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William Julius (Joe) Harris (1922–2002)

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This entry is from People Australia

William Julius Henry (Joe) Harris (1922-2002) carpenter, trade union official, social activist and historian 

Birth: 23 December 1922 in Vladivostok, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [Russia], son of English-born Henry Charles Cecil Harris and Erna Johanna Julia, née Johannson (1894-1976), who had been born in Tallinn, Estonia. Marriage: 6 October 1947 at Brisbane, Queensland, to Helen White (Nell) Carrie (c. 1925-1969). Death: 16 November 2002 in Brisbane. Religion: Lutheran. 

  • Father taught English in Soviet Union until 1929. Young Harris attended school to junior standard in Estonia, including accountancy and typing.
  • Moved to Australia with his mother and sister in 1940. Worked as a clerk and book-keeper in Coopers Plains, Brisbane, Queensland.
  • Mobilised in the citizen forces on 4 December 1941, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 21 December 1942. He served in Bougainville, New Guinea, with the 14th Australian Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, reached the rank of corporal and acquired the nickname ‘Joe’ while in the army. Was discharged on 16 May 1946.
  • After the war worked as a carpenter. Became organiser in Building Workers’ Industrial Union of Australia, Brisbane, for twenty years, involved in many strikes and industrial disputes.
  • A militant socialist, in 1960s he was part of Brisbane Trotskyist faction led by Ken Kemshead (1916-1998), connected with Sydney group of Nick Origlass. He was a member of the Communist Party of Australia until 1963, then joined the Australian Labor Party, becoming a foundation member of the socialist left faction.
  • Harris was a pioneering labour historian and a member of the Labour History Society. His book, The bitter fight: a pictorial history of the Australian labour movement (Brisbane, 1970), was written “Because a movement without a knowledge of its history is like a man without a memory — liable to commit the same mistakes over and over again”.

Hall Greenland, Red Hot: The Life & Times of Nick Origlass 1908–1996 (Sydney, 1998); Susan Terrencia Yarrow, Split, intervention, renewal: the ALP in Queensland 1957-1989, M. Phil. Thesis, University of Queensland, 2014.

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Citation details

'Harris, William Julius (Joe) (1922–2002)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


23 December, 1922
Vladivostok, Russia


16 November, 2002 (aged 79)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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.

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