Ted Roach: from Pig Iron Hero to Long Bay Gaol


Ted Roach: from Pig Iron Hero to Long Bay Gaol–A Wharfie’s Life, by Denis Kevans (Edited by Sophia Kevans, with Bob Fagan and Bill Egan).

Assistant General-Secretary and National Organiser of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia (the WWF or “Wharfies”) from 1938 to 1967. After carrying his swag in Queensland and joining the Communist Party during the Great Depression, the young Ted Roach signed on as a wharfie in his home-town of Newcastle. In 1938 he was elected Secretary of the South Coast branch of the WWF and cut his organising teeth on Port Kembla’s well-known ‘Pig Iron’ dispute. In 1942 Ted Roach was elected to his national positions with the WWF, remaining in the jobs for 25 years. Denis Kevans’s book takes us through Ted Roach’s successful campaigns including the 1938 Pig Iron dispute; banning Dutch ships during Indonesia’s independence struggle; establishing union-controlled rosters; and defeating attempts by the Menzies Government to use soldiers as strike-breakers. It also tells of defeats and challenges, including the 1949 coal strike, harassment by security organisation ASIO under specific instructions of Prime Minister Menzies and Ted’s imprisonment in Long Bay Gaol for alleged contempt of the Arbitration Court. This book makes an important contribution to Australia’s labour history, giving us unparalleled insights into the importance to the labour movement of organisation, flexibility and maintaining the trust of rank and file unionists. It opens a space for Ted Roach to tell his own story about events on Australia’s waterfronts while giving us a unique view of the long-running Menzies Government (1949-1966) at a time of rapid industrial change but also the deepening Cold War.

“This is a very important book. It is a significant piece of political history and every Australian should read it.”

—Jack Mundey

“Ted Roach was the type of individual who had a fighting spirit; somehow a flame that never died. A flame that never burnt out. His one aim was to see the waterfront a much better place to work and he achieved just that.”

—Walter Bailey (Port Kembla wharfie)* *Quoted in Gary Griffith, ‘Obituary: Ted Roach (1909–1997)’, Illawarra Unity – Journal of the Illawarra Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 1 (1997), pp. 30-34.
Denis Kevans at Sydney Domain
Source: from Denis Kevans photograph album (photographer unknown)

Denis Kevans had a prolific literary output over more than 50 years. Born in Canberra in 1939, he worked as a builders’ labourer, journalist and schoolteacher before moving to the Blue Mountains to concentrate on writing and activism for workers’ rights, the peace movement and the environment. Denis based this biography on hours of interviews with Ted Roach and several years of meticulous research into archival records and unpublished manuscripts of the WWF and ASIO.

This book is free to read online and can be downloaded here.