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Boland, Harold (Harry) (1891–1956)

by John Michael Moran

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Harold (Harry) Boland (1891-1956), shearer and trade unionist, was born on 21 October 1891 at Long Angle, near Grenfell, New South Wales, sixth child of Thomas Charles Edmund Boland, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Tout, both native-born. Having no formal education worth mentioning, except in the 'school of hard knocks', Harry was variously a shearer, wool-presser, sawmiller, tree-feller, fencer and miner in the Bogan River district. He joined the Australian Workers' Union in 1905. Employed as a clerk in Sydney, Boland married a dressmaker Amy Forrest (d.1954) on 13 April 1914 in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Waterloo. In 1920 he became an organizer for the A.W.U., travelling mostly by bicycle between Nyngan and Peak Hill, and along the Cobar-Wilcannia and Bourke tracks.

In search of work in 1923, he went to Queensland where he was employed as a shearer. He was successively the A.W.U.'s Western District organizer (from 1924), district secretary at Longreach, organizer for the Southern District at Gympie and Far Northern District secretary (from 1941) at Cairns. In 1947 he was elected Queensland president and headed the 'largest branch of the largest union in Australia'. Through his involvement in the State branch of the A.W.U., he had developed a close friendship with Clarrie Fallon and became its secretary in 1950. That year he was elected president of the State branch of the Australian Labor Party and joined the federal executive. He was also chairman of the union's newspaper, the Worker. Heavily built and physically powerful, Boland had a 'quaint streak of humour' that often left his associates wondering whether or not he was serious. A devout Catholic, he was a member of the Holy Name Society.

In March 1955 Boland was one of six Queensland delegates to the A.L.P. federal conference in Hobart where, following a dispute over the composition of the delegation from Victoria, seventeen delegates from four States agreed to boycott the conference. Five Queensland delegates, including Premier Vince Gair and the State treasurer Edward Walsh joined the boycott, leaving Boland as the sole Queenslander to take part in the deliberations. The conference resolved to withdraw official A.L.P. support for the controversial industrial groups (set up in the 1940s by the A.L.P. to fight communist influence in trade unions) of which Boland had long been suspicious.

The Queensland A.W.U. president Joe Bukowski led the attack against the industrial groups in Queensland, though Boland suspected him of having previously used them to promote his position in the union. When Gair and the other boycotters returned from Hobart, they faced Bukowski's open criticism. Boland remained on cordial terms with Gair, despite having rejected his approaches in Hobart, and played a lesser role in the ensuing controversy. As one of Labor's 'old hands' who was deeply loyal to the party, he was not prepared to canvass its difficulties in public. The subsequent shift in power—when the A.W.U. transferred its support from the parliamentarians to the industrial wing in the Queensland central executive—created the conditions for the official 'split' in the Queensland branch of the A.L.P. in 1957. Some had believed that the conciliatory and experienced Boland might have been able to avoid such a result.

Late in 1955 an industrial dispute that was to last nearly a year erupted in the shearing industry over a cut in the shearing rate. Again called to the forefront, Boland made regular appearances in the State Industrial Court. Before the dispute was resolved, he died of a coronary occlusion on 25 July 1956 at his Tingalpa home and was buried in Hemmant cemetery. His daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Mackerras and A. O'Shannessy, A Gathering of Bolands (privately published, no date)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Labor in Power (Brisb, 1980)
  • R. Fitzgerald, A History of Queensland From 1915 to the Early 1980s (Brisb, 1984)
  • Worker (Brisbane), 28 Feb, 14, 21, 28 Mar 1955, 30 July 1956
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 16 Mar 1955, 26 July 1956
  • J. Moran, interview with Mrs D. Vowles (copy in H. Boland file, State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

John Michael Moran, 'Boland, Harold (Harry) (1891–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/boland-harold-harry-9535/text16791, accessed 23 November 2017.

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