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John Joseph (Jack) O'Reilly (1888–1933)

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John Joseph (Jack) O'Reilly (1888-1933) miner, trade union leader, politician 

Birth: 21 October 1888 at Bungal, Mt Egerton, Victoria, son of James Stephen O’Reilly, miner, and Maria née Ryan. Marriage: 24 March 1913 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, to Theresa Ellen Giffney (1887-1952). They had two daughters and two sons. Death: 13 May 1933 in his home at Cooks Hill, NSW. Religion: Presbyterian. 

  • Shearing shed worker around Ballarat, Victoria, then smelter worker at Port Pirie, South Australia; secretary of local branch of Amalgamated Miners’ Association (AMA). Member, Port Pirie unions committee during 1909 Port Pirie-Broken Hill lock-out and strike. With other activists was blacklisted by Broken Hill Proprietary Co.
  • Moved with widowed mother to Broken Hill about 1910. Worked in mines under false names (including ‘J. Riley’, ‘J. Barry’ & ‘John Patrick Barry’). AMA steward and vice-president. Vice-president, Barrier Labor Federation. President, Australian Labor Party Barrier District Assembly. Director of Barrier Daily Truth.
  • Represented AMA before 1914 NSW Royal Commission into conditions in the Broken Hill mining industry, displaying verbal and tactical brilliance. Secretary AMA underground section during successful 1915-16 campaign for 44 hour week, representing miners before Commonwealth Arbitration Court and in negotiations with federal government. Made unsuccessful trip to Port Pirie to persuade local workers to join strike.
  • Delegate to anti-conscription convention, Melbourne, 1916, touring Tasmania on behalf of convention. With P. J. Brookfield, conducted negotiations towards Barrier AMA's amalgamation with Australasian Coal & Shale Employees' Federation 1916-17, attending National Congress in Melbourne; subsequently represented Barrier miners on Miners' Federation Central Council for four years. Member, Broken Hill strike committee during 1917 ‘sympathy strike’.
  • O’Reilly and E. A. Sinclair were charged with holding an unauthorised meeting in July 1917, eventually withdrawn.
  • Close associate of P. Brookfield, George Kerr and M. P. Considine. AMA check inspector, Broken Hill, campaigning against dry drilling and other dangerous practices. AMA secretary. Prominent in successful 1919-20 Broken Hill strike for a 35-hour week and improved compensation for miners. Toured Australia to raise strike funds. Represented miners during arbitration tribunals. With Brookfield, Kerr and others, he was expelled from ALP in 1919. Instrumental in forming breakaway Industrial Labor Party.
  • Contested Sturt as ILP candidate in 1920. Represented miners on Broken Hill joint compensation committee established after strike.
  • Supporter of One Big Union movement. Instrumental in transformation of AMA into the Workers’ Industrial Union of Australia, Mining Department, Barrier branch, in 1921.
  • Co-founder of Miners’ paper, Common Cause, 1921. Developed curvature of spine as a result of mining employment. Moved to Newcastle about 1921 and rejoined ALP.
  • Campaign director for J. M. Baddeley on Northern coalfields during 1922 state elections.
  • Joined staff of Labor Daily in 1924, becoming Northern business manager, selling paper at pit-heads.
  • Member of the Federated Clerk's Union and vice-president in 1931. Member Socialisation Committee 1931-33. Secretary of the Newcastle branch of the ALP. Secretary of the local State and Federal Electorate Councils (1933).
  • Appointed to Legislative Council of NSW by Lang government on 24 November 1931, he remained a member of the council until his death. Member of the City of Newcastle Lodge, 1086, Grand United Order of Odd Fellows.
  • Died of miner’s phthisis.

Common Cause
, 10 July 1924; tribute and obituary, Labor Daily, 15 May 1933, p 4 []; obituary, Newcastle Morning Herald, 15 May 1933, p 6 []; Labor Year Book, 1933; Barrier Daily Truth Centenary Souvenir Edition, 1983; Heather Radi, Peter Spearritt & Elizabeth Hinton, Biographical Register of the NSW Parliament 1901-1970 (Canberra, 1979); Edgar Ross, A history of the Miners' Federation of Australia ([Sydney] 1970; information from E. Ross, 1990 & 1991.

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'O'Reilly, John Joseph (Jack) (1888–1933)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

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