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Barklay, Ronald (1921–2009)

by Allison Murchie

This entry is from People Australia

Ronald Barklay  (1921-2009) seaman and trade unionist

Birth: 27 November 1921 in Newcastle, New South Wales. Son of Harold Arthur Sibley Barklay, greengrocer, and Mabel Elizabeth Edgar. Marriage: 17 September 1948 in Wesley Methodist Church, Melbourne, Victoria, to Jean Douglas Stevens. Death: 19 September 2009 in Adelaide, South Australia. 

  • In 1937 joined Dundoola, at the age of 15, as a deck boy; became an ordinary seaman after 12 months, then able bodied seaman. 1938, joined the Seamen’s Union; became a delegate at the age of 19.
  • He worked on Australian run ships, mainly cargo or colliers. In 1935 a 3 month strike by the Seamen’s Union, the ship had a half union half scab crew. Full union crew didn’t start until the beginning of the war. Stayed at sea during the war, it was an essential service. War declared while he was at sea. Lots of German raiders around the coast of Australia, he saw many ships carrying iron ore torpedoed. During World War II there was torpedoing and bombing of ships in his convoy. He did trips to New Caledonia, Fiji, New Guinea. He was in Bougainville when the war finished. They transported Japanese prisoners of war to Bougainville at the end of the war. Most of crew were Communists. The Seamen’s Union had more war fatalities than Armed Forces, about 12%. He moved to Melbourne in 1946, stayed 26 years. He had a life at sea from 1937 to 1972.
  • At the end of the war got involved in the peace movement. Did a lot of work for the Communist Party in Melbourne and was active in the Committee for International Disarmament. Went to Moscow in 1959 for May Day as part of Seamen’s Union delegation – also visited Leningrad, Stalingrad, Peking, Nanking, Shanghai, Rangoon, Burmese border. (9 week trip) Went to Moscow as part of Peace Delegation.
  • In 1973 went to New Delhi for South East Trade Union Congress. In 1978 went to German Democratic Republic as guest of Friendship Society, then to Prague for World Federation of Trade Unions Congress (WFTU), then Budapest and Hungary. In 1979 went to New Zealand to represent Seamen’s Union at Centenary of NZ Seamen’s Union. In 1982 went to Havana to represent SA United Trades & Labor Council (heard Castro speak) at World Federation of Unions Congress, in 1983 to Vietnam, in 1986 to Berlin for WFTU and to Copenhagen for World Peace Congress.
  • In 1983 went to Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam to represent Seamen’s Union on chemical and bacterial warfare, also to Hanoi and Moscow. 1989 went to Moscow and Lithuania for Australian Peace Committee. In Australia went to numerous conferences including 1981 at Alice Springs for protest against Pine Gap. In Seamen’s Union actively supported Indonesians against the Dutch, opposed the Korean War, refused to man ships carrying arms to Vietnam, British mining and shipping strikes in 1960s. Has been to World Federation Trade Union meetings in Prague, Havana and East Berlin.
  • In 1972 he was appointed to the role of Secretary of the South Australian branch of the Seamen’s Union, a position he held for 15½ years; was a life member of the Seamen’s Union. Arranged to have SA Seamen’s Union banner made – a peace banner with the doves of peace on it.
  • In SA reformed the May Day committee with George Apap in 1972, still actively involved with Committee in 1990s. Also long involvement in United Trades & Labour Council in SA – May Day, Peace and International Affairs, arts and Retirees committees. Member of the executive for 6 years and on ACTU Executive. In SA President of Australian Peace Committee.

Note: WFTU meet every 4 years, about 1100 delegates – the only Australian union affiliated was the Seamen’s Union and Building Workers' Industrial Union of Australia – Communist body.

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Citation details

Allison Murchie, 'Barklay, Ronald (1921–2009)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/barklay-ronald-32040/text39598, accessed 20 October 2021.

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