Jim Healy’s Funeral: A Photographic Perspective

John Myrtle1

The inspiring (2014) State memorial service for Gough Whitlam in Sydney’s Town Hall was a reminder of the powerful impact of State funerals.  Over the years Sydneysiders have witnessed a number of impressive funerals for public figures.  Manning Clark’s History of Australia suggests that the funeral accorded William Charles Wentworth on 6 May 1873 was the first State funeral in the history of the colony of New South Wales.[2] Wentworth’s body had been repatriated from England and was buried in a family vault in Sydney’s eastern suburbs after a church service in the city.  Henry Lawson’s funeral in Sydney on 4 September 1922 was also a State funeral, in this case courtesy of the Federal Government.  Large crowds had lined the route of the Lawson’s funeral cortege from St Andrew’s Cathedral to Waverley Cemetery. Another funeral that attracted popular attention was that of cricketer Victor Trumper who died on 28 June 1915.  He was also buried at Waverley Cemetery after a funeral procession that commenced in Sydney’s northern suburbs; crossed the harbour in a barge, and proceeded up Macquarie Street in the city with numerous mourners lining the route.[3]

In 1961 the funeral in Sydney of trade unionist James (Jim) Healy, described by one writer as ‘one of the biggest in Australia’s trade union history,’[4] and by another as ‘Sydney’s greatest funeral demonstration’,[5] was remarkable for both the size of the funeral and the level of support from the labour movement.

Jim Healy, general secretary of the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia (WWF), died in St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, on 13 July 1961 after suffering a coronary occlusion. Healy had been general secretary of the WWF for nearly 24 years and a member of the Communist Party of Australia since 1934.[6]  A series of photographs held by the Noel Butlin Archives at the Australian National University provides a valuable pictorial record of the funeral that commenced at Waterside Workers Hall in Sussex Street and was followed by a funeral procession down George Street to Sydney to the Central Station precinct.  The funeral service was held on Monday, 17 July 1961. All fifty-eight ports had stopped work on the day of the funeral, as they had done spontaneously when news of Healy’s death was circulated at the wharfs.[7]

Healy’s coffin lay in the hall over the preceding weekend and in the morning before the commencement of the service Chopin’s Funeral March had been broadcast over loud speakers from the WWF offices.  The union estimated that more than 7,000 waterside workers opted to join the funeral procession. Many of the mourners gathered outside the hall before the procession, unable to be accommodated in the Hall for the service.  They listened in the rain as proceedings were broadcast through loud speakers.  The service held between 10 am and 1 pm was described as ‘a comrade’s farewell’ for a professed atheist and many of the mourners had paid their respects by walking past the open casket.  A number of eulogies were delivered at the service by trade union leaders, including Jack Beitz, president of the Waterside Workers’ Federation; Jim ‘Dutchy’ Young, Sydney president of the WWF; and Harold Souter, Secretary of the ACTU.  Tributes were also read from leaders of the trade union movement and political organisations in Australia and other parts of the world.

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At the conclusion of the service the unionists assembled for the funeral procession through the city.

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The funeral procession from Sussex Street, up King Street, and then south along George Street brought the city to a standstill as the funeral cortege ‘stretched for nearly a mile and blocked city traffic for more than an hour.’

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Five truckloads of floral tributes surrounded the coffin.

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The procession concluded at Central Railway and from there the cortege proceeded to Rockwood Cemetery, followed by many of the mourners in cars.  Before the cremation a final eulogy was delivered by Lance Sharkey, general secretary of the Communist Party of Australia who described Healy as ‘a truly great son of the working class, a famed leader of our great trade union movement, a model leader of the Communist Party.’[8]

The photographs of Healy’s funeral procession in George Street during the lunch hour of a work day indicate a significant level of interest from bystanders in the city, in one estimate standing four or five deep on the footpaths.  But there was more to this event than the numbers of people witnessing and participating in the procession; the photographs demonstrate an impressive tribute and statement of solidarity for Jim Healy from his fellow unionists and other members of the labour movement.

[1] The writer is a Canberra-based researcher; email: myrtle@webone.com.au
[2] Clark, C M H. A history of Australia, vol.4; 263
[3] Sharpham, P. Trumper: the definitive biography, 1985
[4]Canberra Times, 18 July 1961: 6
[5]Tribune, 19 July 1961: 3
[6] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/healy-james-jim-10470
[7] Sheridan, T. Australia’s own cold war: the waterfront under Menzies, 2006; 289
[8]In memory of Jim Healy, Current Book Distributors, 1961; 5