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Owen Joseph McKenna (1883–1965)

This article was published:

Owen McKenna, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Owen McKenna, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Labor Call (Melbourne), 15 November 1923, p 9

Owen Joseph McKenna (1883-1965) taxi driver, trade union official and versifier 

Birth: 13 July 1883 at Allardstown, County Louth, Ireland, son of Richard Joseph McKenna (b.1861), farmer, and his first wife Annie, née Hardy (1850-1887). Marriage: 1922 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Victoria, to native-born Ivy Marion Pepper (1895-1987). They had one daughter and five sons. Death: 29 September 1965 at Brighton, Melbourne; usual residence Black Rock. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Arrived in Australia as an unassisted immigrant aboard the Star of Australia on 26 December 1907 as a groom to a consignment of thoroughbred racehorses.
  • One of Melbourne’s first taxi drivers from 1909 and prominent in the formation of union, Motor Transport Chauffeurs’ Association, in 1911. Served on committee and in 1919, as vice-president, led the union in a landmark three-month strike over wages and conditions, which ended in a new award for drivers of three guineas for a 54-hour week.
  • Elected as union president, c.1919 after strike was then secretary in c.1921 holding that position for 33 years until his retirement in 1954.
  • Reputation as strong negotiator saw him called to Sydney in several large disputes involving drivers in 1920s and 1930s.
  • Delegate to Melbourne Trades Hall Council, Eight-hours Committee, ALP and Wages Board.
  • Foundation member, National Safety Council. Served on committee advising State and Federal governments on transport during war years
  • In later years of career became known as ‘Poet Laureate’ of Melbourne Trades Hall for his verses on union struggles, road safety, the life of bus and taxi drivers and personalities of the labour movement.
  • Cause of death: cerebrovascular accident, cerebral arteriosclerosis, age and senility.
  • His son Owen Joseph McKenna (1922-2016) a journalist, enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 24 April 1942 and was commissioned pilot officer on 1 April 1941, flying officer on 1 October 1944 and flight lieutenant on 1 April 1946. Having served in Australia and New Guinea and with the occupation forces in Japan his appointment terminated when he was demobilized on 6 June 1947.

Biography written by Owen McKenna’s son, also Owen McKenna of Punt Rd Richmond, Victoria; Australian Worker, 5 December 1923 p 1; Labor Call (Melbourne), 15 November 1923.

Additional Resources

  • profile, Labor Call (Melbourne), 15 November 1923, p 9
  • photo, Herald (Melbourne), 22 October 1946, p 3
  • Trades Hall poet laureate, Argus (Melbourne), 11 September 1950, p 6
  • retires, Herald (Melbourne), 18 December 1953, p 13

Citation details

'McKenna, Owen Joseph (1883–1965)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Owen McKenna, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Owen McKenna, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Labor Call (Melbourne), 15 November 1923, p 9

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Life Summary [details]


13 July, 1883
Allardstown, Louth, Ireland


29 September, 1965 (aged 82)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


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.

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