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William Fardon (Bill) Burns (1912–1989)

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William Fardon (Bill) Burns (1912-1989) newspaper reporter, wharf labourer, and gaoled Communist publisher 

Birth: 16 June 1912 at Murrumburrah, New South Wales, son of native-born parents, both teachers, Algar Young Burns (1877-1935) and Annie Maria, née Taylor (1883-1946). Marriage: 2 January 1940 in Muswellbrook, NSW, to Sydney-born Yvonne Agnes Kennedy (1919-1995). They had three sons. The marriage ended in divorce. Death: 7 May 1989 at Auburn, Sydney, NSW. 

  • Education began at Paddington Primary School, won scholarship to Sydney Grammar, later attended Christian Brothers College, Waverley. Active in church affairs as youth; played soccer and cricket in church teams. Left school at height of Depression.
  • Worked as farmhand-milkman with relatives at Burradoo, in southern highlands of New South Wales, where lifelong commitment to socialism began.
  • Worked as casual reporter on Daily Telegraph, later with Workers Weekly. In 1939, he became the nominal publisher of the Communist Party of Australia’s newspaper, Tribune.
  • During period of illegality he went into hiding at Muswellbrook. Handed himself in to manpower authorities when Japan entered the war. Worked at heavy engineering firm, Armstrong Hollands, building caterpillar tracks.
  • Federated Ironworkers’ Association union delegate to Labor Council of NSW in 1941-2.
  • After WWII he returned to the Tribune, left in 1948 but neglected to remove name as publisher. Joined Sydney branch of Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF).
  • In 1949 he was charged with sedition. On 15 August 1950 in Sydney was convicted. Appeal was dismissed on 6 April 1951. On 27 April he withdrew his appeal and was sent to Tumbarumba prison farm. Was released on 11 August 1951.
  • Returned to waterfront just before 1954 strike. Worked on Finance committee of WWF branch. Remained rank and file wharfie until 1964.
  • Sporting interests continued as cricket club secretary, and vice-captain of local golf club.
  • Cause of death: coronary atherosclerosis.

(Sydney), 2 August 1950, p 2; Maritime Worker, July 1989; John Playford, Doctrinal and strategic problems of the Communist Party of Australia, 1945-1962, PhD thesis, ANU, 1962; Roger Douglas, ‘The Ambiguity of Sedition: the trials of William Fardon’, in Australian Journal of Legal History, 1 January 2005, pp 227-248.

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Citation details

'Burns, William Fardon (Bill) (1912–1989)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


16 June, 1912
Murrumburrah, New South Wales, Australia


7 May, 1989 (aged 76)
Auburn, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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
Key Places
Political Activism