5 Sept, 1922 – 21 Jan, 2022
Fred was born on the 5th of September 1922 at Wrightville, just outside Cobar, in western NSW. He was one of ten 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. Fred’s Grandmother Poole lived at Hill End, near Mudgee, a mining area and was one of a long and proud feminist line running through Fred’s family that was to greatly influence his life. 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 Moore tips his hat
The Cobar mines were hard hit during the Depression. 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 off 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 family moved to the coal mining town of Lithgow when his dad had got part-time work there as an underground miner. Here Fred, aged nine, attended his first May Day in 1932 and witnessed the clashes between the fascist New Guard and the trade unionists. That was four years before Hitler, Mussolini and Franco unleashed their fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War, and seven years before Hitler’s Nazis began World War II.
The Moore family was 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 that he could be close to Prince Alfred Hospital to be treated in a specialist ward for his silicosis. Of course, the Moore family being who they were, moved into a street called Union Street.
Fred was also a very promising boxer and joined a gym in Newtown. 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. May, like Fred, was of a generation whose character was forged in adversity. 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.
Fred’s industrial and political values were finely tuned in the Miners’ Federation where he came into 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, seafarers, painters and dockers, ironworkers, building workers, metalworkers and the teachers. Despite the Cold War and the attempted demonisation of CPA members, they led their unions with vision, courage and success. 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”.
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 formation of Aboriginal Advancement Leagues. Along with Bob and Mary Davis, Fred was a foundation member of the South Coast Aboriginal Advancement League in 1961. Through the South Coast 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 to Sydney.
Fred was the driving force behind the South Coast campaign in the 1967 Referendum to change the Australian Constitution to recognise Aboriginal people. 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 Jerringa 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 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”.
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.
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 levy on their wages to support the ANC in their struggle. They were the first unionists 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 the Irish Republican Movement.
I had the great privilege of working with Fred in the Miners Oral History Project. It led to the production of 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. 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.
Note from the Editor: The eulogy has been edited to conform with the usual word length of about 1,000 words for tributes in Hummer. A full copy of the transcript is available by request by contacting the Editor (details at the front of this issue of Hummer, by kind permission of the author).
Paddy Gorman was Editor of the Miners’ Federation journal Common Cause from 1979 to 2017. He has been a close friend and comrade of Fred Moore since 1976 and they collaborated on many projects together.