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Alfred William (Alf) Wilson (1876–1937)

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Alfred William (Alf or 'Barcoo') Wilson (1876-1937) miner, wharf labourer and Socialist political activist

Birth: 20 September 1876 at Woodford, near Warrnambool, Victoria, son of Richard Wilson (1846-1924), school teacher, and Mary Ann, née Paynter (1853-1921). Marriage: 11 April 1918 at Adelaide, South Australia, to native-born Kathleen Glennie (1895-1971), anti-conscriptionist. They had one son and one daughter. Death: 19 August 1937 at Benalla, Victoria; resided at Carlton, Melbourne. Religion: Anglican, later self-described Atheist. 

  • Spent most of boyhood at Koroit, Victoria. Diligent Sunday school scholar. Also knew T. J. Ryan. Worked for farmers and road contractors.
  • About 1893 went to Tuppal station, New South Wales. Prospected in the Upper Goulburn River region.
  • In 1895 sent to Klondike, Alaska, for one year, meeting Jack London.
  • Returned to Victoria in 1901. Prospected in the Finke River, Northern Territory, Tarcoola, South Australia, Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
  • Studied theology. Granted licence to conduct Anglican services, which he did briefly in Howes Creek area, Victoria.
  • Returned to Melbourne 1904, undertaking further theological studies. Converted to socialism by reading Jack London and visiting Yarra Bank, meeting Harry Scott Bennett, Frank Hyett and others. Purchased general produce business.
  • Joined Victorian Socialist Party (VSP); elected to executive; taught elocution at Socialist Sunday School. Member of the Tocsin Club.
  • Sold business and worked on wharves, joining Port Phillip Stevedores' Association (PPSA). Briefly went to Mt Lyell, Tasmania, working in the timber industry.
  • Returned to Melbourne. Elected president of PPSA 1913, despite opposition of secretary Joe Morris. Delegate to Waterside Workers' Federation (WWF) Congress, Sydney, 1913.
  • Left VSP. With Norman Rancie, formed Melbourne branch of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) about 1915.
  • Went to Canada, Alaska and west coast of the United States of America after meeting Tom Barker in Sydney. Had contact with American IWW activists. Returned to Melbourne, resuming IWW activism. Assisted Rancie with articles for Direct Action during Barker's imprisonment, using nom-de-plume 'Mordlanti'.
  • Remained active in WWF. In 1917 was charged with being member of an illegal organisation after Yarra Bank speech, but was acquitted.
  • To Adelaide to work for Adelaide Anti-Conscription League 1917, where he met his future wife (League secretary). Secretary Adelaide Social Democratic League 1918.
  • To Melbourne to work for Workers' International Industrial Union (WIIU), being appointed paid organiser (organised Goulburn & Eildon Weirs in opposition to Australian Workers’ Union) then general organiser, organising at Wonthaggi and Mt. Gambier, and helping form Adelaide Branch of WIIU 1919 (?). Admission to One Big Union opposed by J. S. Garden and others. Organiser & speaker for WIIU in Sydney and Newcastle, coming into conflict with A. S. Reardon. To WA for WIIU, organising at Kalgoorlie and amongst striking timber workers.
  • Then returned to family in Adelaide late 1920, working on wharves and becoming deputy foreman for Adelaide Steamship Company, but drifted into debt. Remained active in WWF. Clashed with Charles Reeve over WIIU/IWW rivalry. Joined Adelaide Branch of Socialist Labor Party in early 1920s. Became driving force in branch but expelled (on false charge of misappropriation) in 1926 for resisting general secretary E. E. Judd’s dictates. With William Jeffery and SLP’s US leadership planned to establish a new SLP in Australia to replace Judd’s party, his Adelaide-based organisation securing recognition from the American parent body in 1930. Active in Adelaide during 1928 waterside strike. Served 7 days gaol for speaking without permit in Botanic Park, Adelaide. Socialist candidate for House of Assembly seat of Adelaide in July 1931.
  • Returned to Melbourne with family. Worked as leading hand on sustenance work. Resumed speaking on Yarra Bank, remaining SLP activist. Author of: In the Days of Our Youth (unpublished novel); memoirs (unpublished, completed 1937). Also wrote poetry, and a few days before his death submitted to the local newspaper at Benalla a series of poems dealing with the experiences of Australians on the Yukon gold fields.
  • Died after having cycled to his employment as a sinker while working on the Benalla sewerage scheme. Cause of death: coronary thrombosis.

H. J. Gibbney & Ann G. Smith, A Biographical Register 1788-1939, vol 2 (Canberra, 1987); R. Sharpe MA thesis, 2003; Recorder, nos 76-78, 1975, 82, 1976, 107-11, 1980-81; information from F. Cain, 1992.

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'Wilson, Alfred William (Alf) (1876–1937)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 May 2024.

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