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Mulvogue, Bernard Andrew (Ben) (1871–1936)

by Chris Cunneen

Bernard Andrew (‘Ben’ or ‘Burnett’) Mulvogue (1871-1936), builders’ labourer, trade union leader and Socialist

Birth: 8 May 1871 at Geelong, Victoria, third of twelve children of Patrick Robert Mulvogue (1838-1917), a corporation labourer born in Sligo, Ireland, and MaryAnn, née Cavanagh (1846-1926), born in Dublin, who signed with a mark. Marriage: 13 April 1903 in St Patrick’s Catholic church, Temora, New South Wales, to native-born Johanna Alfreda Myers (1883-1974). They had three daughters and nine sons. Death: 31 October 1936 at Mentone, Victoria. 

  • His mother registered him as “Burnett” on his birth certifcate.
  • As a child, he suffered deprivation due to an alcoholic father, who was incapacitated by rheumatism and struggled to provide for a large family on a labourer’s wage.
  • Succeeded Henry Hannah as secretary of the Victorian branch of the Builders’ Labourers Federation in 1913.
  • A member of the Victorian Socialist Party, he was very active in the anti-conscription campaign and was also an advocate of the One Big Union. [OBU]. Later a staunch member of the Australian Labor Party.
  • Secretary of the Builders' Laborers' Federation until 1921, when he retired due to ill health. Was succeeded by Percy J. Smith.
  • With Henry Hannah, Mulvogue was an important figure in unifying the federation, throughout all Australian States apart from Western Australia. Within a decade they brought the workers from being among the most poorly paid and disparate, to being among the most highly paid and best organised in the country. In McQueen’s words Mulvogue believed that “A union constitutes a school for the working class, wherein they learn self-reliance, learn their rights, privileges, opportunities, as well as their possibilities. Every new demand for better physical protection of the workers ensures a great ideal development for a future generation.”
  • In the 1920s he “started a confectionary, greengrocery and carrying business’ in Carlton, Melbourne. Later moved to the country in the hope of improving his health.
  • Campaign secretary for ALP candidates for Flinders (Federal parliament), Dandenong (State parliament) and Mordialloc, Mentone, Cheltenham and Edithvale councils at elections, including when E. J. Holloway defeated Prime Minister Sydney M. Bruce in 1929.
  • Cause of death pulmonary fibrosis and cardiac incompetence.

Sources
Builder’ Labourers’ News
, 24 December 1915; Humphrey McQueen, We built this country: builders’ labourers and their unions, 1787 to the future (Port Adelaide, 2011), pp 103-105.

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Mulvogue, Bernard Andrew (Ben) (1871–1936)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/mulvogue-bernard-andrew-ben-32782/text40772, accessed 3 October 2022.

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