In Memory of Joe Bailes, 1903-2001

Jan Cox

Joe Bailes died at Tweed Heads on October 13, 2001.

Born in England in 1903, Joe was a hard working Socialist all his long life. He and his wife Emma, known as Midge, spent a life- time together committed to Socialism. Their commitment to the Left movement was steadfast.

Joe’s father was a lamplighter in London. Joe remembered going with his father on his rounds. He first became aware of politics through his Uncle who organised and spoke at illegal union meetings. Joe as a young boy used to act as a “runner” for his Uncle. This meant he would run and tell workers in various places when and where the illegal meeting would be held that night. Joe delighted in listening-in at these meetings to his Uncle and others speaking. His Uncle later became the first socialist Mayor in the area where he lived and Joe was very proud of him.

I was 12 years old when Joe first came to our home in Taree. He was the Communist Party organiser on the North Coast and my father an active unionist. I remember the many meetings and the great respect shown to Joe. They were interesting and enthusiastic times. From those times Joe remained a friend to me, and later to my husband Noel, and was always there to wisely test the depth and quality of any issue or opinion.

Joe was very a proud and active member of the Seamen’s Union from the time he arrived in Australia in the early twenties. As a boy he had run away to sea travelling the world for eight years. He had met his wife Emma (known as Midge and who also came from England) when he was working in Australia as a Seaman. Midge worked for a wealthy Sydney North Shore family as a nanny. They formed a bond when Midge told Joe her brother in England was a Socialist.

Joe’s sea-going days ended abruptly after marrying Midge when she announced to him she had bought some land in the Gold Coast “hinterland”. Joe gave up being a seaman and built a three-­sided house from timber he scrounged. They got some fowls and started their first poultry run. They lived there for awhile existing on a barter system.

Joe joined the Communist Party and was actively involved when he was called to Sydney to work for the party. They sold their place and moved to the Sydney suburb of Peakhurst where they started another poultry farm. Midge managed this, which allowed Joe to work full-time for the Communist Party. He was then a member of the Central Committee.

Joe used to talk about his work in the Party during the war years. As a well- known communist he hosted the long running ABC rural radio program “The Voice of the Countryside”. (He gave his historical records to the ABC Archives.)

Joe took a keen interest in rural problems and was involved first hand in farm production. He was a prominent member of the Egg Board and played an important role in its development.

In later years Joe and Midge moved back to the Gold Coast.

Joe a firm supporter of the Soviet Union which as well as China, he visited on a number of occasions, was President of the Australia USSR Society in Queensland. A dedicated internationalist he warmly hosted Soviet visitors to Australia.

His interests were varied but were always with the Left movement. He was for example President of the Gold Coast Orchid Society writing many articles some of which were published overseas.

In his nineties Joe returned to England on a number of occasions to see his family, his sister, and then after she passed away, his nieces and nephews. Although not well, just before he died in 2001, for the last time he returned to England spending his 98th birthday with his family.

Joe lived a long and committed life; true to the cause he so avidly believed in – Socialism.