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Harold Clyde (Bob) Wells (1908–1996)

This article was published:

Harold Wells, c.1950

Harold Wells, c.1950

courtesy of Judy Wells

Harold Clyde (‘Bob’) Wells (1908-1996)

Birth: 3 November 1908, Cessnock, New South Wales. Son of Albert Wells, Cessnock coal miner.
Marriage: Bettye Cooke, January 1945, daughter of Frank Hogue, of well-known cricketing family, North Sydney.
Death: 22 January 1996, Mona Vale, Sydney.

  • Educated Cessnock Primary and High school.
  • First worked in motor garage and then as carpenter’s apprentice at Aberdare Central mine. Lost job and joined Communist Party of Australia, 1931, active in unemployed activity, Newcastle district and associated with Bill Orr in Militant Minority Movement.
  • Late 1930s returned to work as coal miner, prominent in Australasian Coal & Shale Employees Federation campaign to secure rate increases, 44-hour week and other improvements in late 1930s, displaying great organising ability.
  • 1938, appointed Secretary of Cessnock Strike Committee and again in 1940 Strike.
  • Representative to ACTU congress. With CPA support and organisation, had meteoric rise to office when elected Federation general president in December 1941, defeating Charles Nelson despite having held no previous union office.
  • 1942, advanced plan for increased mine production for war effort; 1943 retained presidency in bitter election contested by J.T. Lang supporters Claude Anlezark and Jack Logan, and ex-communist Jock Jamieson;
  • 1945 Federation advocate before Board of Inquiry into post-war reconstruction of coal industry, submitting plan for nationalisation and 35-hour week.
  • He gave qualified support to Chifley government’s Coal Industry Bill in 1946. As president, showed gift for planning and reasoned argument but failed to inspire affection. Left office in February 1947 having let membership deliberately lapse when due for re-election, an action described by CPA political committee as ‘desertion’.
  • After leaving office he initially sought to join the ALP; subsequently became assistant manager, Western Building and Construction Co, Sydney, then became a stock broker and estate agent in Newcastle, as well as official of Newcastle Real Estate Institute.
  • Was Active in Rotary. Wrote autobiographical novel, 1950, about life in mining and coalfields, concerning life of young miner who joins CPA out of ‘idealism’ but leaves in order to reconcile the interests of capital and labour as mine manager.


  • Edgar Ross, A History of the Miners' Federation of Australia (Sydney, 1970);
  • Malcolm Henry Ellis, The Garden Path (Sydney, 1949);
  • John Playford, Doctrinal and strategic problems of the Communist Party of Australia, 1945-1962, PhD thesis, ANU, 1962;
  • Andrew William Metcalfe, For Freedom and Dignity: Historical agency and class structures in the coalfields of NSW (Sydney 1988);
  • Common Cause, 24 January 1942, 3 February 1945.

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Citation details

'Wells, Harold Clyde (Bob) (1908–1996)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012