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William (Bill) Morrow (1888–1980)

by Audrey Johnson

This article was published:

This entry is from People Australia

William (Bill) Morrow (1888-1980) railway worker, trade union leader and Australian Labor Senator

Birth: 22 October 1888 at Rockhampton, Queensland, son of William Morrow (1853-1935), a railwayman born in County Armagh, Ireland, and Amelia, née Greenhalgh (1861-1946), born in Lancashire, England. Marriage: 22 November 1910 at Mareeba, Queensland, to Katherine Victoria Scateni (1886-1963), born in Mareeba. They had two daughters and one son. Death: 12 July 1980 in Sydney, New South Wales. Religion: Protestant. 

  • Educated at the Provisional School, Fairymead, and State schools of Bundaberg, Kangaroo Point and South Brisbane in Queensland. Family moved north to Mareeba when Bill was nine years old where his father gained permanent work as inspector on construction of Mareeba-Chillagoe railway.
  • Left school when aged 10. Worked as ‘water joey’ on Mareeba-Chillagoe railway; Later became a fettler, ganger, guard, fireman and finally engine driver on the construction of several North Queensland railway lines.
  • While still in his teens Bill worked for the establishment of unions on the railways. Joined Amalgamated Workers Association (AWA) in 1911. Blacklisted for taking part in the 1912 Brisbane ‘badge strike’. AWA amalgamated with the larger Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) in 1913 and Bill became a member of the AWU.
  • Joined railway service in 1915 and became member of the Queensland Railways Union (QRU). Transferred to Charters Towers in 1915 and was elected branch chairman, branch secretarey and delegate to conference. Was also president of the local Trades and Labor Council and president of the QRU’s North Queensland council. Bill and his wife opposed World War 1 and were active in anti-conscription campaigning.
  • When the Australian Railways Union (ARU) was formed in 1921 by amalgamation of State railway unions Morrow accepted the position of Northern District secretary of the ARU in Townsville in 1923 and resigned as acting secretary of QRU Northern District branch. Moved his family to Townsville. Elected member of ARU State Council in 1922.
  • Had joined Workers Political Organisation (later Australian Labor Party) in 1908 and retained membership while in Townsville but he and his wife were more strongly influenced by the Industrial Workers of the World and a communist group.
  • Dissension occurred within the Townsville ALP branch over the performance of the State Labor government and he became disappointed over what he saw as its abandonment of socialist principles. Disillusionment with the ALP and overwork led Bill to a breakdown and he resigned his union job in 1925.
  • Over the next ten years he became a hotel worker in Townsville, a travelling salesman in outback Queensland and the Northern Territory, a storeman in Mt Isa, and a councillor on the Cloncurry Shire in Mt Isa 1932-1935.
  • In 1936 he was urged by an old union associate, Tim Moroney, who was State secretary and general president of the AWU, to take a position of secretary of the Tasmanian branch of the union which was in a run-down state. Was Tasmanian State secretary of the ARU 1936-46 and arbitration advocate. Attempted to gain same level of wages and conditions for Tasmanian workers as to the mainland and came into conflict with the Ogilvie Labor government over this. Expelled from ALP in 1938 for opposition to the State government’s support of ‘universal physical training’, which he viewed as being a parallel to compulsory military training. Senior National vice-president of ARU. Inaugurated an annual conference of Tasmanian unions. President of Launceston Trades Hall.
  • Co-operation in the war effort led to the settlement of old quarrels and in 1942 Bill was re-admitted to the ALP and elected to its State executive.
  • Elected to the Australian Senate in September 1946 Morrow held the seat until he was defeated – as a ‘Tasmanian Labour’ candidate in May 1953. Before he was defeated he had been denied Senate pre-selection for embarrassing the Labor Party over several years including opposing the Chifley Government’s intervention in the 1949 Coal Strike, the Menzies Government’s Communist Party Dissolution Bill and commitment of Australian troops to Korea in 1950.
  • Spoke for recognition of a People’s Republic of China in United Nations, trade with socialist countries, peace between the east and west and recognition of rights of Aborigines. In spite of having resigned from ALP, he was expelled in 1953 for contesting the federal election against an endorsed ALP candidate.
  • Delegate of Australian Peace Council conference in Budapest in 1953, he travelled through Hungary, Bulgaria, USSR, China, France and England. On his return he and his wife toured around Australia informing people of his experiences.
  • Secretary of the NSW Peace Council 1954-63 (later known as the Peace Committee for International Co-operation and Disamament). Passport was withdrawn by the Government and he was called to appear before the Petrov Royal Commission. Continued position on NSW Peace Council in 1955 after his wife was paralysed by a stroke and one of his daughters took care of her.
  • Member of the Bureau of World Peace Council and made frequent trips overseas, meeting with prominent leaders including Premier Zhou Enlai, Walter Sisulu, Albert Einstein, Paul Robeson and Jessie Street. Organised Third World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, Tokyo, 1957. Awarded Joliot-Curie Peace Medal in 1959 and the Lenin Peace Prize in 1961.
  • Resigned from peace movement in 1963 when his wife died. Retired in Brisbane and did not receive a parliamentary pension. Continued interest in industrial affairs and good relations with China. Visited China several times as a guest of the Chinese government. Member, national executive of the Australia-China Society and Queensland State president in 1977.

Morrow papers in Fryer Library and University of Qld; Records of Federal Council of ARU in national office in Sydney; The Militant (QRU) in Qld Parliamentary Library, The Advocate (ARU) in Qld state office of ARU; Hansard 1947-1953; Information from Bill Morrow, his union, parliamentary associates and his family and friends; Audrey Johnson Fly a Rebel Flag Ringwood 1986; Rydon, Advocate, 10 June 1925 p 13; Seamen’s Journal, August 1961 p.184; Tribune, 10 May 1961, 28 May 1986 p 14

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Citation details

Audrey Johnson, 'Morrow, William (Bill) (1888–1980)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 June 2024.

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