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Comerford, James (Jim) (1913–2006)

James (Jim) Comerford (1913-2006) mine worker and trade union leader 

Birth: 9 September 1913 in Glencraig, Fife, Scotland son of Hugh Comerford, a coalminer and socialist activist, and Elizabeth, née Jackson, a community activist and writer. Marriage: 23 November 1935 in Kurri Kurri, New South Wales, to Mabel Harrison. They had one daughter. Death: 8 November 2006 in Kurri Kurri. Religion: Anglican. 

  • Father blacklisted from a mine in Scotland when Jim was nine.
  • Arrived in Australia with his parents in 1921 and attended school at Kurri Kurri and later at Maitland High School, leaving at the age of 14 to follow his father into the Richmond Main Colliery. Although his formal education ceased at that time Comerford continued his self-education, eventually receiving an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle in 1989 in recognition of his numerous newspaper and journal articles and reviews, and his history of mining.
  • Throughout his working life Jim Comerford worked as a miner and as an activist in mineworkers' organisations. During periods of unemployment he was active in unemployed workers' associations. His experience in 1929 as a witness to the fatal shooting of a miner by the police at Rothbury led Jim to join the Young Communist League (1930) and later the Communist Party of Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. Later joined Australian Labor Party. He was also a prolific contributor to left wing journals. However, Comerford's main contribution was through his work on union bodies.
  • In 1936 Jim was elected district president of the Unemployed and Relief Workers Union. After his return to the mine in 1938 he rejoined the local lodge and was elected to the Northern District Miners Board of Management in 1940. The following year he was elected to the Central Council of the Miners' Federation, becoming that body's research officer in 1945. His involvement with the federation was extensive, with terms as acting general secretary (1949), vice-president of the Northern Districts branch (1950-51), president of that branch (1954-73) and general secretary of the federation (1968-69). In 1950 he became president of the Newcastle Trades Hall Council.
  • Although he retired in 1973 Comerford remained active, serving as head of the Newcastle branch of the Trade Union Training Authority, as a member of the Whitlam government's Social Welfare Committee, and as an active member of the Retired Mineworkers Association.
  • 1989 awarded Medal of the Order of Australia for his contribution to unionism; awarded Hon. Master of Arts, Newcastle University for his lifetime of scholarship.
  • Member of the Independent Order of Rechabites, dedicated to fighting alcohol use.
  • Publications include numerous articles and a history of mining, including books Lockout; Mines, Wines and People and Coal and Colonials.
  • On 10 February 1996 in Aberdare Prime Minister Paul Keating unveiled the Jim Comerford Commemorative wall, dedicated to miners who lost their lives in the northern district coal mines.

Sources
Edgar Ross 1970; Common Cause 13 March 1954, 10 July 1965, 29 February 1972, 15 March 1989; Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 2006, p 16

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Citation details

'Comerford, James (Jim) (1913–2006)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/comerford-james-jim-32535/text40379, accessed 9 August 2022.

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