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McGuirk, George Thomas (1896–1967)

by John Shields

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

George Thomas McGuirk (1896-1967), tramway worker and trade unionist, was born on 3 December 1896 at Quirindi, New South Wales, eldest of five children of native-born parents Edward Thomas McGuirk, maintenance man, and his wife Rebecca, née Worboys. George was educated at St Joseph's Convent and Quirindi Superior Public schools until the age of 15 when he was employed as a bookkeeper at J. L. Tebbutt & Co.'s general store. Steeped in his father's Catholicism and political principles, he joined the Quirindi Labor League and opposed conscription. On 12 December 1916 he married Estell Veronica Barnett at St Bridget's Catholic Church, Quirindi.

In 1921 McGuirk moved to Newcastle to take a job with the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways. He worked as a tram-conductor, then as a driver, and joined the local branch of the Australian Tramway Employees' Association. In the mid-1920s he and his family moved from Mayfield to Tighes Hill. McGuirk retained his job through the Depression, and remained loyal to J. T. Lang in the internecine struggles which convulsed both the local and wider Labor movements. A member of the Tighes Hill branch of the Australian Labor Party, in the late 1930s McGuirk was branch returning officer, a delegate to the A.L.P.'s New South Wales and Federal electorate councils, and briefly a member of the Lang-dominated central executive of the State Labor Party. Recognizing Lang's impending downfall, McGuirk represented his branch at the unity conference, held in Sydney on 26 August 1939, which led to the end of Lang's leadership; he then helped to negotiate the amalgamation of the rival 'Lang' and 'Heffron' parties at Tighes Hill.

After World War II, McGuirk and his family sought to align Tighes Hill with the A.L.P. industrial groups. In 1948 he won the branch vice-presidency. His youngest son Kevin was secretary-treasurer (1949-55); his eldest son George was a Labor alderman on Newcastle Municipal Council. At branch level the McGuirks' endeavours were opposed by a left-wing faction led by the brothers C. K. and S. B. Jones. With the demise of the industrial groups in the State A.L.P. in 1955-56, McGuirk again made his peace with the victors, supporting Charlie Jones's successful bid (1958) for the Federal seat of Newcastle. From 1955 until his death, McGuirk was re-elected—unopposed each year—as president of the Tighes Hill branch.

A critic of the private banking system, McGuirk staunchly supported employee co-operatives and mutual insurance. He was a member (from 1913) of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society. In the 1950s, with ministerial support, he successfully promoted building-society initiatives among Newcastle bus and tramway employees, and was founding secretary of five of them. Following his retirement from the tramways in 1961, he was appointed to the New South Wales Board of Health, on which he served until 1966. Of social-democratic temperament, McGuirk was by nature better adapted to local-branch politicking than to the bigger challenges of high union or party political office. He died of cancer on 13 January 1967 at New Lambton and was buried in Quirindi cemetery; his wife, three sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Quirindi Advocate, 7 Feb 1967
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 3 Mar 1967
  • ALP, Tighes Hill Branch, minute books, 1937-67 (Newcastle Region Public Library)
  • transcript of interview with Mrs M. Hallinan, 4 Aug 1987 (New South Wales Bicentennial Oral History Collection, State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Shields, 'McGuirk, George Thomas (1896–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/mcguirk-george-thomas-10967/text19493, accessed 23 September 2017.

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