DOOLEY, John Braidwood (1884–1961)
Senator for New South Wales, 1928–35 (Australian Labor Party)

John Braidwood Dooley, labourer and builder, grew up in a family centred in and about the goldmining town of Braidwood in southern New South Wales, where in 1856 Joseph Dooley and Martha, née Painter, were married in St Bede’s Roman Catholic Church. Joseph had come from Ireland, though Martha was born at nearby Oranmeir in the heart of bushranging country. The second of their ten children was John Dooley, born in Braidwood, who on 31 December 1882 married in Adelong a widow, Sarah Ballard, née Harvey. Sarah hailed from Wagga Wagga, though it seems members of her family were on the diggings near Braidwood. John and Sarah also had ten children. John Braidwood was their firstborn, entering the world at Back Creek, near Germanton (now Holbrook), New South Wales, on 11 November 1884. With his father an itinerant labourer, often working as a shearer’s cook or miner, John Braidwood moved around New South Wales in his early years, receiving some of his education at the Superior Public School in Wagga Wagga, and in Courabyra. It would be the industrial labour movement that gave a focus to his life and ambitions as it had in a lesser degree to his father; both were lifelong members of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU).

John Braidwood started work as a shearer and miner and soon acquired ‘an excellent first-hand knowledge of . . . the struggles which the man on the land has to endure’. By the age of fifteen he was speaking out in support of miners rebelling against a wage reduction at the Gibraltar goldmine at Adelong (east of Wagga) where his father was at some time a miner. Maybe it was at Adelong that John Braidwood met Julia Mary Bourgoir, the daughter of an engine-driver of that town. While John Braidwood’s parents had married according to the rites of the Church of England, John and Julia were married at the Roman Catholic Church in Tumut, on 11 January 1909.

Acquainting himself with arbitration law, by 1910 John Braidwood had left the rural life for Sydney where he organised the Tramway Permanent Way into the Railway Workers’ and General Labourers’ Association. After the latter was admitted to the AWU as the Railway Workers’ Industry branch (RWI), Dooley became an AWU organiser for the RWI in Newcastle. As RWI president he was a delegate to AWU conventions of 1919, 1920 and 1921, and represented the RWI on wages and conciliation committees. In 1922 he was nominated for the position of AWU secretary, but not elected.

It was Dooley’s work for the AWU that led him into politics. He was an AWU delegate to ALP conferences between 1919 and 1922, and in 1921 attended, as RWI representative for the AWU, the All-Australian Trades Union Conference in Melbourne. In 1924, when in Burrinjuck, New South Wales, repairing concrete at the dam, he was elected president of the local Political Labor League and the following year made his first bid for the Senate. Placed fourth on the ticket, he was unsuccessful.[1]

He tried again in November 1928, this time securing AWU endorsement, which in effect guaranteed his election. He was placed third in the ALP’s selection process, but as candidates were listed alphabetically at that time, he headed the ALP Senate ticket for New South Wales, and came top of the poll. Under existing electoral law his election made it possible for him to fill a casual vacancy and he was therefore sworn into the Senate in February 1929. Dooley thus became one of the first senators to serve in the provisional Parliament House in Canberra in the new Australian Capital Territory, carved out of the rural districts he knew well.[2]

Dooley’s seven years in the Senate spanned the worst of the Depression. In debate he referred often to the plight of the working man and consistently argued against ‘wage slaughtering’ as a way out of economic difficulty. He told the Senate that ‘unemployment and distress breed communism and social disorder’, and that the wealthier members of the community should sacrifice some of their income to help the poor. He once opposed the Scullin Government’s grant to South Australia because ‘thousands of my fellow-men [in New South Wales] with their wives and children are starving’. As one of Labor’s seven senators in the short-lived eleventh Parliament, Dooley lost little time in joining the debate against the Bruce–Page Government’s industrial policy. His first speech was in February 1929 on the Public Service Arbitrator’s Determinations:

In my opinion the only hope for Australia is not to increase the hours of labour, but to give greater encouragement to the working class . . . From practical experience in the control of various works, I realize that better results are obtained from the employees by giving them encouragement . . . than by oppressing them.

Seldom far from his AWU roots, in March he described the Transport Workers Bill 1929, dubbed by Labor the ‘Dog Collar Act’, as ‘reactionary’ and calculated to inflame industrial unrest.

In July he became Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate under Senator John Daly, holding the position until October. Speaking during the Arbitration (Public Service) Bill debate in September 1929, he added his voice to Labor’s concern that this relatively insignificant measure was ‘merely the thin end of the wedge’ of the Government’s plan to jettison ‘the principle of arbitration’. Though a party moderate, he sounded a warning note: ‘If arbitration is scrapped, trouble and discontent will arise’.[3]

When the Government was forced to the polls in November Labor gained a landslide victory in the House of Representatives. With no corresponding Senate poll, Dooley and his Labor colleagues, though now on the government benches, remained, as previously, a minority group of seven. Nevertheless Labor’s political mood was one of jubilation when Dooley moved the Address-in-Reply in the Senate after the return of Parliament in November. It was, as he said, the first Labor administration to sit in the new federal capital and the first to hold office since World War I. He referred to the principal plank of the Scullin Government’s election campaign—the improvement of conciliation and arbitration legislation. During debate on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in July 1930, Dooley recollected the injustices done by employers to railway workers in ‘pre-arbitration’ days, but without the numbers in the Senate he and his Labor colleagues were forced to a compromise.

Dooley served on three committees that were of particular importance. On 10 July 1930 he was appointed to the select committee on the Government’s controversial Central Reserve Bank Bill; his Labor colleagues included Senators Dunn and O’Halloran. All three resigned the next day when it became apparent that Opposition senators were bent on shelving the legislation. Of more lasting significance was Dooley’s contribution to the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works. His interest in public works predated his Burrinjuck days and pervaded his political philosophy. The Committee’s inquiries into projects such as the upgrading of Mascot (Sydney) airport and the construction of the new city of Canberra enabled him to draw on his practical experience. Concerned with economies in its own work practices, the Committee restricted its travel to three members only, and Dooley, who saw Senate committees as ‘absolutely essential’, was one who travelled to Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. In 1932 he was a foundation member of the Senate’s Regulations and Ordinances Committee.[4]

In March 1931 Dooley entered Cabinet, following the ministerial spill in the divided Scullin government, in which Senator Barnes replaced Daly as Leader of the Government in the Senate. Resigning from the Public Works Committee, he became Assistant Minister for Works and Railways, and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. (In September 1931 he was in charge also of the Department of Home Affairs.) With responsibility for public works, his concern remained with the unemployed, especially in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. He pointed out that closing the Hume Weir would put 800 men on the dole and that 400 were already out of work in the Canberra area. Dooley was soon under attack from Lang Laborites, Senator Dunn, and Senator Rae, for supporting pension cutbacks to ‘the lame, the halt and the blind’. When Senator Hoare also joined the chorus, lamenting that the decision to reduce age pensions was ‘enough to make a Labourite shed tears of blood’, Dooley asked what the fuss was about. On this issue, some Nationalist senators supported the Scullin Government while Dunn, Rae, Hoare and Kneebone cast a minority vote.

After the fall of the Scullin Government at the December 1931 election, Dooley was again Deputy Leader of the Opposition, continuing to support Scullin Labor against the Lang faction. He advocated employment programs and promoted public works such as the resumption of work on the Hume Weir and shale mining for oil at Newnes. He saw government services as not for profit, but ‘for the benefit of the people’, and as a protectionist confidently declared Australia could ‘live entirely without the assistance of the outside world’. He urged the abolition of upper houses in the states, but made no mention of the Senate.[5]

At the September 1934 federal election, Dooley was defeated. As one of the party’s official election campaign team, he had spoken vigorously against Lang. But for the conflicts of the time he may have served usefully for longer. Still, like others, he retained his faith in the party. Addressing a meeting in Lithgow he declared: ‘Some day we will all realise that the Labour party has a soul, and then we will not fight against each other, but go forward with one purpose’. It was a fond hope.

Dooley became a building supervisor for some years before his retirement in Sydney, where he died at the St George Hospital, Kogarah, on 2 August 1961. At the time of his death, he and his wife, Julia, were living at 78 Arcadia Street, Penshurst. Dooley was afforded a state funeral and was cremated at Woronora. His six daughters—Alice, Veronica, Lilian, Clarice, Doreen and Weira—and two of his sons, Francis and Barton, survived him; a third son, Jack, predeceased him. Jack had been part of a controversy in 1931 when he became his father’s ministerial adviser, replacing a public servant, who was an ex-serviceman.

Dooley lived modestly, leaving a weatherboard cottage and £2628. He once deplored a move to raise federal members’ salaries. In 1929 he had said a few words that epitomised his life, and today speak of a different Labor Party: ‘I have given a life of service to those with and for whom I have laboured, realising by practical experience what it all means to endeavour to lighten the burdens of those who toil’.[6]

On his death certificate, despite his having left the Senate twenty-six years previously, his occupation was given simply—‘senator’. Joseph Dooley of Braidwood would have been proud.[7]

Theresa Rodgers

[1] For information on the family of John Braidwood Dooley the editor is indebted to Jill Chapman, Braidwood and District Historical Society, and Christine Wright, Historian and Keeper of St Bede’s Church records, Braidwood; Robin Gollan and Moira Scollay, ‘Dooley, John Braidwood’, ADB, vol. 8; SMH, 4 Feb. 1930, p. 12; Australian Worker (Syd.), 11 Dec. 1929, p. 7, 14 Oct. 1925, p. 5, 1 Feb. 1917, p. 21, 21 Aug. 1929, p. 17, 11 Dec. 1929, p. 7; SMH, 1 Apr. 1925, p. 18, 6 Dec. 1928, p. 11; AWU Records, Noel Butlin Archives Centre, ANU; Labor Daily (Syd.), 26 Nov. 1924, p. 4; Australian Worker (Syd.), 14 Oct. 1925, p. 5; The editor is indebted to Gloria Carlos, Yass and District Historical Society, for information.

[2] SMH, 7 Nov. 1928, p. 19; Labor Daily (Syd.), 13 Nov. 1928, p. 6; SMH, 3 Nov. 1928, p. 18, 6 Dec. 1928, p. 11; Senate, Journals, 6 Feb. 1929; Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991, OUP, South Melbourne, Vic., 1991, p. 152.

[3] CPD, 9 Dec. 1930, p. 1137, 24 May 1932, p. 1250, 19 Nov. 1931, p. 1773, 5 Dec. 1930, p. 1041, 21 Feb. 1929, p. 440, 8 Mar. 1929, pp. 907–8, 4 Sept. 1929, pp. 478–80.

[4] CPD, 21 Nov. 1929, pp. 25–8, 24 July 1930, pp. 4574–7; Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1988, pp. 260–1; CPD, 10 July 1930, p. 3965; CPP, Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, report, 1931; CPD, 16 Apr. 1931, pp. 878–9, 20 Oct. 1931, pp. 841–2.

[5] Patrick Weller (ed.), Caucus Minutes 1901–1949, vol. 2, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1975, pp. 415–19; SMH, 3 Mar. 1931, pp. 9, 10; CPD, 4 Aug. 1931, pp. 4890–1, July 1931, pp. 3885–6, 16 July 1931, pp. 3952–3, 3960, 27 Apr. 1932, p. 7, 24 Feb. 1932, pp. 185–7, 24 May 1932, pp. 1249–50, 10 May 1932, p. 482, 14 June 1933, p. 2297; SMH, 29 Apr. 1933, p. 14.


[7]6Patrick Weller and Beverley Lloyd (eds), Federal Executive Minutes 1915–1955, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1978, pp. 181–2; SMH, 23 May 1934, p. 7, 14 Sept. 1934, p. 16, 27 Aug. 1934, p. 6; Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate, 4 Aug. 1961, p. 2; SMH, 4 Aug. 1961, p. 16; Daily Telegraph Business News (Syd.), 5 Aug. 1961, p. 25; CPD, 11 Apr. 1935, pp. 1258–9, 15 Aug. 1961, p. 23; Australian Worker (Syd.), 11 Dec. 1929, p. 7.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 399-403.

DOOLEY, John Braidwood (1884–1961)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, NSW, 1928–35

Assistant Minister for Works and Railways, 1931–32

Senate Committee Service

Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, 1929–31

Standing Orders Committee, 1929–32

Library Committee, 1929–32

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1929–35

Select Committee on the Central Reserve Bank Bill, 1930

Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, 1932–35