James Hagan, otherwise known as ‘Big Jim’ Hagan, was one of the original Quiz Kids, a brilliant boy with a working-class background, who like so many of his ilk became a high achiever dedicated to the betterment of working people. James Seymour Hagan was born at Bondi Junction on 23 October 1929, son of a printer. James Hagan, and Gladys Hagan (nee Seymour), and educated at Bondi Public School and Sydney Boys High.At High, he rowed in the fours and quickly displayed his intellect. In 1941, he joined the Quiz Kids, the immensely popular radio program hosted by John Dease. He was on the show until 1945 and for many years after was described as a ‘former Quiz Kid’.
Hagan went to the University of Sydney and graduated with an arts degree with honours in 1949. While obtaining a Diploma of Education his restless mind took him into student politics. He founded the Trainee Teachers Association and led strike marches down Parramatta Road, stopping traffic and trams. Hagan started his teaching career at Parramatta, Sutherland and Caringbah high schools and became active in the NSW Teachers Federation.
In 1954, he married Lois Russell whom he met while she was a dental nurse and he was a patient. Two years later, while teaching at Caringbah, he joined the Labor Party and became a member of the Caringbah branch. In 1963, the Hagans moved to Canberra where he studied for his PhD. His thesis was on the printing unions and it resulted in a book, Printers and Politics. In 1966, Hagan applied for a job as a history lecturer at what was then the Wollongong College, an affiliate of the University of NSW He joined the Thirroul branch of the ALP where he was to remain a member for the rest of his life serving as vice-president for 40 years. In 1967, he became a representative on the Administrative Committee of the NSW Branch of the ALP and for 15 years chaired the Hughes Federal Electorate Council which took in an area from Sutherland to the northern llawarra region.
‘Big Jim’ had the capacity to acquire friends for life and was active in the Wollongong University Staff Association and in the general community. He led a successful campaign against plans to build a coal loader off Stanwell Park. Hagan joined a campaign for the university to gain autonomy which was achieved in 1975 and he went on to become head of the department of history and eventually dean of arts. In 1976,’he became chairman of the board of governors, Riverina College of Advanced Education, which was a precursor to the Riverina campus of Charles Sturt University. When that came about, Hagan became deputychancellor.
In 1982, he became a vice-president of the Evatt Foundation, an organisation that had been established to advance ‘the highest ideals of the labour movement’. Wollongong University awarded him the title of Emeritus Professor in History. He was awarded an AM for services to education.
Hagan wrote The History of the ACTU and co-authored History of the Labor Party in NSW 1891-1991. He also co-authored a two-volume work, People and Politics in Regional NSW, encompassing the period from 1856 to 2006.The book was hailed as a groundbreaking study. Hagan retired in 1995 but was a regular visitor to the university. A lover of bushwalking, heritage, railways and home brewing, Hagan spent the last two years of his life as president of the Thirroul branch of the ALP He also took pride in the achievements of his two sons: John joined NSW Forestry and Jim became the Australian representative at the World Bank in Washington.
Wollongong University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor Rob Castle, co-authored a paper with Hagan in 1998, entitled ‘Settlers and the state: the creation of an Aboriginal workforce in Australia’. Castle said: ‘Jim was always extremely loyal, dedicated and he was still working literally right up until the end. He was talking to his publisher about a new book on the day he died’.
The former premier Bob Carr sent an email saying that at the beginning of a history lecture he had just given, he had expressed his debt of gratitude to Professor Hagan who had written a history textbook, Modern History and its Themes which Carr had studied for his Leaving Certificate.
Jim Hagan is survived by Lois, sons James and John, grandsons Angus, Kos and Jasper and granddaughter Clare.
Malcolm Brown is a Senior Writer with the Sydney Morning Herald where this obituary appeared on 4 November 2009. Reproduced with the author‘s kind permission.