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Marsh, Ralph Benson (1909–1989)

by Greg Patmore

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Ralph Marsh, n.d.

Ralph Marsh, n.d.

photo supplied by Donna Lincoln

Ralph Benson Marsh (1909-1989), trade unionist and politician, was born on 30 September 1909 at Newcastle, New South Wales, fourth of seven children of Irish-born Hugh Marsh, engineer, and his wife Jane Ann, née Benson, born in New South Wales. Ralph was educated at Nambucca Heads Public School and commenced a boilermaking apprenticeship with the New South Wales Government Railways in 1926. Apart from a period of unemployment during the Depression, he worked with the railways, mainly at West Narrabri and in Sydney at Chullora, until his resignation in 1949. He married English-born Irene Mary Kermode (d.1976) on 11 February 1933 at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney; he had converted to her Catholic faith. He joined the Australian Labor Party in 1933 and was active in the local branches.

Prominent in the Boilermakers’ Society of Australia, in 1949 Marsh became the full-time secretary-treasurer of the Redfern branch, with an office at the Sydney Trades Hall. He was a member of one of the industrial groups maintained by the ALP to fight communism in the unions. Elected to the central executive of the State ALP as a ‘grouper’ in 1952, he was to serve until 1962, when he filled a vacancy in the New South Wales Legislative Council. He was also a State representative on the interstate liaison committee of the industrial groups. When the 1955 federal conference withdrew recognition of them, Marsh decided to stay in the ALP.

Marsh’s anti-communist credentials and reputation for trustworthiness attracted the attention of the right-wing leadership of the Labor Council of New South Wales. He won an election in 1957 for the new position of organiser, rising to assistant secretary in 1958 and to secretary in 1967. A ‘cheerful, plump man’ (according to the journalist Mungo McCallum), as secretary, he presided over the construction of a new building for the Labor Council in Sussex Street, Sydney. His colleague John Ducker found him ‘placid, peaceful [and] amenable’ but in May 1971 he dealt firmly with the militant Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation by successfully moving for its suspension from the council pending an investigation, after some men, allegedly BLF members, disrupted a meeting. He criticised the BLF in February 1972 for its policy of green bans against the demolition of historic buildings.

Labor Council representative (1965-69, 1972-73) on the executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Marsh served (1969-71, 1973-75) as junior vice-president. He attended conferences of the International Labour Organization and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Travelling widely to labour conferences, including one in the Soviet Union (1973), he called for unions to organise more effectively on an international basis to curb the growing power of multinational corporations.

Late in 1975 Marsh resigned as secretary of the Labor Council to take up a part-time position (1975-79) on the Public Transport Commission of New South Wales. He was appointed OBE in 1975. Next year his term on the Legislative Council ended. His recreations included bowling, swimming, fishing and watching rugby league. Survived by his son and two daughters, he died on 9 May 1989 at Bankstown and was buried in Leppington cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Markey, In Case of Oppression (1994)
  • M. Dodkin, Brothers (2001)
  • Australian, 21 Oct 1967, p 3.

Citation details

Greg Patmore, 'Marsh, Ralph Benson (1909–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/marsh-ralph-benson-14930/text26117, accessed 21 November 2017.

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