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William (Bill) Smith (1889–1952)

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This entry is from People Australia

William [Marx] (Bill) Smith (1889-1952) painter, Socialist, trade union official 

Birth: 1889 at South Melbourne, Victoria, son of native-born Walter Smith (1868-1925), boilermaker, and Mary Jane, née Hill (1866-1898), born at Idle, Yorkshire, England. Marriages (1) 1907 at Heathcote, Victoria, to native-born Harriet Eliza Freeman (1887-1944). They had two daughters and two sons. (2) 15 June 1949 at St Kilda Presbyterian Church, Victoria, to New Zealand-born Alice Eileen (Lali), née Power, formerly Bassett late McGahan (1884-1986), a twice-widowed saleswoman, born at Paeroa, New Zealand, with two children. Death: 4 January 1952 in his residence at Ormond road, Elwood, St Kilda, Victoria. 

  • Member, Victorian Socialist Party 1911. Became avid reader of Marxist literature. Member of Communist delegation to Russia in 1921.
  • Professional runner in Melbourne, holding the 75 yards record for Victoria for several years.
  • When his athletic career finished, he battled for odd jobs. Became a house painter. Organiser, Painters’ Union, from 1917 at least. Assistant secretary of the Painters’ Union in 1919. One of the organisers of the Rural Workers’ Union.
  • Became organiser, Victorian Railway Union. Assistant secretary and in 1919 Secretary of the Victorian Railway Union. Court advocate and proficient speaker.
  • General secretary of the Australian Railways Union from 1920. Suspended when, without the consent of the executive he left with a delegation to Russia in April 1921 Reinstated in January 1922 he fought for a basic wage for railwaymen before the Arbitration Court. He resigned in February 1925 due to ill-health.
  • Assisted in forming State Instrumentalities Unions’ Committee which campaigned for access to Industrial Arbitration for several years. Delegate to Melbourne Trades Hall Council (MTHC) for many years.
  • Member of MTHC executive, Industrial Disputes Committee, Inner Defence Committee (1917) and General Strike Committee. Member of the MTHC National Executive Anti-conscription Campaign Committee 1916. Member, Conscription Referendum. In August 1917 he, Bernard Mulvogue and Alfred John Pearce were charged with making statements likely to prejudice recruiting. He was fined £15 with 4 guineas costs.
  • Member of Joint Australian Labor Party and Trade Union Executives’ Anti-Conscription Committee 1917. Organiser for ALP. Contested Federal seat of Henty in 1917 for Labor.
  • Wrote articles including ‘Productivity and Wages’, ‘Do High Wages Matter’ and ‘Rationalism and Socialism’.
  • In later life he was described as a painter in electoral rolls.
  • Cause of death: cerebral atheroma and cerebellar haemorrhage. Death and funeral notices described him as “William Marx Smith”.

, February 1972 No. 56; ARU General Sec. Biennial Report, May 1950; Railways Union Gazette, 20 June 1919; Normington-Rawling: Communism Comes to Australia ABL M56/1?; Merrifield Card Index, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.

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Citation details

'Smith, William (Bill) (1889–1952)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Smith, William Marx

South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


4 January, 1952 (aged ~ 63)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


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