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McAlpine, Abner Strephon (1891–1958)

by Frank Farrell

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Abner Strephon McAlpine (1891-1958), industrial and political organizer, was born on 26 February 1891 in Sydney, second surviving child of McIntosh McAlpine, a native-born clerk, and his wife Rosa Maria, née Bannister, who came from England. Leaving Parramatta Public School at the age of 15, Abe was apprenticed as a fitter and turner with the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways. He joined the Amalgamated Engineering Union and later became a delegate to the Labor Council of New South Wales and a member of the Australian Labor Party. On 13 June 1914 he married Eileen Barber at St Columbus's Anglican Church, Flemington. He divorced her in 1924 and on 4 April 1925 married with Presbyterian forms Zellmira Veronica Foldi at her Drummoyne home.

Drawing together right- and left-wing unions opposed to the Communist Party of Australia, McAlpine was vice-president (1931) and president (1932-35) of the Labor Council. From 1936 to 1941 he was the salaried assistant-secretary to the council and an executive-member of Radio 2KY's broadcasting committee. He worked closely with R. A. King and other trade union leaders in the battles against J. T. Lang for control of 2KY and for Lang's replacement as leader of the State Labor party. Following the success of the left wing in carrying the 'Hands Off Russia' declaration at the 1940 State Labor party conference, McAlpine was closely involved with federal intervention and was president (1940-43) of the restructured State branch.

McAlpine sought to unite the labour movement behind the wartime policies of the Federal and State parliamentary leaders, John Curtin and (Sir) William McKell. In November 1942 he chaired the stormy meeting of the executive of the State A.L.P., when Curtin persuaded the delegates to accept conscription for service in the South-West Pacific. A member (1940-50) of both the Federal and New South Wales A.L.P. executives, McAlpine was junior vice-president (1941-45) and president (1946-50) of the Federal A.L.P. William Holman, the father of W. A. Holman, had taught McAlpine elocution: while his speeches were forceful, they lacked inspiration, partly due to his dour and humourless nature.

In 1941 McAlpine had resigned as assistant-secretary of the Labor Council to join the Australian Shipbuilding Board (chairman 1947-52). He was also a member (1943-51) of the New South Wales Broadcasting Advisory Committee. McAlpine became involved in postwar planning as a member of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council (1949-58) and the Factory Welfare Board (New South Wales) (1954-58). Although he was more an administrator and bureaucrat than an activist or innovator, he constantly supported trade-union campaigns to promote daytime technical training for apprentices. In his spare time he enjoyed family life, gardening, fishing and swimming. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died of a coronary occlusion on 22 January 1958 at his Concord home and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • L. F. Crisp, The Australian Federal Labour Party 1901-1951 (Syd, 1978)
  • P. Weller and B. Lloyd (eds), Federal Executive Minutes, 1915-1955 (Melb, 1978)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 1931, 21 Aug, 7, 24 Oct 1940, 9 May, 16 June 1941, 2 Dec 1942, 2 Dec 1946, 2 May 1947, 15 Oct 1949, 11 May 1950, 24 Jan 1958
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 27 June 1942
  • private information.

Citation details

Frank Farrell, 'McAlpine, Abner Strephon (1891–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/mcalpine-abner-strephon-10888/text19333, accessed 23 November 2017.

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