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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Tyrrell, Thomas James (Jim) (1880–1942)

by Frank Farrell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Thomas James (Jim) Tyrrell (1880-1942), trade unionist and politician, was born on 14 April 1880 at Coonamble, New South Wales, son of Patrick Tyrrell, a labourer from Ireland, and his native-born wife Isabella, née Dunn. The family moved to Sydney where Thomas was educated at Patrician Brothers' School, Redfern. Employed by the Sydney Municipal Council, from his early twenties he took an interest in trade union affairs; he became president of the Municipal Employees' Union of New South Wales and campaigned to obtain an award for council workers.

Federal president of the expanded Federated Municipal and Shire Council Employees' Union of Australia in 1916, Tyrrell was its State secretary in 1917-42. Having achieved registration of the union with the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in 1919, he saw his union's membership double to 12,000 by 1925. He was also a member of the Local Government Superannuation Board (1927-34). Aware of the moderate aspirations of most of his unionists, he sought meliorative reforms from Federal or State Labor governments and encouraged support through the union's journal, the Counsellor. He was associated with the J. T. Lang faction, and worked with Albert Willis and Edward Magrath in the 1920s.

A member of the Labor executive in 1916-17 and 1919-23, Tyrrell was able to adapt to the changing political climate and was a senior vice-president of the party in 1923-26. With Magrath, he was nominated in July 1925 to the Legislative Council; in 1933 Tyrrell was elected to the reconstituted council for nine years. In November 1925 the right-wing Australian Workers' Union had publicly castigated him as an 'example of the stupid fury and reckless unscrupulousness of those who mismanage' the Labor Party in New South Wales for having moved a resolution debarring unions connected with the Labor Council from affiliating with the party.

Jim (or Jimmie) Tyrrell remained popular among his supporters. Broad-shouldered, with a handlebar moustache when younger, in later years he gave shrewd and practical advice in a terse, staccato manner. A director of the Labor Daily in 1926-37, Tyrrell was appointed general manager in April 1929 and—despite suffering concussion when he fell from a tram in March 1930—acting managing director on 1 April 1931. He supported Lang's moves to increase his control over the newspaper, but was deposed by a meeting of the paper's 'rebel' directors in February 1938.

Wage reductions, retrenchments and the undercutting of awards for his union members gradually exhausted Tyrrell's energies on the industrial front. In 1934 he had been involved in setting up Labor Motor Funerals Ltd to extend services and general assistance to unionists and the public; the company prospered and in 1937 paid a 10 per cent dividend. As an active chairman of the Century company, he was to combat stiff competition from other labour newspapers.

Dispirited at his ousting from the Labor Daily, Tyrrell rallied to assist the early mobilization of labour to wartime needs. Survived by a son, he died of a cerebral tumour on 31 October 1942 at Earlwood and was buried in the Catholic section of Botany cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £689.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’ (Melb, 1986)
  • Counsellor, 1 Jan 1916, p 6, Oct 1942, p 5
  • Australian Worker, 13 June 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May 1924, 30 July, 7 Oct, 26 Nov 1925, 24 Mar 1930, 10 Feb 1938, 3 Nov 1942
  • Labor Daily, 30 July, 10 Nov 1925, 1 Apr 1931, 23 July 1935, 24 Sept 1937
  • Daily Guardian, 24 Aug 1925
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 Sept 1925
  • Century (Sydney), 3 Jan 1941
  • Truth (Sydney), 1 Nov 1942.

Citation details

Frank Farrell, 'Tyrrell, Thomas James (Jim) (1880–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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