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Joseph Francis (Joe) Howe (1916–1988)

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Joseph Francis (Joe) Howe (1916-1988) wharf labourer, trade union official and Communist 

Birth: 1916 at Chinamans Flats, Wallsend, Newcastle, New South Wales, son of David Howe (1880-1950), a coal miner, born at Durham, England, and native-born Phillippa Violet Matilda, née Eade (1887-1961). Marriage: 1942 at Wollongong, New South Wales, to native-born Olive Daisy Taylor (1921-1996). They had three sons. Death: 17 September 1988 in hospital at Kiama, NSW; usual residence Osborne Parade, Warilla. 

  • His father arrived in Sydney as an infant with his parents and older siblings aboard the Clyde on 23 June 1881.
  • Joe was born into a religious family. Family moved to Abermain, in the Hunter valley where his father was a miner. Unable to obtain employment, due to the Depression, Joe became a socialist and joined the Communist Party of Australia at the age of 17. Got his first job when he was aged 24. Was a labourer at Abermain in 1937 and was secretary of a citizens’ committee to assist the unemployed and old-age pensioners. Worked as wharf labourer in Port Kembla in the 1940s. President of the Port Kembla branch of the Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF) in 1949.
  • Moved to Cairns, Queensland, about 1950 and was president of the Cairns branch of the WWF. CPA candidate for Federal seat of Leichhardt (Queensland) in May 1954.
  • Had returned by 1961 to the South Coast of NSW where he was well-known as a militant. Made many contributions to the Seamen’s Journal, Tribune, the Maritime Worker and other publications.
  • Left the CPA in 1971 to join the Socialist Party of Australia, then helped to form the association of Communist Unity. Welcomed glasnost.
  • A ‘dedicated unionist and an activist in the peace movement’, he was remembered for his "tireless work to build the Workers’ Medical Centre in Wollongong and for his long and abiding concern for the local environment, particularly for Lake Illawarra”.
  • Cause of death: carcinomatosis prostate, diabetes, liver failure and renal failure.

Seamen’s Journal, February 1989 p 60.

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Citation details

'Howe, Joseph Francis (Joe) (1916–1988)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia


17 September, 1988 (aged ~ 72)
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (prostate)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Key Organisations
Political Activism