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George Mason Burns (1869–1932)

This article was published:

George Burns, by David Low, 1915

George Burns, by David Low, 1915

National Library of Australia, 6456752

George Mason Burns (1869-1932) miner, trade union leader 

Birth: 19 April 1869 in Mogo, New South Wales, son of William Burns, naval seaman and miner, and Bridget, née Morgan. Marriage: 6 January 1906 at Christ Church, South Yarra, Victoria, to Lilian Sophia Locke, labour organiser and socialist. Death: 15 August 1932 at his residence in Cremorne, Sydney. Religion: Christian Scientist. 

  • Educated to primary school level only and began work at age 9. Worked in mines aged 13, also prospected and worked as a sleeper-cutter with his father. Carried swag through NSW to Queensland aged 16 searching for work.
  • Militancy in Ipswich mines incurred the ire of employers. Burns embarked upon a 2600-mile tramp through back blocks of NSW to its south coast where he worked at the Illawarra coal mines.
  • Joined first Labor League at Wonoona in 1891. A member of the Coal Miners’ Association of NSW, he became president of the South Bulli Miners’ Union and secretary of the Amalgamated Miners' Assn. Blacklisted, he was driven off coalfields by mine owners re coal payment dispute.
  • Moved in 1899 to Queenstown, Tasmania, where he was miner at Mt Lyell Mining Company. In 1900 was elected secretary of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association, Queenstown.
  • Elected Member (Ind, ALP) of the House of Assembly for Queenstown on 2 April 1903. Became secretary of the Australian Labor Party Tasmania branch. Represented the mining union at Melbourne conferences. With wife Lilian gave ‘sledge-hammer like’ lectures on socialism in Melbourne, in March 1906, applauded by Bernard O’Dowd and Tom Mann. Resigned seat of Queenstown on 1 November 1906 to contest Federal seat of Denison for the ALP but was defeated.
  • He and Lilian moved to Queensland. Worked as an industrial organiser assisted by his wife 1906-1907 and was especially active in Charters Towers as organiser of local mining union.
  • They moved to NSW in 1910. Failed in an attempt to the seat of Illawarra for the ALP in the Australian House of Representatives in April 1910. Worked as a storeman and packer in the Postmaster General’s Department and then in the Government Printing office and belonged to the Storemen’s Union.
  • He won the Federal seat of Illawarra for Labor on 31 May 1913, defeating (Sir) George Fuller. On the left of the parliamentary party he was sympathetic to progressive ideas, advocated nationalisation of industry and took an active part in opposing conscription. On 5 May 1917 he was defeated in Illawarra by Nationalist, former ALP member, Hector Lamond.
  • He contested unsuccessfully the Federal seat of Illawarra again in November 1919 — as an independent [Industrial Socialist Labor Party] candidate] when he lost his deposit — and the State seat of St George, for the ALP, in May 1925.
  • In the early 1920s he worked as general secretary to the Federated Hotel, Club, Restaurant and Caterers’ Employees’ Union.
  • In December 1925 was ALP candidate for Hopetoun ward in Rockdale municipal elections. Remained active in party campaigning. Supported the W.H. Seale conference. Was defeated by J. J. Cahill for Labor preselection for the State seat of St George in August 1927.
  • In May 1928 he was still taking his shot at a seat in parliament, standing for preselection for a Senate vacancy won by Arthur Rae.
  • Temperance advocate. Active organiser of the Independent Order of Good Templars and secretary of the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australia, Napier Lodge, No. 36, Enfield.
  • Cause of death cardiac failure and chronic myocarditis.

(Launceston), 26 March 1906, p 5; Labor Daily (Sydney) 5 May 1925, p 6; Makin Papers, NLA, Canberra; Scott Bennett and Barbara Bennett, Biographical Register of the Tasmanian Parliament 1825-2000; Joan Rydon, ; Tocsin, 15 March 1906, 21 Feb 1907; The Worker, 18 Feb 1905; Australian Worker (Sydney), 19 April 1917; D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Politics: State Labor Parties in Australia, 1880-1920 (St Lucia, Qld, 1975); Jim Hagan and Andrew Wells (eds), A History of Wollongong (Wollongong, 1997.

Additional Resources

  • profile, Examiner (Launceston, Tas), 26 March 1906, p 5
  • profile, Labor Daily (Sydney), 5 May 1925, p 6
  • funeral, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1932, p 10

Citation details

'Burns, George Mason (1869–1932)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 July 2024.

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