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John James (Jack) Dwyer (1911–1986)

This article was published:

Jack Dwyer, 1975

Jack Dwyer, 1975

John James (Jack) Dwyer (1911-1986) bottle-oh, undertaker, trade union official 

Birth: 17 August 1911 at Sydney, New South Wales, son of native-born parents George James Dwyer (1883-1953), carter, and May Ederith, née Turner (1882-1922). Marriage: 2 August 1930 at St Benedict’s Church, Sydney, to Annie Eva Mary Flaherty (1910-1974). 4 s/d. Death: 19 February 1986 at 19 February 1986 at Pagewood, NSW. 

  • Unemployed during Great Depression, surviving on casual work as ‘bottle-oh’ in Woolloomoolloo, Haymarket, and Darling Harbour area.
  • Secured first steady job with Wood Coffill Ltd in 1939 as assistant undertaker. Active in Funeral and Allied Industries Union.
  • Joined Federated Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (FMWU) in 1941, when employed by NSW Police Department as special constable guarding Sydney Harbour Bridge and Parliament House. Later signed up fellow workers guarding Bantry Bay explosives works. Militancy disapproved of by union hierarchy who withdrew his right to act as delegate.
  • Conscripted into Royal Australian Air Force.
  • Following World War II staged intense campaign with Ray Gietzelt and Lionel Murphy as legal advisor to reform FMWU, surviving cancellation of his union membership in September 1953.
  • From 1954 full-time organiser for union. Successes included 1966 dispute against introduction of contract cleaning in NSW schools. Was most famous for unionising Santa Clauses and organising allowance, 1954-60, for cleaners who took on duties as Father Christmas.
  • A ‘larrikin whose principled nature flourished in adversity’ with ‘a flair for publicity’. He once sent a 992-word, 3 feet (91 cm) long telegram. An energetic proseletyser — also organised dancing instructors at Arthur Murray Dance Academy.
  • Elected assistant secretary in 1967 and held the position until his retirement, in 1975.
  • Became familiar figure in court hearing Murphy trial, 1985, and trustee of funds to pay Judge Murphy’s legal costs.

Margo Beasley, The Missos: a history of the Federated Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (Sydney, 1996); Federation News, April-June 1975, April 1986; Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February 1986; Workers Weekly, February 1986.

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Citation details

'Dwyer, John James (Jack) (1911–1986)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012