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Dash, John (1882–1952)

by K. H. Kennedy

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

John Dash (1882-1952), trade union official and politician, was born on 31 October 1882 at Blackall, Queensland, son of a German shearer, John Dash, and his Irish wife Margaret, née Mahoney. Educated at the local state school, Jack Dash worked first at Fort Constantine station as a stockman with a reputation for skilled horsemanship. He went to Mount Elliott on the Cloncurry copper-field and was soon involved in unionism. North-western miners' unions merged in 1909 to form the Western Workers' Association with Dash as its secretary. Next year when E. G. Theodore and William McCormack proposed the amalgamation of non-craft unions throughout North Queensland, Dash extolled its advantages and early in 1911 became northern organizer for the Amalgamated Workers' Association. Miners rarely disputed his authority and judgment which were also greatly respected by management.

Dash moved to Townsville in 1912 as northern district secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, a post he held until elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1920. As an A.W.A. organizer, he had assisted with the 1911 sugar strike and the 1912 general strike in which he had learned to eschew ideology and concentrate on specific claims and grievances. In the Hampden lockout (1913), the railway strike (1917) and the Townsville meatworks strike (1919), he applied the lesson. A pragmatist, keen to avoid militant excesses and a staunch supporter of arbitration, he followed the accepted policy of his union but was criticized as an opportunist and ambitious reactionary by militants and as a direct actionist by non-unionists. An intelligence report on the One Big Union movement at Townsville shrewdly observed that Dash 'sat on the fence as usual though in his heart he is opposed to the scheme seeing by the formation of the One Big Union, his political aspirations also his Industrial career would come to an abrupt end owing to him being of the moderate type and a firm believer in the present form of industrial arbitration'.

On 9 October 1920 Dash won Mundingburra, a safe Labor seat. His parliamentary contributions reflected the same thorough preparation that he had shown in his work as an industrial advocate; however, reticent and retiring, he rarely raised his voice. He maintained strong links with his union and was a regular delegate to its conventions in 1919-36; vice-president for many years, he was president for four months from October 1925. He represented the union on the Queensland central executive of the Australian Labor Party in 1915-16 and 1924-27 before being installed as a convention-selected delegate in 1932-39, and was a delegate to every Labor-in-Politics convention from 1918 to 1932. He was an archetypal 'machine man'.

Dash's career climaxed on 17 June 1932 when he became minister for transport in the first Forgan Smith ministry, but he was never to realize his plans for the transport system. Serious injuries in a rail-motor accident at Thangool on 19 September 1932 permanently affected his health and influenced his eventual retirement to the back-benches on 4 August 1939. In seven years as a minister, Dash was responsible for only three pieces of legislation. The State Transport Act (1932) created a board to co-ordinate activities of the Railway, Main Roads and Police departments; the Railway Superannuation Act (1932) made minor changes; and the Railway Acts Amendment Act (1934) created an employees' appeals board.

In the 1930s Dash dispensed political patronage to unionists and party members in his constituency by placing them in jobs on the northern railways; this helped his re-election in 1941. By 1944 his decreasing mental and physical capacity, attributed to Parkinson's disease, together with the splitting of his local political base over the 'Aid-to-Russia' issue, led to his defeat at the pre-selection ballot. He died on 1 January 1952 after prolonged ill health. He was survived by his wife Violet, née Alone, whom he had married at Selwyn on 13 February 1911, and by three daughters. After a state funeral, he was buried in Nudgee cemetery with Catholic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • I. N. Moles, A Majority of One (St Lucia, 1979)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1932, 1951-52
  • Official Record of the Queensland Labor-in-Politics Convention, vol 18, 1944
  • K. H. Kennedy, ‘Theodore, McCormack and the Amalgamated Workers' Association’, Labour History, Nov 1977, no 33
  • Worker (Brisbane), 11 Dec 1909, 3 Dec 1925, 7 Jan 1952
  • North Queensland Register, 5 Aug 1939, 5 Jan 1952
  • D. W. Hunt, A History of the Labour Movement in North Queensland: Trade Unionism, Politics and Industrial Conflict, 1900-1920 (Ph.D. thesis, James Cook University, 1979)
  • W. H. Corbould, The Life of Alias Jimmy (State Library of New South Wales)
  • BP 4/1, 66/5/115 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

K. H. Kennedy, 'Dash, John (1882–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/dash-john-5888/text10021, accessed 22 November 2017.

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