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Coull, James (Jim) (1900–1972)

by Alleyn Best

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

James (Jim) Coull (1900-1972), trade unionist and orator, was born on 8 March 1900 at Upper Kinmonth, Kincardineshire, Scotland, son of James Coull, seaman, and his wife Margaret, née Drummie. Young Jim served in the British Army during World War I and was demobilized in 1919. On his return to Scotland, he met the socialist John McLean.

Six feet (183 cm) tall and solidly built, with a ruddy complexion and strong, thick hair, Coull was already a skilled debater and public speaker when he migrated to Australia in 1922. He found employment in Melbourne as an electrician, and became active in the Electrical Trades Union and the Victorian Socialist Party. Elected an executive-member (1924), president (1927) and vice-president (1929) of the Victorian branch of the E.T.U., and a delegate (1926) to the Trades Hall Council, in 1930 he was defeated for the union's presidency in a right-wing push to drive the socialists and other revolutionaries from the leadership. He lost again in 1931.

On 17 November 1928 Coull had married with Catholic rites Kathleen Veronica Lucas in the vestry of the Carmelite Church, Middle Park. That year he began working as an electrician for Carlton and United Breweries Pty Ltd, and, while retaining his E.T.U. membership, joined the Federated Liquor and Allied Trades Employees' Union of Australasia which briefly returned him as a delegate to the T.H.C. in 1931. He maintained his presence on the council by becoming the representative of the Ballarat Trades and Labor Council in 1932.

In 1928 Coull had established his own speakers' corner on Friday nights at Albert Park. 'Red Square' or 'Moscow Square', as his pitch was quickly dubbed, grew in notoriety. He also spoke at the Yarra Bank on Sunday afternoons. Some contemporaries judged him a better speaker than Tom Mann, with 'more of the Australian approach to things, yet lightened with Scottish humour'. Jimmy's oratory—particularly fiery and colourful in his descriptions of the 'enemies of socialism' (among whom he included Australian Labor Party politicians and their trade union supporters)—soon incurred the wrath of his opponents. Although the Liquor Trades Union secretary Morgan Murphy succeeded in having him expelled from the union in 1934, Coull had the decision overturned within two months. A remark he made at 'Red Square' about the T.H.C. being run by a 'secret junta' brought expulsion from that body in 1935. He was not readmitted for three years.

Having won a position as delegate to the federal council of the L.T.U. in 1936, Coull refused to accept office. Next year his 'Rank and File' team scored a convincing win. He was elected his union's vice-president (1937-49), federal councillor and delegate to the T.H.C., and was to hold the last two positions for nearly thirty years. In 1943 he stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly as the Socialist Party of Australia's candidate for the seat of Albert Park, addressing crowds of up to four thousand at 'Red Square'. Defeated again in 1945, he joined the Communist Party of Australia that year.

Elected assistant-secretary (1944) and secretary (1949) of the Victorian branch of the L.T.U., Coull led the union through the bitter years of anti-communism in the 1950s. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization began a file on him in 1947. Among union members, however, he won a personal following and a reputation for energetic leadership, especially in the long-running conflict with (Sir) Reginald Fogarty, the general manager of C.U.B.

Ill health forced Coull to resign as secretary in 1963, but he continued on the union's management committee. In retirement, he was in demand for radio and television appearances, and in 1965 toured the Soviet Union. He died on 13 December 1972 at Caulfield and was cremated. His wife survived him; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Walker, Solidarity Forever (Melb, 1972)
  • A. Best, The History of the Liquor Trades Union in Victoria (Melb, 1990)
  • Liquor and Allied Industries Union Journal, July-Sept 1963, June 1966, Mar 1973
  • Recorder (Australian Society for the Study of Labour History. Melbourne Branch), Feb 1973, p 2
  • Tribune (Melbourne), 18 Dec 1972, 16 Jan 1973
  • Liquor Trades Union (Victorian Branch) records (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • ASIO, CRS A6119/73, item 434 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Alleyn Best, 'Coull, James (Jim) (1900–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/coull-james-jim-9839/text17403, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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