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Coleman, Percy Edmund Creed (1892–1934)

by Frank Farrell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Percy Edmund Creed Coleman (1892-1934), by unknown photographer

Percy Edmund Creed Coleman (1892-1934), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24166744

Percy Edmund Creed Coleman (1892-1934), union organizer and politician, was born on 23 October 1892 at Surry Hills, Sydney, son of Thomas Coleman, bricklayer, and his wife Ellen, née Creed. Orphaned when very young, Percy went to sea aged 13 after an education in New Zealand. Three years later he became a clerk with the Sydney branch of the Federated Seamen's Union of Australasia; in 1916 he was appointed general secretary of the United Clerks' Union of New South Wales. Though opposed to conscription, Coleman volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force in February 1918 and served in France and England with the Army Service Corps. Promoted temporary sergeant, on 1 July 1919 he was attached to Australia House as a lecturer. After his discharge in April 1920 he toured the United States of America, lecturing extensively on Australian conditions. Back in New South Wales he continued as secretary of the clerks' union, now the Australian Clerical Association, until 1922. He was also honorary secretary of the State Services' Confederation of New South Wales and founder and secretary of the Australian Alliance of Professional, Clerical and Government Employees' Associations.

In 1922 Coleman entered Federal parliament as Labor member for Reid. He spoke on a wide range of subjects and became well known as a supporter of the League of Nations. He was a member of the Public Works Committee in 1928-29. In June 1928 he was called before a royal commission inquiring into allegations that certain Labor members had been offered money to vacate their seats, but he overcame the bad publicity and easily held Reid in the next elections, and increased his majority in 1929.

Though not a minister in the Scullin government (1929-32), Coleman served in 1930 as Australia's representative at the International Labor Conference and the meeting of the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations in Geneva, and at the British Commonwealth Labour Conference in London. Chairman of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Public Accounts in 1929-31, he conducted a review of Australia House in London, recommending the merging of the State agents-general with the Australian high commission. In May 1930 it was alleged that he had accepted a £500 bribe during the inquiry into the compensation claims of the newly nationalized 'A' class broadcasting stations. The ensuing royal commission cleared him.

Coleman was loyal to Scullin in the factional struggles that led to the collapse of the Federal Labor government, and lost his seat to the Lang candidate, J. H. Gander, in December 1931. Appalled at the extremist posturing of the 'Lang dictatorship' in New South Wales he became a prominent organizer against the State Labor machine. Plagued by recurrent bouts of sickness he was forced to withdraw from the East Sydney Federal by-election in 1932, but shortly after, in the State elections which followed Lang's dismissal by Governor Game, Coleman lost only narrowly to Lang in the contest for Auburn. In March 1933 he was admitted to the New South Wales Bar; he soon accepted the difficult post of president of the New South Wales (Federal) branch of the Australian Labor Party. He died unexpectedly on 25 May 1934 in a car at Concord, a victim of heart disease. Survived by his wife Elsie Allen Victoria, née Prince, whom he had married on 17 December 1921 at St James's Church of England, Sydney, and by a daughter, he was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £2313.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Dec 1922, 27 Oct 1925, 10 May, 4 Aug 1928, 16-28 June, 9-24 July, 24 Dec 1930, 25 Jan, 9 Feb, 18-30 May, 13 June 1932, 26-29 May 1934
  • Australian Worker, 29 Nov 1922, 13-27 June, 4, 18 July, 8 Aug 1928, 18 Dec 1929
  • Bulletin, 1 June 1932
  • Argus (Melbourne), 26 May 1934.

Citation details

Frank Farrell, 'Coleman, Percy Edmund Creed (1892–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/coleman-percy-edmund-creed-5726/text9687, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 April 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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