Vale Harry Black - Sydney's Most Loved Wharfie.

The MUA mourns the passing of Sydney's most loved wharfie, Harry Black.

The Maritime Union of Australia today mourns the passing of Sydney's most loved wharfie, Harry Black, aged 92.

Harry Black - Funeral details and Celebration of his Life.


Monday 23 May 2011, Rookwood Gardens, Paton Street, Rookwood NSW

At 11.30am in the South Chapel

Seats available from the MUA Sydney Branch 365 Sussex St. Sydney 2000 at 10am. 

There will also be a Celebration of the Life of Harry 

ITF Boomerang Club, 32 McAuley St. Matraville (off Botany Rd.) 

Friday 27 May 2011 from 12noon to 3pm.

All members, retired members, family and friends invited.

Harry Black was a member of the union for more than half a century. His contribution to both the union and international transport workers was unsurpassed. He remained a committed activist for peace, justice and human rights.

One of 11 children born at Rylstone, Harry left school at 14. He fought against fascism in the Middle East, Palestine and Syria, was injured and repatriated to Australia. After recovering, he returned to the battle-front in Borneo and New Guinea and again was wounded and repatriated to Australia.

He joined the Waterside Workers Federation and became a wharfie in 1951.

Harry was Sydney's most loved wharfie and this was confirmed in In July 2009 when he joined MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, NSW Premier Nathan Rees and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to unveil the stretch of land with a rich history for waterside workers now officially known as The Hungry Mile. He attended local primary schools to pass on his wisdom and stories of the Hungry Mile to the next generation.

Harry served in the union as a rank and file activist on the Sydney docks, as a rank and file wharfie, a delegate, a vigilance officer, vice-president, senior vice-president Sydney branch and as a rank and file representative on Federal Council of the Waterside Workers Federation,  then as a union elder leading the MUA National Veterans Association as Secretary from 2002 - 2009.  Harry, despite failing health, remained an active member to the end.

Harry was a leading light in the union push to have our labour heritage preserved on Sydney Harbour by putting the Hungry Mile the map and gaining appropriate recognition after the closure and the working harbour. The Hungry Mile is now signposted and the area formally a city precinct or urban space. The union has an agreement with the Sydney Foreshore Authority to recognise maritime heritage in the current Barangaroo redevelopment.  

During the union campaign for recognition of our maritime heritage Harry was a lead spokesperson for the union in the media.  He described the Hungry Mile on ABCs Stateline in 2007 as: "a significant place. It's like having an area allocated to us that is sacred to us. It's sacred to those who worked here, who struggled, and who were successful, and that's why we look on it as a sacred area."

Describing the plight of waterside workers during Bull Days to the Sydney press Harry said: "They were pitted against each other because this was the kind of environment that employers like to develop, with one against the other, dog-eat-dog and so forth, and yet they survived and they survived by coming together in defence of working conditions, to improve working conditions, to have a period when they were led by people who were determined that we should work under decent conditions, proper conditions and humane conditions, because many of the times in the  Hungry Mile they were not humane conditions."

From 1951, Harry worked on the Sydney waterfront, mainly in Sussex Street and along the Hungry Mile.  Like many, Harry attended the pick-up down in Sussex Street or on the Mile hoping for a job each day for a princely sum of 12/- per day.

Harry described himself as a unionist, an internationalist and since 1953, a communist. Harry was unique in that he was loved by all and never had any enemy in the union.  He led the way in his political activity over many years.

Harry played a leading role as an activist in both the successful 1954 and 1956 national waterfront strikes. He was immensely proud of this period of his life and of the union's success in those strikes.

Harry was also a leading light and member of the WWF cultural unit set up by Tom Nelson and the Sydney branch in 1954. At that time, it housed the New Theatre and ran the film unit. Harry was a great orator and was fondly remembered for his regular speaking in the Domain during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Like many war veterans, Harry became a peace activist.  He was the delegate when the gang voted to ban the loading of bombs onto the Jeparit during the Vietnam War.  He was suspended for a month for his stance and activities in solidarity with Vietnam.

At the launch of a book 'Fighting Films' by Lisa Milner on the film unit by Jack Thompson in January 2004, Harry recalled the political climate of the era -  the Cold War, the attempts by PM Bob Menzies (better known to wharfies at the time as Pig Iron Bob) to outlaw the Communist Party; the ASIO raids on the union rooms in both Sydney and Melbourne and the national strike of November 1954.

But he also remembered it as a time of flourishing activism and culture, a time when Paul Robeson performed in the union hall and when the first film Pensions for Veterans was screened in Leichhardt Stadium at a stopwork meeting of 6000 wharfies.

"These were the golden years of the maritime industry," he said. "Movies were screened to members at midday; we had book and art exhibitions, piano recitals, ballet, opera and a performance of the Sydney Civic Orchestra; the songs, music and drama of New Theatre and the magnificent mural. All of these rich and exciting events formed a vital part in the development of a high social industrial and political consciousness in maritime workers."

Harry also took pride in being part of the wharfies and seafarers' rolling bans against South African shipping during the apartheid years. 

He stood proud on the Patrick community assembly at Darling Harbour during the great Waterfront War when Patrick locked 3000 workers out the gates in 1998.  Harry spent most of his days and many nights at No 5 Darling Harbour, arm-in-arm with other community protestors facing down trucks trying to break the picket and enter the gates.

Harry's stand against nuclear weapons, his support for the Palestinian people, Libya, Chile, South Africa, Latin America, Aboriginal rights and land rights were some of the many issues he took up.

Harry remained an active member of the Waterside Workers and a voice of the MUA. He played a part in all the major industrial disputes of the day and, when his health allowed, could be found in the union rooms which became his second home.