Tony Mulvihill (1917-2000)

Jim Walshe

Former ALP Senator (NSW) and Australian Railways Union (ARU) life member Tony (J.A.) Mulvihill passed away at Katoomba on 12 December last year.

Tony went to work on the railways in the ’30s, starting as a labourer and working up to a crane driver. He was soon to hold a number of positions with the then ARU. From his earliest days he was revered as a “people’s person”, always looking at the worth of the individual, and he never lost the capacity to help other people out.

He also joined the Labor Party in the ’30s and was to become president of the Concord branch for many years prior to his election as assistant general secretary of the NSW ALP state branch in 1957.

He took up the position as a Senator in 1967, a position he held until his retirement from full time politics in 1983. Tony was presented with life membership of the ARU in 1970s and he gave a moving speech in the Senate about what he called “a great honour”.

Tony’s election as ALP State assistant secretary helped greatly to provide stability and direction to the party during the ’50s, which were turbulent times in Labor politics. This period was also a time of many changes as development of the State began to take place as the deprivations of the war eased and a financial, industrial and housing boom began. Sydney, in particular was to change dramatically as developers set to plunder their fortunes by ruthless development.

At Chullora Workshops he was an active member of the ARU and was one of the first people to campaign for improvements to the deplorable living conditions suffered by new Australians in migrant hostels associated with the Railway Department in the immediate post war period. From his early days at Chullora, he took a deep interest in the welfare of recent immigrants from Europe, who made up a significant number of the workforce here. His selfless nature helped greatly with the integration of these new arrivals into the railway and Australian culture.

He made many friends with various ethnic groups and took an active interest in the problems of refugees. He actively continued to assist the integration of migrants in his roles with the Labor party and as a Federal Senator. He was to continue this practice all his life.

Through his activities and involvement with the ethnic communities he developed close friendships with the leaders of many Eastern European countries. During his stint in Federal Parliament, Tony was at one time chairman of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council and played a major role in developing public policy in that field.

Another interest that Tony championed passionately all his life was the Australian environment. One contemporary was to remark in later years that Tony was an environmentalist when most people couldn’t even spell the word.

In the early ’50s he began advocating for the introduction of a law to be passed to establish a “green band” around Sydney. The intention of this new law was to stop the encroachment by the “well heeled” on to the beaches, parks and waterways to ensure ordinary people and their families could have access to these wonderful resources. Because of Tony’s efforts a number of changes were made and later people like Jack Mundey ad many others were to take up the causes generated by Tony’s original efforts.

He was among the first to sound the warning bells on the environmental damage to Kakadu by uncontrolled seepage of waste into the river systems. His untiring work to this cause over many years led to a plaque being erected at Kakadu commending his efforts. Tony was the Australian Parliamentary delegate to the Third and Fourth International Parliamentary Conferences on the environment held in Nairobi (1974) and Kingston, Jamaica (1976).

In her eulogy at Tony’s funeral, Marion Grace, his electoral secretary for the whole time he was in Parliament, reminded those present of his successful campaigns in saving the Cape Barren geese, the hairy nosed wombat and the dingo. He was also a leading light in the campaign to clean up Parramatta River.

One of his last major campaigns was to obtain recognition for all those who participated in the construction of one of the modern wonders of the world, the Snowy Hydro Electric Scheme. Over many years he campaigned vociferously among members of all parties in Both State and Federal governments.

Finally in 1999 a monument was unveiled at Talbingo power station near Tumut, celebrating the Fiftieth anniversary of the completion of the scheme. A reunion of the workers was help at this time and Tony was very proud that his efforts had helped gain recognition of the astounding efforts of all those involved in this wonderful achievement.

Tony never forgot his railway friends, proudly marching with the ARU on Labor Day or playing golf as part of the ARU team at the Labor Day golf event. He was to play a vital role in the establishment of the Sussex Inlet Holiday Park in 1983-82.

The project was in danger of falling through because of difficulties with Federal public servants who had advised the Minister against allowing the union to lease the site for the use of its members on reasonable terms. Tony joined our delegation and his lobbying skills were seen to great advantage by all present.

He told the then Federal Coalition Minister in no uncertain terms that “public servants should be on tap — not on top!”. We were eventually able to win the day and union members now have this facility to enjoy. Tony’s intervention was a great help to our cause.

He was made a life member of the Australian Labour Party in 1990 — and at a function help the special guest speaker was Tony’s hero —former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

I think it is important that today’s union members are aware of the effort Tony Mulvihill put in not only for the then ARU, but for the people of all nationalities that have come to make up Australia today, the environment and the native animals and flora of this wonderful country.

It can truly be said that Australia is a better place for having Tony Mulvihill as an activist/citizen.