The world has lost a working-class hero with the passing of Fred Moore on 21 January, and we have lost a dear friend and mentor to so many on the Wollongong left.
On the South Coast of New South Wales, Fred was legendary for his life of struggle for anyone in need: workers, First Nations people, women, refugees, the disabled. He was an activist, a socialist and an internationalist; a friend, comrade and mentor who brought out the best in everyone he dealt with. His presence at any rally was an inspiration to activists, especially young socialists.
Fred was born in Cobar on 5 September 1922 and moved to Dapto with his wife and children in 1952. He attended his first May Day march aged 10 and entered the mining industry when he was still a child, at 14. Fred’s father was a coalminer, and Fred grew up in the Great Depression, a period of incredible suffering and intense working-class resistance, particularly in the mines. This had a lasting impact on his sense of working-class solidarity.
Despite being pulled out of school early to help the family make a living, Fred always maintained a love for the harmonica, literature and boxing. Right up until his death, he was an avid reader of Red Flag, Green Left Weekly and the Illawarra Mercury.
Fred, along with emerging First Nations leaders, established the South Coast Aboriginal Advancement League in 1961. The league brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists to fight segregation through working-class action. At the time, businesses up and down the coast were subject to an unofficial “colour bar”. There were cinemas with separate seating and entrances for Aboriginal people, and dress shops, bars and cafes where Aboriginal people simply could not enter.
He worked tirelessly to end segregation on the South Coast. The Aboriginal Advancement League’s strategy of throwing the industrial power of unions behind the campaign quickly led to victories. One story was of going into a cafe with a couple of Aboriginal activists and threatening the owner, who refused to serve them, with a union ban on all deliveries. “He pretty quickly changed his tune after that!”, Fred said.
He was a champion of getting better housing for local Aboriginal people, who were pushed into appalling living conditions by a combination of unequal wages and racist landlords and local councils. Fred worked with Aunty Mary Davis (whose family was living in a car), Aunty Dolly Henry and others to ensure public housing at Coomaditchie.
Fred was at the forefront of the battle for the 1967 referendum to have Indigenous people recognised in the census. He collected tens of thousands of signatures, going around the mines, the steelworks and the community. Through this activism, he became great friends with Faith Bandler and other Aboriginal leaders, who counted Fred as a comrade.
Around the same time, Fred was instrumental in touring Vincent Lingiari, one of the leaders of the Wave Hill walk-off. He organised meetings up and down the South Coast and collected thousands of dollars to send to the striking Gurindji workers.
Fred’s insistence that Aboriginal people be the ones to lead the struggle for their rights, and that the trade union movement support them in any way possible, led to him being initiated as a blood brother of the Jerrinja people and later named as an honorary elder of the local Aboriginal community.
Fred worked in the southern coalfields, particularly the Nebo mine, where he was a union delegate. Later he became an organiser with the Miners’ Federation, of which he was the first ever life member, and one of only two male life members of the Miners’ Women’s Auxiliary. He represented that union on the South Coast Labour Council for many years and was always at the forefront of the struggle to improve workers’ conditions in the mines, the steelworks and on the wharves at Port Kembla. He co-authored two books on the history of the Southern coalfields: At the Coalface and Back at the Coalface.
During the 1982 Kemira mine dispute and sit-in, Fred organised the top of mine picket and led marches of the Wollongong community in support of the striking workers. He was right at the front when the striking miners, steel workers and their supporters stormed Parliament House in Canberra.
He was a life member of the South Coast Trades and Labour Council and in 2002 the Wollongong Trade Union Centre was renamed “Fred Moore House” in his honour. Fred had a union slogan for any occasion to capture the lessons of working-class struggle. Some of his favourites were: “Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day” and “What has been gained must be retained”. Most of all, Fred lived and embodied “Touch one, touch all”.
Fred had a passion for the annual May Day march. He attended the marches in both Wollongong and Sydney every year. He led both marches in his later years and was famously seen in Wollongong, with a megaphone, hailing each contingent as it passed. He was proud to say that he had not missed a May Day in 88 years.
In 2020, when there was no march due to COVID, Wollongong May Day moved to the front lawn of his home in Dapto, where dozens of workers from across the region planted flags and banners to ensure he didn’t miss it.
He was the president of the South Coast May Day committee for more than twenty years, during which time he welcomed everyone’s involvement. When a small Trotskyist group, the Socialist Workers Party, emerged in Wollongong in 1979, it was Fred who insisted, against opposition from the entrenched Communist Party and Socialist Party members, that anyone fighting for workers’ rights should be welcome on the committee.
Fred was a great supporter of women’s rights and marched on International Women’s Day every year. He was always willing to learn and take on new ideas. He told me once that he had wanted to keep the May Day Queen—a beauty-queen-style award in which a local young woman would don a tiara and sit on a float—as part of the annual march, and was soundly chastised by Sally Bowen, an activist from the Communist Party. “I learned an important lesson that year: that the women were coming out of the kitchens and wouldn’t be stopped”, he said.
When the Wollongong Women’s Centre was established in 1979, Fred organised a crane to install a demountable in the backyard. He also worked to clear the yard for the first women’s refuge in the Illawarra.
He was a staunch supporter of the “Jobs for Women” campaign, which demanded that the BHP Port Kembla Steelworks hire women as highly paid steelworkers, not just in the canteen. At its outset, he attended their tent embassy and brought coal to keep them warm, and he continued his support for the whole fourteen years (1980-1994) until they won a historic victory.
Fred always said, “Without the support of the women, nothing could be won”, but the Jobs for Women campaign was a new era. “The strength of the women, their determination was the thing. We’d never seen women in a struggle like that … but here was a group of women that went straight to the front line and made the company give ground”, he said.
Fred always espoused the idea of the international working class, and an abhorrence of racism and war. He never missed a Wollongong Palm Sunday refugee rally or a Hiroshima Day commemoration.
In the 1930s, as a schoolboy, Fred attended anti-fascist rallies against the New Guard and was strongly opposed to fascism. He was active in the anti-apartheid struggle and was a leading member of the Cuba Friendship Society, the Chile Solidarity Committee and the Committee in Solidarity with Central America and the Caribbean. In later years, he was always present at Wollongong rallies to free refugees from mandatory detention.
On Fred’s passing, a statement from the South Coast Labour Council and the CFMMEU said: “The working class, social justice and international solidarity movements have lost a giant but gained so much from his leadership, comradeship, courage and principle”.
It is impossible to fully convey the extraordinary person who was Fred Moore. He held fast to his principles, always cared deeply for the working class, loved his family and opened his heart and his home to all in need of friendship, advice or just a nice cup of tea and a chat.
Fred was a strong believer that political victories aren’t granted from on high but are won through struggle from the bottom up. He was fond of saying, “When the workers march in the streets, the streets belong to the workers”.
His spirit, like Joe Hill’s, will be with us wherever we stand shoulder to shoulder to fight for a better world.
Where workers strike and organise
That’s where you’ll find Fred Moore
That’s where you’ll find Fred Moore.