • His brother Patrick (1913-1985) served in World War II and was a prisoner of war in Malaya.

Labour History
, Volume 79, Nov 2000; Socialist Party of Australia, September1973; Hall Greenland, Red Hot: The Life & Times of Nick Origlass 1908–1996 (Sydney, 1998); Tom Brislan, ‘A Maverick Amongst Marxists’, unpublished MSS, 1972, Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University, M. 67.

Additional Resources

  • ASIO file, A6126, 595 (National Archives of Australia)

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Brislan, William Patrick (Bill) (1906–1973)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 July 2024.

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