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John (Jock) Graham (1894–1975)

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This entry is from People Australia

Jock Graham, c.1944

Jock Graham, c.1944

John (Jock) Graham (1894-1975) coalminer, engine-driver, shire councillor and poet 

Birth: 23 January 1894 at Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, son of Samuel Graham (1862-1922), coalminer, and Elizabeth, née Craig (1867-1901). Marriages: (1) 1917 in Ayrshire, Scotland, to Nellie Cain or Kean (d. 1919). They had one son. (2) 1919 in Ayrshire, Scotland, to his deceased wife’s aunt Helen Kean, née Brown (1887-1956) a widow with five children by two previous marriages. They had two daughters and one son. (3) 1956 at Fairfield, New South Wales, to Irene Orr. Death: 6 February 1975 in hospital at Kurri Kurri, NSW. 

  • Left school at 14 to work in the Scottish coal mines, joining the Miners’ Union there. Enlisted in the Royal Navy on 17 February 1914. Served as a stoker on destroyers and cruisers then on submarines during World War I. Saw action in the Doggara Bank battle and in U-boat and mine-layer skirmishes. Discharged in 1919, joined the British Independent Labour Party in 1920.
  • Immigrated to Australia in 1922. Second wife arrived in Sydney in the Euripides on 4 January 1924 with seven children, five of them hers by two marriages, and two by Jock. She gave birth to two more children in NSW.
  • Became a coalminer at Kurri Kurri and was a life-long member of the Kurri Kurri branch of the Communist Party of Australia.
  • Lost a leg in a pit accident at Richmond Main Colliery in 1928, but continued to work as an engine-driver there. Sometime president of the local sub-branch of the Federated Engine drivers and Firemen’s Association. Sometime district Coal Board delegate.
  • Published numerous working-class verses and short stories and was regarded as miners’ poet laureate, contributing verse to Common Cause, Cessnock Eagle and other publications.
  • Was a CPA candidate, with Nellie Simm, for Kearsley shire council in December 1944. They and another CPA member were elected resulting, reputedly, in the Communist majority in a NSW shire council, with Bill Bartley shire president. Graham was defeated, with other CPA councillors, in December 1947.
  • One of his best-known poems, 'A Man of the Earth', became an anthem to miners' militancy and heroism. His standing exemplified when Kurri Kurri's federal parliamentarian Rowley James, frustrated by an opponent's indifference to coalfields people, threw a copy of Graham's Blood on the Coal across the parliamentary chamber, exclaiming that Graham could tell them all about miners.
  • Two of his sons, both miners served in World War II — one a stepson, James Kean (b.1908), in the Royal Australian Air Force and the other his eldest son Sam (b.1920), from his first marriage, in the Australian Imperial Force.
  • Cause of death: coronary occlusion, ischaemic heart disease and congestive heart failure.
  • Brother of Samuel Graham (1898-1988).

Blood on the Coal; Dark Roads
, 1973; Edgar Ross, A history of the Miners' Federation of Australia ([Sydney], 1970); Andrew William Metcalfe, For freedom and dignity: Historical agency and class structures in the coalfields of NSW (Sydney, 1988); information supplied by E. Ross, 1990 & 1991; Common Cause, 10 February 1975.

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Graham, John (Jock) (1894–1975)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Jock Graham, c.1944

Jock Graham, c.1944

Life Summary [details]


23 January, 1894
Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland


6 February, 1975 (aged 81)
Kurri Kurri, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.

Key Organisations
Political Activism