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.

Charles William (Charlie) Sullivan (1857–1942)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Charles (Charlie) William Sullivan (1856-1942) shearer, trade unionist

Birth: 1857 in Port Melbourne, Victoria, son of English-born parents Dennis Sullivan (1827-1901), a detective of police who was born in Surrey, and Ellen Elizabeth, née Sullivan (1833-1909), from Lambeth, London. Marriage: 6 September 1887 at the manse, in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, with Presbyterian forms, to Mary Jane Bradley (1870-1934). They had three daughters and three sons. Death: 8 July 1942 in hospital at Granville, Sydney, New South Wales. Religion: Rationalist, nominally Anglican. 

  • Had about 12 months schooling in Shepparton, Victoria.
  • In 1874 he and his brother Alfred tramped with their swags from Ballarat to begin their shearing careers at Longernong, in the Wimmera district. Charlie continued to shear in Victoria until 1878 when he crossed the border to work at Wrangline, owned by “that old miser, Bobby Rand”.
  • He became a foundation member of the Wagga Shearers’ Union [later the Amalgamated Shearers’ Union and then Australian Workers’ Union] in 1886, receiving ticket number 1 at Wagga Wagga that year, and was a continuous member of the union for some 58 years.
  • In 1889-90 he worked at Toorale, on the Darling the second NSW shed to shear with machines. He was the shed’s representative for the AWU and also the ringer, shearing 10,566 sheep in twenty-six weeks. No shrinking violet, he wrote “as I excelled with blades so I excelled with the machine”.
  • He shore at Goolgumbla station, owned by Sir Samuel McCaughey, in 1890 in conditions that were “absolutely scandalous”, leading to a strike due to handling “scab wool” that was to lead to a general strike.
  • His first experience of a Queensland shed was at the Longreach Scour in 1908, where Teddy Benyon was the cook, and “a master of his profession”. Spent some time in Longreach hospital and then worked at Coreena, near Barcaldine, before heading for Sydney, where he seemed to live from about 1911.
  • Was described a “still hale and hearty” in 1927 when he handed his AWU ticket to the Mitchell Library in Sydney. An admirer, Timothy J. O’Sullivan (no relation), befriended him in the 1922s and helped him write his memoirs in 1929.
  • In 1934, with Daniel Boyle, was presented with a gold medal for long association with the AWU. Contributed items to the Worker until the 1940s.
  • Cause of death: chronic myocarditis.

Worker (Brisbane), 28 September 1927, p 13, 3 July 1944, p 4; Humphrey McQueen, We built this country: builders’ labourers and their unions, 1787 to the future (Port Adelaide, 2011) p 12; Timothy J. O'Sullivan Charles William Sullivan: The History of the Man and his Union Ticket (1946), MS, Mitchell Library State Library of NSW, ML MSS A2886.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Sullivan, Charles William (Charlie) (1857–1942)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Port Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


8 July, 1942 (aged ~ 85)
Granville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.

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
Key Places