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Hickey, Simon (1878–1958)

by Bede Nairn

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Simon Hickey (1878-1958), by unknown photographer

Simon Hickey (1878-1958), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 40226

Simon Hickey (1878-1958), leather goods manufacturer and politician, was born on 6 June 1878 at Botobolar, New South Wales, son of Patrick Hickey, farmer, of Ireland, and his wife Mary, née Swift, native born. Educated at public schools near Mudgee, in 1890 Hickey moved with his family to Auburn, Sydney, and continued at the local public school. At first he helped his father as a drayman, then worked as a bartender and a shearer; in 1893 he was apprenticed to a saddler at Mudgee. In 1903 in Sydney he worked for John Brush & Co., saddlers. He started his own leather firm at Redfern in 1908, Simon Hickey Industries Ltd.

Hickey had joined the Australian Natives' Association in the mid-1890s. His disadvantaged upbringing inclined him to the Labor Party and he became a member about 1900; by 1906 he was president of the South Sydney branch. At Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Waterloo, on 25 February 1911, he married Hilda Ellen, daughter of J. R. Dacey; on the latter's death next year Hickey succeeded him in the State seat of Alexandria. He was then improving his financial position and was part of the general movement of Catholics to Labor after Cardinal Moran had favourably compared Australian to Continental socialism in 1905. Labor formed a government in 1910 under J. S. T. McGowen, and of its forty-six parliamentarians seventeen were Catholics.

Made a justice of the peace in 1912, Hickey was ambitious politically and in 1912-15 was secretary of the parliamentary Labor Party; but he also looked after his business, and did not form a power base in the party. He was an anti-conscriptionist in World War I, but before the 1917 general election, with J. Storey, he urged the central executive to re-admit the pro-conscriptionists who had been expelled the previous year. He made a notably wrong prediction that once the war was over the Labor Party would quickly return to its pre-1916 position. With several other parliamentarians, he was worried by the radicalism of the trade unionists who controlled the party executive, and found it impossible to adjust to the tortuous factionalism that prevailed in the 1920s. He was chairman of the Public Works Committee in 1920-21, and in the exchange of ministries by J. Dooley and Sir George Fuller in December 1921, Hickey was Speaker for eight days. He lost his seat next year, but was a member of the Legislative Council in 1925-34.

Hickey's business prospered and in 1923 he opened the first silk-weaving mill in Australia; but it failed. He held enlightened views on the employment of youths and suggested that apprenticeship rules be altered to help obviate dead-end jobs. In the 1920s and 1930s he gave several lectures, those on politics revealing his late cynicism about party discipline. In 1931 J. T. Lang removed him from the Milk Board. The same year his friend R. D. Meagher died and Hickey eulogized him in terms that Meagher would have approved: 'to him a primrose by a river bank was a fadeless immortelle'. Abstemious, 'swarthy and rotund', Hickey was well stocked with bush lore; he wrote many paragraphs for the Bulletin, and in 1951 published a book of reminiscences, Travelled Roads, enlivened by his joviality.

Hickey died on 18 May 1958 at his home at Bellevue Hill, and was buried in the Catholic section of Botany cemetery, survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons. His estate was sworn for probate at £11,806.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Ford, Cardinal Moran and the A.L.P. (Melb, 1966)
  • Bulletin, 24 June 1931, 4 June 1958
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Mar 1917, 14 Dec 1921, 24 Aug 1922, 15 Mar 1923, 22 Dec 1925, 18 Sept, 29 Dec 1931.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Hickey, Simon (1878–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hickey-simon-6658/text11475, accessed 24 November 2017.

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