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.

William Alexander (Bill) MacPherson (1875–1967)

by Peter Sheldon

This article was published:

MacPherson, William Alexander ('Bill') also known as William McPherson (1875-1967), sewer miner and trade union leader

Birth: 17 November 1875 in Cooma, New South Wales, son of native-born parents William Angus MacPherson (1846-1897), who died in a flash flood on a Water Board job, and Elizabeth, née Robertson (1854-1892). Marriage: about 1895 to Eleanor Alice ‘Lena’ Hayes. They had four daughters and two sons. Death: 14 October 1967 in Parramatta, Sydney, NSW. Religion: Non-practising Protestant. 

  • Attended Paupong School. Little formal education. Cash boy at Anthony Horderns 1887 and on building and maintenance section.
  • Gold prospector, Ophir and Hill districts. After carrying his swag in ‘the country out West’, he returned to Sydney and worked as a contract sewer miner. Drainer, obtaining licence. Water Board, sewer labourer. Declined offer of position as Drainage Inspector to become foundation secretary of Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage Employees’ Association (the Water Board house union) and obtained first award in 1908. Honorary secretary, 1908-10. General secretary for life 1911-1955 (never faced re-election and retired).
  • Obtained registration of Union under NSW Industrial Arbitration Act for all employees of the Water Board including labourers and craftsmen. Acting secretary to the Salaried Officers, 1918-1920. Member, Water and Sewerage Employees’ Wages Division (Metropolitan) Conciliation Committee 1908-1955 — being the only member either on the employees or employers side to sit on all hearing of the conciliation committee for the full 47 years. Life member of union. Architect of union’s quietest history in collaboration with employer.
  • Cautious, undemocratic and self-serving. Generally inactive in last years of tenure. Union was largely run by Joseph Bodkin and Robert Savage.
  • Active member of the Australia Labor Party’s Haberfield branch. Executive member of the ALP 1916-17, but with few political ambitions except with respect to a position on the Water Board. Involvement in ALP was largely a function of his role within the union. Delegate to conferences.
  • Member of Central Executive of the ALP that expelled W. M. Hughes and William Holman over the conscription issue. Pro-Lang but switched in late 1930s. Was offered safe Labor seat but declined. Left the union’s important political connections to Joseph Bodkin, William Carey, James Concannon and Robert Savage.
  • Was a Freemason.
  • Cause of death: aortic aneurysm, cancer of the prostate, ischaemic heart disease.

Colin Colbourne interview, 20 Nov. 1984 Sydney; Neville Grace (nephew) interview, 5 March 1986 Sydney; Joe Weir interview, 7 December 1984 Sydney; Co-operator Eight Hour Souvenir 1912; Labor Daily Yearbook, 1933; Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, Annual Report, 1955-56; Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, Minutes, 2 Nov. 1955; Water and Sewerage Gazette, January-February 1956; Peter Sheldon, Maintaining control: a history of unionism among employees of the Sydney Water Board, Ph.D Thesis, University of Wollongong, 1989; Labor Year Book 1933 p.172, 1934-5, p.233; Labor Daily 13 Jannuary 1927; Reticulator, March 1956 pp.31-32, November-December 1967 p.23

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Sheldon, 'MacPherson, William Alexander (Bill) (1875–1967)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012