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John Francis (Jack) Zwolsman (1891–1969)

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Jan Frank De La Rie Viere [John Francis] Zwolsman, also known as ‘Jack’ (1891-1969) labourer, wireless telegraphist, gaoled IWW member and Communist 

Birth: 9 June 1891 at Amsterdam, Holland, son of Johannis De La Rie Niere (Jan) Zwolsman, assistant police commissioner, and Wilhelmina Sophia, née Wermingen. Marriages: (1) 18 January 1915, as John Frank De Le Rie Viere, at the Methodist Church, Pirie Street, Adelaide, South Australia, to native-born Irene Agnes Kay (1889-1964). They had one daughter. (2) 30 July 1943 at the Registrar’s Office, Paddington, Sydney New South Wales to a native-born widow, Mary Newell Cowley, née Cooper, late Stokes (1913-1987), a bus conductress. Groom described as a bachelor. Death: 3 January 1969 in hospital at Greenslopes, Brisbane, Queensland. 

  • Spent some six years in the East Indies and the West Indies.
  • Arrived aboard the de Ruyten in Sydney, New South Wales, from Batavia, Java, Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) on 18 October 1910. After ten months was employed at the Broken Hill Pty Co., Port Pirie, South Australia, then moved to Adelaide. Was a labourer when he applied for naturalisation at Adelaide on 20 February 1915.
  • Enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 27 July 1915, giving his occupation as wireless telegraphist. Embarked from Australia in October 1915. Served in France with the 10th Battalion and was promoted to sergeant. He was awarded the Military Medal in June 1919 for courage and determination during operations near Jeancourt on 18 September 1918 during which he was slightly wounded in the head and suffered from shell shock. He returned to Australia in July 1919 and was discharged in Adelaide on 21 September that year.
  • Member of the South Australian branch of the Industrial Workers of the World in Adelaide from his arrival in Australia until 1930; sometime secretary and treasurer. Previously working as a labourer, he was appointed lineman, Postmaster General’s Department in September 1926. Arrested that month with Charlie Reeve and other IWW members, he was charged with taking part without consent in a public meeting at Botanic Park, which he chaired. On 21 October he and Reeve were sentenced to imprisonment for one month. They were released on 2 November pending appeal. The High Court subsequently found the act under which they were arrested invalid.
  • Again arrested for “refusing to move on” in July 1927 he appeared before magistrate H. M. Muirhead, who had served with him in France. “I think I can remember you” said the magistrate. “I was a sergeant-major” said the defendant, “I remember you too, sir”. He continued his public activity as leader of the unemployed movement.
  • Joined the new Communist Party of Australia branch at its foundation in 1930 and became an executive member. Worked as a builders’ labourer and was an active member of the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation. Member of the organising committee of the Adelaide Trades and Labor Council. Communist Party candidate for Federal seat of Adelaide in December 1931 and State seat of Port Adelaide in April 1933.
  • Moved to Sydney in 1936 where he became a lifesaver and pool attendant at North Sydney’s newly built Olympic Pool.
  • Served in WWII.
  • Formerly vice-president of the Eastern Metropolitan district council of the Returned Services League, he was expelled from the RSL in January 1950 on charges relating to Communism. Retired from North Sydney pool to Wamberal, NSW, where he ran a hire boat service and became a swimming instructor and was active in the Wamberal Surf Club. Later moved to Bowen, in Queensland, then to Cairns, and finally to Brisbane.
  • Prominent boxer, footballer (soccer) and swimmer. In Adelaide was a member of the Henley Life Saving Club.“A great believer in physical fitness, he devoted much time to coaching young people in swimming and lifesaving.”
  • Cause of death: myocardial infarction.

Jim Moss, Sound of trumpets: history of the labour movement in South Australia (Cowandilla, 1985). John Playford, Doctrinal and strategic problems of the Communist Party of Australia, 1945-1962, PhD thesis, ANU, 1962, p 435; Alastair B. Davidson, The Communist Party of Australia 1920-35: policy and organisation, PhD, ANU, Canberra, 1966, p 474.

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Zwolsman, John Francis (Jack) (1891–1969)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Zwolsman, Jan Frank
  • Viere, John Frank

9 June, 1891
Amsterdam, Netherlands


3 January, 1969 (aged 77)
Greenslopes, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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