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Alfred Russell Wallis (1888–1963)

by Raelene Frances

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Alf Wallis, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Alf Wallis, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Labor Call (Melbourne) 26 July 1923, p 11

Alfred Russell Wallis (1888-1963), trade union official and conciliation commissioner, was born on 16 April 1888 at North Carlton, Melbourne, son of William Wallis, a carpenter from London, and his Tasmanian-born wife Mary Ann, née Gorman. After attending Horsham and Moreland state schools, he served an apprenticeship as a cutter in the men's tailoring trade and worked as a journeyman in several Melbourne factories. Aged 18, he was converted to Tom Mann's socialism and joined the Victorian Socialist Party; in 1906 he was imprisoned for thirty days for taking part in its free-speech campaign.

On his release from prison, Wallis became active in the Victorian Clothing Operatives' Union which covered pressers, cutters and trimmers. He represented it on the Trades Hall Council and on the Wages Board; he was also elected a member of the executive of the V.S.P. The stress of these activities, in addition to his paid factory work, induced a breakdown and he went to the country to recuperate.

In 1908 Wallis resumed his trade union career, this time with the newly amalgamated Federated Clothing Trades Union of Australia (Victorian branch) which embraced the tailors and tailoresses as well as the V.C.O.U. Next year he was elected president of the Victorian branch and represented the union on the Trades Hall Council, the Wages Board and the Eight Hours' Committee. In 1912 he was elected full-time paid organizer and thereafter represented the union at the State Australian Labor Party conferences and at union conventions. From 1920 Wallis acted as secretary to the rapidly expanding Victorian branch of the Clothing Trades Union and edited its short-lived journal, the Clothing Trades Gazette. On 5 March 1921 he married fellow unionist Josephine Wood at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Collingwood.

A leader of union opposition to the Premiers' Plan, Wallis stood unsuccessfully as a Labor candidate for the Senate in 1931. Next year he was elected president of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. In 1933 the Federal government appointed him Australian workers' delegate to the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. On his return, he was general secretary-treasurer of the Amalgamated Clothing and Allied Trades Union (1934-44), while remaining secretary of the Victorian branch.

In 1942 Wallis became one of the workers' representatives on the wartime Women's Employment Board. He resigned his union positions in 1947 when appointed a Commonwealth conciliation commissioner. Wallis retired in 1953 after union protest at his accepting a directorship of North Deborah Mining Co. N.L. He died on 3 August 1963 at Fitzroy and was cremated. His wife survived him; there were no children.

Described as a 'grim visaged man, always careful with his dress', Alf Wallis was a controversial figure who evoked strong personal and political antipathies among employers and unionists. His prejudicial attitudes towards women and Jews were especially resented by many in the clothing trades. Wallis's career was marked by a steady shift from left to right, or, as he said, from 'rebel' to 'diplomatist'.

Select Bibliography

  • L. J. Louis, Trade Unions and the Depression (Canb, 1968)
  • B. Walker, Solidarity Forever (Melb, 1972)
  • Australian Clothing Trades Journal, Apr 1940, p 2, Nov 1941, p 13
  • Labor Call, 26 July 1923
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 29 Mar 1933
  • Labor Daily, 3 Oct 1933
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 June 1932, 28 Mar, 3 Oct 1933, 12 Apr 1935, 6 Oct 1936, 13 May 1938, 10 Oct 1947, 2, 3, 4 Dec 1952, 6 Apr 1953, 7 Aug 1963
  • B. Ellem, A History of the Clothing and Allied Trades Union (Ph.D. thesis, University of Wollongong, 1986)
  • R. Frances, The Politics of Work: Case Studies of Three Victorian Industries, 1880-1939 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1988)
  • M. Brodney papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Raelene Frances, 'Wallis, Alfred Russell (1888–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Alf Wallis, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Alf Wallis, caricature by Dick Ovenden, 1923

Labor Call (Melbourne) 26 July 1923, p 11

Life Summary [details]


16 April, 1888
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


3 August, 1963 (aged 75)
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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