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John Joseph (Jack) Fegan (1908–1981)

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This entry is from People Australia

John Fegan, n.d.

John Fegan, n.d.

John Joseph ('Jack') Fegan (1908-1981) canvasser, actor and Communist 

Birth: 18 July 1908 at Belfast, Ireland, son of Hugh Fegan (b. about 1883), brewery wagon driver, and Bridget, née Fegan (1880-1921). Marriages: (1) 29 April 1932 at the District Registrar's Office, Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales to native-born Edna Catherine Stack (1910-1998), a textile worker. They had one daughter and two sons. Marriage ended in divorce in 1947. (2) 1961 in Sydney to native-born Beatrice Ellen (Betty), née Sweet, late Jacoby, formerly Long. At least one other child out of wedlock. Death: 9 April 1981 in hospital at Turramurra, Sydney; usual residence Lindfield. 

  • Grew up in Catholic Irish nationalist community, Falls Road, Belfast. Joined Fianna, youth organisation of Irish Republican Brotherhood. c.1921 ran away to Dublin, joined Irish Free State Army, supporting Michael Collins, returning to Belfast as civil war broke out in Republic to fight the ‘Old Enemy’ in North.
  • Involved in pawn shop robberies to raise funds for IRA; when brother arrested and imprisoned, spirited out of Belfast by IRA for Liverpool, UK, and Durban to avoid similar fate.
  • Arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1927, working as a navvy, farm labourer in rural WA, later Victoria. Influenced by Industrial Workers of the World and Communist speakers in Perth’s Queens Park, he was involved in street demonstrations.
  • To Sydney, 1930, he settled in Annandale in milieu of Irish rebel/labour militant (Stack) family, a district and community still affected by timber strike. Increasingly committed to socialism and not Catholicism, he was reading Marxist tracts in the State Library of NSW.
  • Joined Communist Party of Australia, Unemployed Workers’ Movement and Workers’ District Committee (WDC), and was at one time bodyguard for Lawrence Sharkey.
  • Styled ‘Big Bluey’ by police agent and featured in many adventurist escapades. Family legend has it that Fegan duped an armory sergeant at Victoria Barracks into supplying his unit of WDC with a Bren light machine gun, a dozen Lee-Enfield .303 rifles and ammunition. He intended to use dynamite supplied by south coast miners at Bankstown eviction protests, and planned a bank robbery with WDC colleague that involved escaping on a tram.
  • Expelled from CPA for left adventurism, in mid 1930s drifting into Trotskyist Left opposition circles with Jack Sylvester. Restless revolutionary and larrikin, stowing away on ship with intention of joining the fight for socialism in China and served gaol sentence in Boggo Road (Brisbane) when discovered.
  • Expert shoplifter on grounds of ‘expropriating the expropriators’. Skilled boxer.
  • Involved with New Theatre, Sydney, mid 1930s. Among many roles played Nazi storm trooper in ‘Till the Day I Die’.
  • Trained as oxy-welder, working at Austral Bronze as welder. Enlisted 3 March 1942 with Australian Imperial Force. Served in New Guinea with the Royal Australian Engineers as corporal but demoted for indiscipline to sapper; contracted malaria. Discharged 9 January 1945.
  • Returned to New Theatre roles post-war and bit parts in flourishing Australian movie scene of 1950s, including role as fiery Irish agitator in film of ‘Eureka’. 1950s worked as wharfie between engagements.
  • With advent of television became well-known as Inspector Connolly in ‘Homicide’, winning Logie in 1972. Active in Actors Equity and involved in punch-up with Sir F. Packer.
  • Cause of death: respiratory failure, fibrosing alveolitis and carcinoma of lung.

Papers of J. Fegan, in possession of Dr B. Fegan and MSS by B. Fegan, ‘Family History of the Fegans’, unpublished, 1980s; Everybody’s, 21, 28 December 1966, 4 January 1967; Hall Greenland, Red Hot: The Life & Times of Nick Origlass 1908–1996 (Sydney, 1998). 

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Fegan, John Joseph (Jack) (1908–1981)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

John Fegan, n.d.

John Fegan, n.d.

Life Summary [details]


18 July, 1908
Belfast, Antrim, Ireland


9 April, 1981 (aged 72)
Turramurra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (lung)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

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