Labour activist Wally Stubbings died on July 6, aged 101. The following is abridged from a tribute by Brisbane Labour History Association president Greg Mallory when Stubbings was awarded BLHA life membership.
It is a great pleasure to nominate Wally Stubbings for life membership of the BLHA. Wally has been a BLHA member since 2000 and at 96 years of age he is one of the last remaining labour activists with links to the 1940s. Wally receives his life membership because of his lifelong involvement with the labour movement, both industrially and politically.
Wally was born in Tasmania and was a timber worker in Strahan in the 1930s. During this time he became active in the Timber Workers Union, which began his lifelong involvement with the union movement. He also worked as a wharfie, leading to his transfer in 1940 to work on the Hobart waterfront.
In 1943 Wally came to Brisbane to work as part of the war effort. After the war, Wally decided to come back to Brisbane to live in 1947. He immediately joined the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF) and the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). He threw himself into activism in both these organisations.
Wally was elected to the executive of the Brisbane branch of the WWF and worked as a Vigilance Officer for four years. He served on the CPA’s state committee and was campaign manager for various communist election candidates.
Wally’s first industrial involvement was the 1948 railway strike in which he, along with Fred Patterson, was bashed by Queensland police at a demonstration on St Patrick’s Day.
The WWF was involved in national strikes in 1954 and 1956. Throughout these strikes, wharfies participated in numerous demonstrations, as well as promoting their cause in various ways.
Wally was sent out to the country to talk to the farmers. He took the attitude that wharfies needed to show the farmers that they too were interested in the economy and hence it was important that wharfies were actively talking to the population.
In the 1960s, great changes were happening in the stevedoring industry, with the introduction of containerisation onto the waterfront. The WWF was heavily involved in this debate, which also raised the issue of permanency for the workforce. Wally once again argued that it was important to “look outwards” in order to promote the best outcomes for wharfies.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, great changes were happening in Western democracies, with protests over the Vietnam War. The WWF was one of the main unions opposed to the war. Along with the student movement, it organised the Moratoriums, which stood as mass opposition to the war.
Wally was heavily involved with this movement and worked alongside leading student activists of the day. Wally was also involved in the anti-conscription and anti-apartheid movements.
During the early 1970s, the CPA was involved in a major “split”, when a number of unionists, including wharfies from Sydney, formed the Socialist Party of Australia. However Wally remained a member of the CPA.
Wally was also one of the founding members of the Aboriginal Advancement League.
At the age of 60, Wally took up Veteran Athletics and attended a number of world championships. At one stage he was the world 800 metres champion for his age.
The BLHA life membership is a fitting tribute to a life of industrial and political activism in the labour movement.