People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Patrick William (Paddy) Kenna (1879–1948)

by Peter Sheldon

This article was published:

Paddy Kenna, n.d.

Paddy Kenna, n.d.

Patrick William (Paddy) Kenna (1879-1948) labourer, political activist and trade union official

Birth: 9 December 1879 at Gunnedah, New South Wales, son of Irish-born parents Martin McKenna (1836-1916), a cooper from Kilkenny, and Anna Maria, née O’Connor (1855-1902), from Dublin. Marriage: 11 February 1928 at Gunnedah, NSW, to Lena Mary Carlon. They had two sons and one daughter. Death: 22 April 1948 at Warragamba Dam, NSW; usual residence Regent Street, Mittagong, NSW. Religion: Anti-clerical Catholic. 

  • Parents’ farm Thagominda in Queensland, was ruined by 1890s depression.
  • Paddy worked shearing, fencing and labouring at Cunnamulla, in Queensland in the 1900s. Was a navvy on railway construction (Southern line duplication about 1914). District Secretary of the Railway Workers and General Labourers’ Association, Mittagong branch, in 1915.
  • Rural organiser for union and its successor, Railway Workers’ Industry branch of the Australian Workers’ Union from 1915 to the late 1920s, mostly on South Coast and highlands.
  • Contested seat of Wollondilly in 1916. Chairman, Belmore Ward, City Council elections c. 1924.
  • Opened small real estate agency in Sydney about 1928. The 1930s depression caused family to split: Paddy remained in Sydney while the family returned to Mittagong.
  • Contested Macquarie ward in City Council elections for the Australian Labor Party in May 1930. Supported Lang in early years but contested Wollondilly in 1932 NSW election as ‘Federal Labor’ and in 1944 as ‘Independent Labor’. Independent Labor nominee for the seat of Woollahra in 1937.
  • He was employed at Lithgow Small Arms Factory from 1942 until injured at work.
  • Was a Water Board dam navvy at Nepean Dam, Bargo, in 1943 and Warragamba Dam from 1945 to 1948. Wrote and published the anti-Tory monthly, ‘Warragamba Advocate’ while labouring at dam.
  • Active in local Water Board union activities at Nepean and Warragamba Dams. Fell to his death at Warragamba Dam in 1948.
  • Paddy was the model for ‘Martin’ (poetic licence taken) in his nephew Peter Kenna’s play, A Hard God.

Interviews with his son, Father Patrick Kenna at Kiama 28 November 1984 and on phone 24 December 1992. Ray Greentree and John Palmer interview 1 April 1985 at Bargo; Navvy, 1914-1916; Australian Worker, 1916-23; Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board minutes 2 June 1948; Metropolitan Supply and Sewerage Employees’ Association minutes; Metropolitan Supply and Sewerage Employees’ Association, Warragamba Dam branch, minutes; Labor Daily (Sydney), 18 December 1924, p 1.

Additional Resources

  • photo, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May 1930, p 12
  • profile, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 13 October 1931, p 7
  • photo, Truth (Sydney), 6 June 1937, p 18
  • inquest, Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW), 20 May 1948, p 1

Citation details

Peter Sheldon, 'Kenna, Patrick William (Paddy) (1879–1948)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Paddy Kenna, n.d.

Paddy Kenna, n.d.

Life Summary [details]


9 December, 1879
Gunnedah, New South Wales, Australia


22 April, 1948 (aged 68)
Warragamba, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

workplace accident

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.

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
Political Activism