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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Doig, Walter (Watty) (1900–1987)

by Bert Fagin

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Born in 1900, Watty Doig left his native Scotland for Australia in 1927.

Although not of a mining family, Watty gravitated towards the mines in his early teenage years, towards the militant miners' struggles of the First World War and the early post-war years. He was also attracted to the socialist thinkers of that era — to John McLean, James Connolly, Keir Hardy and others and, through them, to Marx and Lenin. Watty knew how to study and delved deeply into philosophy, history and socialism in a natural and earthy way. He never used jargon and was a natural teacher and leader. Truly a working-class intellectual.

On arrival in Australia, Watty worked in a few small Victorian gold mines and did other laboring work which earned him enough money to pay his fare back to Scotland. He was about to depart when he learned that his old love, Agnes Smith, was not waiting for his return. She was on her way to Australia.

Watty did not see Scotland again. But a beautiful partnership was created which was to last for nearly sixty years. A partnership cemented not only by their love of each other, but also a love of the class from whence they came and the cause for which they struggled.

Most of Watty's life was spent as a coal miner (or an unemployed coal miner), as a union activist, or a Communist Party organiser. And Agnes progressed from being a militant Christian activist to being an equally active communist.

But I must get back to my tribute to Watty and am finding it very difficult to speak of one without the other.

Watty never sought union or political leadership positions. He was the quiet adviser in the background. But his presence was felt. When Watty spoke at a union or party meeting he got total attention. He did not speak if others could carry his message. He never spoke unless he had something meaningful to say.

I first met Watty and Agnes in their Wonthaggi home in the early 'fifties. I wanted to work in Wonthaggi but had not contemplated working in the mines. Although I was a CPA member and had knocked around in several countries and worked in quite hard conditions, the concept of working class solidarity was an abstract idea of which I approved. Watty suggested that a couple of years in the mine might consolidate my middle class political idealism. He was surprised and amused when I accepted his suggestion and started work in the mine. Watty became my protector, teacher and friend. And when I say Watty I automatically include Agnes. They were a single unit. Since that time I have regarded their friendship and support and advice as the most valuable asset of my life.

Watty's many years of service to the progressive movement are well known to older activists. Younger members' interests have been aroused by that excellent recent film Strikebound.

To the very end, Watty retained a positive interest in world political affairs. Three weeks before he died he asked me if I could get him some half intelligent material on the Iran/ Iraq war. He was always very disturbed at the divisions in the world and Australian leftwing movement.

I recall some advice which Watty gave me many years ago because it brings out the essence of the man. I had been in debate with a miner who had very strong rightwing views and had used my greater knowledge to put in a political boot. Watty took me aside and said, "A good communist's first task is to instil confidence into the working class as a class. We cannot do that if we cannot build up the confidence of a worker as an individual. Try and build up your fellow workers' self-confidence irrespective of what their political level may be." And Watty added with a wink, "But keep up your debating skills. They will come in useful with that other class."

And Watty's greatest skill was in inducing self-confidence in his fellow workers and comrades.

Watty and Agnes never had any material wealth. They were generous and an easy touch for any individual or political group who asked them for a donation. They were also generous with their time and their compassion to all who needed it. Their altruism was as total as anything that I have ever seen.

Our deepest sympathies go to Terry, Jessie, Jeanne, Deirdre, John and Michael. But most of all to Agnes for whom we feel very deeply.

But, like Joe Hill, Watty will never die. Eighty-six years of dedication and mental alertness is not a tragedy. It is a positive inspiration. Farewell Watty.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bert Fagin, 'Doig, Walter (Watty) (1900–1987)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/doig-walter-watty-32667/text40564, accessed 26 September 2022.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Birth

18 October, 1900
Slamannan, Stirlingshire, Scotland

Death

15 July, 1987 (aged 86)
Wonthaggi, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage
Occupation
Political Activism