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William Anthony (Bill) Hartigan (1908–1989)

by Bill Tully

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

William Anthony Gerard (Bill) Hartigan (1908-1989), telegraphist and Australian Labor Party official, was born on 23 June 1908 at Lithgow, New South Wales, younger child of Edward Andrew Hartigan, railway fettler, and his second wife Ann, née Shallvy, both born in New South Wales. Bill was educated at Springwood Public School, a convent school at Penrith, and Marist Brothers’ High School, Darlinghurst, Sydney. At the age of 15 he started work as a telegraph messenger in the Postmaster-General’s Department at Springwood. He became a telegraphist and worked at Mount Victoria, Dubbo, Wagga Wagga, Adelaide, Sydney and Rockhampton, Queensland. On 27 January 1934 at St Brigid’s Catholic Church, Marrickville, Sydney, he married Muriel Rita Barnsley. The couple and their three children moved to Canberra in 1937.

After leaving the Postmaster-General’s Department in 1952, Hartigan operated a communications system at Federal parliament for Australian United Press Ltd and the Melbourne Age. In addition, he worked for Dobell Pty Ltd as an office furniture salesman from 1955 to 1963. He was a newspaper and magazine distributor for John Fairfax & Sons Ltd from 1963 until his retirement in 1971. A colleague at Parliament House described him as congenial and dapper, and a very fast, efficient and hard worker, with a mane of hair earning him the nickname ‘Old Silver’. In 1965 in a traffic collision he had sustained injuries that included the loss of his left eye.

At the urging of Ben Chifley Hartigan had joined the ALP in 1926; he was to remain a lifelong member. He was active in the Fourth Division Postmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists’ Union and later the Australian Journalists’ Association. As president (1973-74) of the Canberra South branch of the ALP, he was a stickler for the party rule book. He admired Chifley and disliked Bert Evatt. A fellow member described him as more inclined to see himself as ‘non-factional’ than was justified by the strong stands he took on some issues. Scathing about moves towards self-government for the Australian Capital Territory, he also had a low opinion of job-grabbing and opportunistic Labor careerists.

The large Hartigan family lived at Reid, and then at Griffith. From the mid-1940s to the early 1960s Muriel, vivacious, active and an accomplished pianist, conducted the popular Hartigan’s Orchestra and Hartigan’s Band at many social functions. Bill was president (1952-53) of the Canberra Workmen’s (later Workers’) Club and publicity officer (1972-83) of the Canberra South Bowling Club. In 1946 he had helped to set up the Canberra branch of the New South Wales Postal Institute. Settling finally at Narrabundah with Muriel, Bill enjoyed dancing and the theatre, and was fond of social drinking and congenial company. Of medium build, well dressed, affable and assertive, with a dry and original sense of humour, he was one of the ALP’s elder statesmen and stern critics. He died on 23 August 1989 at Garran and was cremated. His wife and their four sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. J. Phillips et al, From Workmen to Workers (1980)
  • Canberra Times, 22 Mar 1967, p 8, 14 Feb 1973, p 8, 30 Jan 1974, p 2, 25 June 1988, p B2, 24 Aug 1989, p 4
  • ALP (ACT), Lobby, Nov 1989, p 48
  • Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory, Transcripts of Proceedings, 1966-67 (Supreme Court, Australian Capital Territory)
  • R. Aitchison, interview with W. A. G. Hartigan (transcript, 1975, National Library of Australia)
  • J. Cocker, taped interview with W. A. G. Hartigan (1983, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Bill Tully, 'Hartigan, William Anthony (Bill) (1908–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


23 June, 1908
Lithgow, New South Wales, Australia


23 August, 1989 (aged 81)
Garran, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 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.