Discovering a family history of unionism

A man of whom I am extremely proud.

, George Clifford

You can discover some interesting facts about your family. My great grandfather George Clifford Bodkin Jnr (1867-1930) was a staunch Labor man. He was involved in the early growth of unionism and the development of Labour League politics in NSW. He became a union organiser for, and by 1915 was the Secretary of the Railway Workers’ Branch of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU). His obituary said he “was one of the best known Labor men in the state” and in 1907 he “introduced the 44 hour week at Lithgow valley which decreased the working hours of men to eight hours.”

His wife Bridget (after whom my third child is named) was known to attend Labor meetings at Sydney Town Hall. She would bang her cane on the wooden floor when she was displeased with what she heard. Their third child was my grandfather Joseph Bodkin (1902-1950). My fourth child is named after him.

At 13 years of age, Joseph started work on railway construction and was a job delegate by the age of 16. From 1924 to 1926, he was an organiser and conference delegate for the Railway Workers’ Industry Branch of the Australian Workers Union. In 1927 he was employed by the Public Works Department. He was later with the Metropolitan, Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board and worked on building the Woronora Dam. He was an organiser for the Water and Sewerage Board Employees Association from 1937 until 1950.

Mary and Joseph Bodkin (above) and Bobbie Sullivan, Alana Sullivan and Alana's son Liam

My mum, as a child, travelled with her family to the Nepean and Woronora Dam sites. He became an Alderman for the City of Sydney, then a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) of NSW Parliament, and became Deputy Premier of NSW before his untimely death in 1950. He spent the depression years and those following, including the time of the Second World War and afterwards, serving the men and their families of the working classes. These were hard times for all, and Joe spent most of his waking moments meeting with and serving those he represented.

His maiden speech in the NSW Parliament dealt with the notion of the greater city of Sydney, reaching from the central coast to the north, west to Penrith and south to Wollongong and the need to plan for water catchment dams in order to provide sufficient water for the expanding population. He was a visionary, a hard worker and a good man.

A man of whom I am extremely proud.


1930 ‘Obituary’, Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW: 1850-1932), 3 April.

Alana Sullivan
Lansdowne Branch Committee Member