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Harry Collins Gibson (1873–1955)

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Harry Collins Gibson (1873-1955) engine driver and trade union leader 

Birth: 5 October 1873 at Wakefield, Yorkshire, son of Benjamin Gibson (1845-1878), brewer’s traveller, and Alice, née Heald (1846-1922). Marriage: 28 October 1901 in Perth, Western Australia, to Charlotte Mary ‘Tots’ Goddard (1879-1941), born in South Australia. They had one daughter and one son. Death: 4 July 1955 at St Kilda, Melbourne. 

  • His father died when Harry was aged four. His mother remarried. According to the 1891 census he worked in as an assistant to his step-father, a rag merchant.
  • Harry arrived Sydney, New South Wales, on 21 March 1901. Soon moved to WA.
  • Engine driver from early 1900s. Joined Certificated Engine-Drivers’ Association, Perth branch, in 1906 and became secretary. In 1912 was a trustee of the State executive of the Australian Labor Federation.
  • 1913 WA councillor to Federated Engine Drivers and Fireman’s Association of Australasia. Federal president in 1914. In December 1916 he was a Western Australian delegate to the Special Commonwealth Conference of the Australian Labor Party called to deal with the conscription issue. He was elected general secretary of the FEDFA in 1919 and moved to Melbourne.
  • In 1923 was founding president of the Commonwealth Council of Federated Unions, superseded by the Australian Council of Trade Unions in 1927. Had a long-standing feud with J. B. Holman, trade union leader and WA politician.
  • 1929 president, Melbourne Trades Hall Council. Member of the Oakleigh branch of the Australian Labor Party.
  • Industrial organiser to Lord Mayor Hospital Fund, Melbourne, 1933.
  • Recognised as leading authority on arbitration, performing well in WA courts. Was a member of Piddington’s Royal Commission on the basic wage, 1919-20.
  • Appointed as a delegate to the International Labour Organization conference in Geneva in 1929. In 1930 he attended the All-Australian Trade Union Congress in Melbourne, where according to the Sydney Bulletin, he was ‘the leader of the Right wing [and] a tough proposition to the Reds’. That year Smith’s Weekly described him as “silent, emphatic . . . he seldom speaks”, and claimed that “a decade ago, he had once skippered a tiny launch in the upper regions of the Amazon”.
  • Resigned as secretary of the FEDFA in 1933 when the headquarters were transferred to Sydney. Became industrial officer of the Lord Mayor’s Fund, and was director of the Hospital Benefits Association of Victoria until October 1945.
  • Sometime director and vice-president of the Royal Humane Society, Victoria, and member of the University of Melbourne Extension Board.

Sources
Safety Valve, September 1955; Australian Worker, 14 January 1931; Westralian Worker, 12 April 1929.

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Citation details

'Gibson, Harry Collins (1873–1955)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/gibson-harry-collins-33129/text41322, accessed 3 March 2024.

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