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Bodkin, William Francis (Bill) (1903–1971)

by Peter Sheldon

This entry is from People Australia

William Francis (‘Bill’) Bodkin (1903-1971)  trade union leader

Birth: 18 October 1903 at Lithgow, New South Wales, son of native-born parents George Clifford Bodkin (1867-1930), smelter, later trade union secretary, and Bridget Ellen, née Callaghan (1871-1937). Marriage: (1) 5 January 1939 at St Michael’s Presbytery, Stanmore, Sydney, to native-born Eileen Mildred, née Pearce. (1919-2007). They had one daughter and one son before divorcing. The two divorcees then married each other again, on 21 December 1970, at the Registrar General’s office, Sydney. Death: 19 July 1971 at Marrickville. Religion: Catholic. 

  • His two brothers George and Joseph Anthony (known as Anthony) both attempted to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force in the last months of World War I.
  • Bill was a trade union organiser by 1930.
  • Enlisted in the Australian Army on 15 March 1940. Was a “Rat of Tobruk’ during WW II. Discharged in 1947.
  • While in the army, contested the seat of Ashfield for the Australian Labor Party in the 1944 NSW State elections and nominated for preselection for the seat of Blacktown in 1945.
  • An ALP alderman on Newtown Council, he was mayor in 1946 to 1947.
  • Secretary of the NSW Builders Labourers Federation from 1958 to 1961. Increasingly militant union was tenuously controlled by NSW Labor right-wing, led by convenient stop-gap faction, described by Burgmann and Burgmann as ‘a right-wing gangster element’.
  • During late 1950s his group fought off left wing opposition, often using violence, before succumbing electorally to left wing takeover, which included Jack Mundey. Mundey recalled, ‘Bodkin kept descending the stairs and I kept picking him up, carrying him back and sitting him in his seat…It was the first democratic meeting ever held in the Builders Labourers’.
  • Bodkin was involved in contested preselection ballots for Labor senate positions in 1955 and 1957. In 1959 he was reputedly nearly killed by a falling lump of masonry from a ledge at Trades Hall.
  • War pensioner, member of Newtown Returned Services League sub branch and the Rats of Tobruk Association.
  • Cause of death: coronary occlusion and coronary thrombosis.

Sources
Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann, Green bans, red union: environmental activism and the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (Sydney, 1998); Peter Sheldon, Nick Bodkin, interview, Sydney, 12 May 1988; Labor News, 31 December 1921; Colin Colbourne, interview, Sydney, 20 Nov 1984; NSW Parliamentary Debates, 192, 21 March 1950, pp 5409-12; Navvy, 1912-16; Labor News, 13 March 1920; Labor Daily, December 1927-1928; Tom Mutch papers, Mitchell Library; Peter Sheldon, Maintaining control: a history of unionism among employees of the Sydney Water Board, PhD thesis University of Wollongong, 1989; WW, Dec 1927-March 1928; Jack Mundey, Green Bans & Beyond (Sydney, 1981).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Sheldon, 'Bodkin, William Francis (Bill) (1903–1971)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/bodkin-william-francis-bill-32771/text40753, accessed 26 September 2022.

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