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James Joseph Graves (1882–1964)

by Frank Farrell

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

James Joseph Graves (1882-1964), fitter, trade union official and politician, was born on 23 June 1882 at Waverley, Sydney, eldest son of native-born parents James Joseph Graves, book-keeper, and his wife Elizabeth, née Dobson. He attended the Marist Brothers' College, Darlinghurst, and at 15 was apprenticed as a fitter. He joined the Political Labor League of New South Wales in 1900 and on 21 February 1901 married Edith May Sessle; they had two sons and eight daughters.

In 1906 Graves was a foundation member of the Stove and Piano-Frame Moulders' and Stovemakers' Employees' Union. In 1912 he became industrial advocate for the stovemakers before the Commonwealth and State courts of conciliation and arbitration, a role he was to continue until 1930. The same year he joined the executive of the Labor Council of New South Wales; soon he left the metal trades to become full-time secretary of the Stovemakers' Union—he later became general president.

After the Labor Party split over conscription, Graves followed the executive of the Labor Council in a swing to the left, which was greatly accelerated by the débâcle of the 1917 transport strike. In 1919 he joined the breakaway Industrial Socialist Labor Party formed following the narrow defeat of left-wing efforts to convert the State Labor Party into a revolutionary socialist reflex of the One Big Union. He was closely associated with the 'Trades Hall Reds' led by J. S. Garden. In 1922 a writer in the Communist described Graves as 'solid', 'silent' and 'thoroughly dependable' and, when elected to the State A.L.P. executive in 1923, he was described in the Communist press as one of 'the Red … Comrades' who, with other leftists, held the balance of power at the conference.

Like Garden, and many other 'Trades Hall Reds', Graves began to distance himself from the Communist Party of Australia as the 1920s progressed. He was president of the Trades Hall Association (1923-24) and of the Eight Hour Committee (1927), and a delegate to the founding congress of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions in 1927. He also supported J. T. Lang. President of the State (Lang) party from 1927 to 1930, he became general secretary in 1930 and a key figure in the notorious 'Inner Group', a coterie of Lang's personal aides and party officials who controlled policy in the 1930s. Graves remained in his salaried position despite the dramatic split between Garden and Lang over control of radio station 2KY in 1936. A delegate to the Federal Labor conferences in 1930, 1936 and 1939, he was vice-president of the federal executive in 1936-38. When Lang was deposed as State parliamentary leader in 1939, Graves narrowly lost his position as general secretary. During World War II he worked for the Australian Red Cross Society.

Graves was nominated to the Legislative Council in November 1931 and was re-elected after its reconstitution in 1934 until he was defeated, after being placed last on the Labor Party ticket in April 1961. He was a member of the Empire Parliamentary Association in 1933. In 1946 he was expelled by the A.L.P. State executive for his absence from the council during a vital vote. The party's annual conference readmitted him the next year, but his performance in the council continued to provoke criticism within the party. Graves died on 23 January 1964, in hospital at Kirrawee, after collapsing at his nearby home some days before. Survived by his wife, seven daughters and a son, he was buried in Botany cemetery after a service at St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Sutherland.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • R. Cooksey, Lang and Socialism (Canb, 1971)
  • M. Dixson, Greater than Lenin? (Melb, 1977)
  • Communist (Syd), 8, 15 June 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Jan 1964
  • Henry Boote diary (MS 2070, National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Farrell, 'Graves, James Joseph (1882–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


23 June, 1882
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


23 January, 1964 (aged 81)
Kirrawee, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.