February 21, 2022
Miners Federation legend Fred Moore passed away aged 99 in January. Fred’s long term friend, and the former editor of Common Cause, Paddy Gorman, delivered this moving eulogy at Fred’s funeral.
Comrades and Friends,
When reflecting on the lives of those we are honouring, Eulogies, by their very nature, often lend themselves to exaggeration and romanticising.
There are some very rare exceptions to this and our great Friend, Comrade, Teacher and Mentor, Fred Moore is one.
Fred lived a long life, a full life, a life packed with extraordinary events and achievements.
Fred Moore was quite simply remarkable and each of us here today have our own cherished memories of the way he enriched our lives and inspired us to be better people.
Fred was born on the 5th of September 1922 at Wrightville, just outside Cobar, in western NSW. He was one of 10 children. Two of his siblings died very young.
Fred’s Dad, also named Fred, was an underground miner and his family had deep connections to mining going back generations.
Henry Lawson, one of Fred’s great literary heroes, died just 2-days before Fred was born. He loved Lawson’s work and was delighted by the family connection he shared with Henry.
Fred’s grandmother Poole lived at Hill End, near Mudgee, a mining area. She was a close personal friend and comrade of Louisa Lawson, Henry’s Mum. Louisa was one of Australia’s earliest and most prominent feminists.
Fred’s grandmother Poole was one of a long and proud feminist line running through Fred’s family that was to greatly influence his life.
Fred’s early life and experiences shaped the values that he would carry with him for almost a century.
His love and respect for Aboriginal people began early in childhood at Cobar. He played and grew up with the local Aboriginal children, who were among his closest friends.
Fred was 7-years old when the Great Depression hit. He often recalled the soup kitchens set up in his school and remembered with great affection the generosity of the local Chinese community in helping to feed them without charge.
From his childhood, Fred abhorred racism in all its forms.
In Cobar, Fred’s Dad and Uncles were supporters of the Wobblies, the International Workers of the World. They were militants, not by choice but by necessity. Fred recalled one bitter dispute when the bosses brought in scabs. The Union miners raided the storerooms one night and cut the right handle of every wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrows were used for shifting the ore and a one-handle wheelbarrow was useless. As a bonus, they kept the wooden handles as weapons to defend themselves from attacks!
The Cobar mines were hard hit during the Depression and the family moved to the coal mining city of Lithgow as his Dad got part-time work as an underground miner.
Fred attended his first May Day in Lithgow in 1932. That’s 90-years ago.
Fred was 9-years old when he witnessed the clashes between the fascist New Guard movement and the trade unionists that May Day in 1932. That was 4-years before Hitler, Mussolini and Franco unleashed their fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War and 7-years before Hitler’s Nazis began World War II.
The Moore family were soon on the move again, this time to Newtown in Sydney. Fred’s Dad was a dusted miner and the family was forced to move to the inner-city so he could be close to Prince Alfred Hospital to be treated in the specialist ward for his silicosis.
Of course, the Moore family being who they were, moved into a street called – Union Street.
Fred was soon a recognised local young identity. He was naturally very gifted with a passion for music. The only musical instrument the family could afford was a harmonica, which they paid off in instalments. Fred mastered the harmonica and played like a virtuoso for the rest of his life, including live on national television on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope.
Fred was also a very promising boxer and joined a gym in Newtown. There he learned respect and discipline and met many classy boxers, one of whom was Al Kemba, who became a full-time professional fighter and fought for the light-heavy-weight championship of Australia.
Al had a very beautiful young cousin called May Derrick, who lived around the corner in Newtown. He introduced May to a dashing young boxer, a 16-year-old named Fred Moore. Fred and May were destined for each other.
Fred became a very skilled boxer rising through the ranks from a 3-round fighter to an 8-round fighter and even had a few contests at the 10-round level. He fought in many stadiums around NSW.
May, like Fred, was of a generation whose character was forged in adversity. She was the eldest of 9 children. Her Dad had returned traumatised by the horrors he experienced in the First World War.
Like many other veterans who returned from the trenches of the War to end all Wars, he had been promised a Land Fit for Heroes only to have his dreams shattered by the economic downturn of the 1920s and the onset of the Great Depression.
When things hit rock bottom the welfare took May and the kids and placed them in various institutions. May went to Eastwood in Sydney.
Things were tough in institutions for kids from broken families but May was a spirited young lass who would always stand up for herself. When she turned 14, May was sent to work.
From the very start, Fred and May learnt from the hardships and injustices they experienced and saw around them. These instilled in them a burning passion for social justice and equality.
70-years ago, Fred and May moved into their new home in Dapto, where they were to continue that proud strong feminist line in their family with five formidable and feisty daughters – Josephine, Colleen, Gail, Susie and Debbie.
Fred worked at the Nebo Colliery, owned by Australian Iron and Steel, a subsidiary of BHP. He settled quickly into the life of a rank and file Union leader. The Union he has become a legend of, the Miners Federation, was a highly politicised organisation. It cut its political teeth in the ruins of the Great Depression.
The great French progressive writer and philosopher Voltaire said – To the dead we owe respect, to the living we owe the truth. He could have written it for Fred.
Fred’s industrial and political values were finely tuned in the Miners Federation where he came in contact with very active Communist Party members in the mines and from other industries and professions too.
The Miners Federation was the first Union to elect Communists as national leaders in 1933, Billy Orr and Charlie Nelson.
Other Unions that Fred was closely involved with were led by Communists too – The Wharfies; the Seafarers, Painters and Dockers; Ironworkers, the Building workers, the Metalworkers and the Teachers.
Despite the Cold War and the attempted demonisation of CPA members, they led their Unions with vision, courage and success.
Fred stood rock solid as a proud Communist. In the face of anti-communist hysteria and bias, Fred would point out that people of the calibre of Fred Hollows, Eddie Mabo, Dame Mary Gilmore and Jack and Judy Mundey were among many Communist Party members.
Indeed, Fred would often remark of the Left and Right struggles in the unions and the broader labour movement: “The Left went to jail and the Right went to Parliament”.
Not long after Fred and May arrived in Dapto, they became engaged with the struggles of the Aboriginal people. Fred became a leading figure in the Australian trade union movement advocating in support of our First Nations Peoples.
He was a Miners Federation Delegate to the 1957 Conference that supported the foundation of the Aboriginal Advancement League. Along with Richard’s parents, Bob and Mary Davis, Fred was a foundation member of the Illawarra Aboriginal Advancement League in 1961.
From the outset, it was an activist organisation.
Through the South Coast Trades and Labour Council, Fred organised industrial action and boycotts of businesses that discriminated against Aboriginal people.
He joined delegations comprising Aboriginal leaders like Doug Nichols, Fate Bandler, Kath Walker and many others to Canberra and Sydney.
Fred was the main driving force behind the South Coast Unions campaign in support of a Referendum on Aboriginal Recognition in the Australian Constitution. Thousands of signatures were gathered in support of the Referendum at mass meetings of miners and other workers.
In 1967, the Referendum 90% in support.
Among the many great honours bestowed on Fred by the Union movement and the community, one stands out as very special and that was his initiation as an Honorary Elder in the Jerringas Tribe.
Fred detested patriarchal and paternalistic attitudes towards women. And he fought it. In his eyes we are all equals in the struggle. His life experience had also shown him that women were the strength. He often pointed out that strikes are won and lost around the kitchen table and would always say that in a struggle, Women never leave you half-way.
May was a very active member of the Southern Miners Women’s Auxiliary as were other strong Illawarra feminists like Monica Chalmers, Doreen Burrow, Sally Bowen, Joyce Critcher and Irene Arrowsmith.
One of Fred’s proudest achievements was being one of only two men ever given Honorary Life Membership of the Miners Women’s Auxiliary. He loved it and wore it as a badge of honour when he was referred to as “an Honorary Woman”.
Fred was greatly heartened by the recent rise of outstanding women activists to the top ranks of the Australian trade union movement. His friend and Comrade Jenni George became the first female President of the ACTU, followed by other strong women like Sharan Burrow, Ged Kearney, Sally McManus and Michele O’Neill.
While Fred is a local champion, he was above all else an internationalist. May Day was a huge day in his annual calendar. For decades he led the May Day marches and celebrations on the South Coast and in Sydney.
In 1970, along with Broken Hill Miners President Arthur Treglown, Fred represented the Miners Federation on an international visit to the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain. There he met miners union leaders and many rank and file activists.
In London, they were the guests of the 300,000 strong NUM and as a mark of respect Fred and Arthur were booked to stay at the 5-star Claridges Hotel in Mayfair. A single night of luxury made Fred distinctly uncomfortable, and he insisted they be moved to a more modest dwelling. He couldn’t stand the snobbery and subservience!
His work in fighting apartheid was outstanding. Just after Nelson Mandela was jailed in 1963 and the ANC was an illegal organisation, Fred moved that the Southern District miners strike an annual donation to support the ANC in their struggle. They were the first Union in the world to do this.
When Nelson Mandela visited Sydney in 1990, the year he was released from prison, Fred was among a select group invited to meet him in the crypt at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Fred was a great supporter of people’s struggles wherever they occurred. He was particularly close to Cuba, he supported the Palestinians and I’m happy to say, the Irish Republican Movement too.
I had the great privilege of working with Fred on compiling the Miners Oral History Project. It led to the production to two books, At the Coalface and Back at the Coalface. Both books were critically acclaimed nationally and internationally and went to three print editions each. Among those who launched and supported the books were former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, then Federal Labor Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and while he was NSW Premier, Bob Carr.
The Coalface Project resulted in over 100 interviews with workers dating back to the 19th Century. They are an historical industrial and social treasure trove for the present and future generations to share.
For all Fred’s great achievements what he and May were most proud of is their family.
Their five wonderful daughters – Josephine who lives in New Zealand; Gail now living in Western Australia; Colleen and Sue who live locally; and Debbie from the United States. Gail and Josephine rang Fred every day. Debbie and her husband Richard came back from the US in November and have looked after Fred at home every day since then.
Sue has been his main support for at least the past 10 years, unselfishly looking after Fred full-time ensuring he led a full and active life to the end.
Fred’s grand-daughter Sara has been amazing in her love, care and devotion to Fred. She is a very special and strong young woman and Fred was delighted to walk Sara down the aisle when she married Ben last year.
Fred’s passing was just as he wanted it. At home peacefully in the loving care of family and with the support of wonderful carers. I was privileged to be part of it. He knew he was fortunate to live and die with dignity on pretty much his own terms.
Comrades and Friends,
There are two things I always took away from being with Fred – you always learned something and you always came away feeling better.
His passing leaves a huge hole in all our lives. He was a great force for Uniting people and bringing out the best in us.
We are all so privileged and grateful to have had Fred in our lives for so long. Let’s honour Fred in the call of the great Irish-American Trade Unionist and Socialist, Mother Jones, who was a founding member of the Wobblies:
“Mourn the dead but fight like hell for the living”.
Fred wouldn’t want it any other way.