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Eric Roels (1891–1954)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Eric Augustus Roels (1896-1954) engine-driver, trade union official, Labor activist and crane driver

Birth: 17 August 1891 at Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Sydney Fritz Augustus Roels (1867-1944), an iron moulder, whose father had been born in the Netherlands, and Emily, née Furey (1869-1903). Marriage: 13 November 1924 at Waverley, Sydney, to Queensland-born Margaret Hagenbach (1894-1982). They had two sons. Death: 7 February 1954 in hospital at Sydney; usual residence Boonara Avenue, Bondi, Sydney. Religion: Anglican. 

  • Member of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association (FEDFA), Sydney sub-branch. Joined the Australian Labor Party about 1917.
  • Appointed to the central executive of the Australian Labor Party NSW branch in January 1930. At the explosive ALP conference in Sydney in April that year he claimed that a secret inner group wielded power within the party and named Jock Garden, Emil Voigt and Graves and his brother Frederick as belonging to it. “I was in the group, but, because I suggested a reconciliation, I was quietly dropped”.
  • Opposed plan to merge the FEDFA into the Australian Workers' Union.
  • President of the Sydney district of the FEDFA in 1932; supported affiliation to State rather than the Federal branch of the ALP.
  • Remained a Lang supporter. In February 1933 opposed Hugh Sutherland for position of organiser of the FEDFA. President of the Bondi branch of the ALP in the 1930s. Evicted from his home in Bennett Street, because, he claimed, he had forced the landlord to make urgent repairs to the terrace which he occupied. Transferred to Waverley branch in 1939.
  • Associated with Jack Hughes’s Communist-controlled State Labor Party in 1944. Supported amalgamation of the ALP with the Communist Party of Australia.
  • Remained a member of the Sydney sub-branch of the FEDFA until his death, when he was working as a crane driver. Cause of death: cerebral thrombosis and cerebral vascular disease.

N. B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’: Jack Lang and the Australian Labor Party (Melbourne, 1986), p 190.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Roels, Eric (1891–1954)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


17 August, 1891
Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


7 February, 1954 (aged 62)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cerebral thrombosis

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