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Collings, Joseph Silver (1865–1955)

by Joy Guyatt

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Joseph Silver Collings (1865-1955), by Sidney Riley

Joseph Silver Collings (1865-1955), by Sidney Riley

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24170525

Joseph Silver Collings (1865-1955), party organizer and politician, was born on 11 May 1865 at Brighton, England, son of Joseph Silver Collings, shopkeeper, and Mary Ann, née Dyke, his Quaker wife. Educated at Brighton Board School and by his mother and free-thinking father, he read advanced books when young, and later reported for the Sussex Daily News. Collings came to Brisbane with his parents on the Roma in 1883 and became a farm labourer and an unsuccessful selector at Mooloolah. Later, he worked in the office of the boot manufacturer, E. T. Neighbour, and managed Hunter's shoe store in Fortitude Valley. A florid, melodramatic orator, he was a popular speaker in the Christian Socialist Brotherhood, the Social Democrat Vanguard and the Rationalist Society.

Collings was briefly secretary of the Queensland Boot and Shoe Manufacturers' Association and helped significantly to terminate a boot strike in May 1890. In a strike in 1895 his involvement with southern scabs was anathema to the union, but he became a member of the Bulimba Workers Political Organisation from about 1900. In the absence of Ernest Lane, in 1903 Collings probably wrote his column in the Worker. After the Brisbane general strike of 1912 he was given a testimonial 'in consideration of his self-sacrificing services to the Labor cause', and the Boot Trade Union forgave his lapse in 1895. Editing the Official Bulletin for the strike, he wrote, 'it is a bigger sin to starve than to steal in a land of plenty'. His success as editor led to the publication of the Daily Standard and he became chairman of the provisional directors.

After the strike Collings founded and was president of the Queensland Federated Clerks Union. In 1908, 1909, and 1915 he lost in contests for the Legislative Assembly, but in 1910-13 he sat on the Balmoral Shire Council. In 1905 he began a long attendance at the annual Labor-in-Politics conventions, and was regularly elected to Labor's central political executive and the Queensland central executive from 1913 to 1928. In 1927-33, he was a Queensland delegate to the federal conference of the Australian Labor Party.

In 1914-15, Collings was an organizer for the central political executive, then probably spent several years in labour journalism. He was an organizer again, with the same salary as the secretary of the executive, from 1919 until 1931. During the early 1930s when the general secretary, Lewis McDonald, was ill, Collings carried much of the administration. He recruited widely, often travelling by bicycle, and reported his own meetings in glowing terms in the press. In 1916 he was an anti-conscription leader, campaigning throughout Queensland and in Victoria.

Appointed to the Legislative Council in 1920, he loyally voted for its dissolution. About 1923 he made a speaking tour of New Zealand, and in 1931 served as organizing secretary for the provisional State executive set up in New South Wales by the federal party. Elected to the Senate in 1931, Collings became leader of the Opposition there in 1935 and government leader in 1941. He was minister for the interior from October 1941 to July 1945, then vice-president of the Executive Council to November 1946. In September, he had been leader of the Australian delegation to the International Labour Conference at Montreal, Canada.

As minister for the interior during World War II he worked closely with E. G. Theodore on the Allied Works Council, was president of the River Murray Commission and chairman of the board of management of the Australian War Memorial. As a teetotaller, he was unpopular with some Canberra residents because of liquor restrictions. In 1943 he prosecuted the secretary of the Victorian Building Trades Federation for inciting a strike at a war factory, and the unions unsuccessfully urged his dismissal. Collings bore his unpopularity with equanimity.

He retired to Brighton, Queensland, in 1950 and died there on 20 June 1955. His body was cremated after a state funeral at which Dr J. V. Duhig delivered the panegyric. On 26 December 1885 at the Oxley Registry he had married Kate McInerney; of their six children, one son and one daughter survived. An archetypal party bureaucrat, his abilities in writing and speaking were valuable, and he enjoyed ministerial rank as a reward for long years of dedicated work.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Lane, Dawn to Dusk (Brisb, 1939)
  • L. F. Crisp, Ben Chifley (Melb, 1961)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • D. J. Murphy, T. J. Ryan (Brisb, 1975)
  • P. M. Weller (ed), Caucus Minutes, vols 1-3 (Melb, 1975)
  • Worker (Brisbane), 24 Jan 1903
  • Australian Boot Trade Employees Federation (Queensland), minute book, T49/1/4 (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

Joy Guyatt, 'Collings, Joseph Silver (1865–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/collings-joseph-silver-5734/text9705, accessed 21 November 2017.

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