Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Finger, Alan Henry (1909–1985)

by Jenny Tilby Stock

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Alan Henry Finger (1909-1985), medical practitioner and communist, was born on 6 December 1909 at Dandenong, Victoria, younger surviving child of Philip Charles Henry Finger, farmer, and his wife Minnie, née Freeman, both born in Victoria. Raised in poverty by his pious Wesleyan Methodist parents, Alan was educated at Maryborough and Melbourne High schools and, on a scholarship, at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1934), where he lived at Queen’s College. The harsh realities of the Depression—seen on visits with a local doctor to homes at Brunswick and while fruit-picking during university vacations—radicalised him. In 1933 he joined the Communist Party of Australia and next year was secretary of the Melbourne University Labor Club. On 8 December 1934 at Fitzroy he married with Pentecostal forms Joan Mary Hardiman, a journalist also active in Labor Club and Communist Party circles.

Dark haired and pleasant looking, Finger was disciplined and courteous but, as a resident medical officer at Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1935, he believed that his political associations were blocking his progress. Next year he moved to South Australia to take up a post as outpatients’ registrar at (Royal) Adelaide Hospital. Within two months he transferred to the Metropolitan Infectious Diseases Hospital, Northfield, and later that year was promoted to superintendent. At Northfield for eleven years, he coped with diphtheria, scarlet fever and poliomyelitis outbreaks, and in 1941 acquired a diploma of public health at the University of Sydney. He initiated improvements in nurses’ conditions, pay and training. On the medical board of the Mothers and Babies’ Health Association, he campaigned successfully for earlier immunisation and council vaccination programs.

When they arrived in Adelaide, the Fingers had found the State CPA branch near collapse. They played leading roles in its revival, establishing study groups, strengthening the Left Book Club and the peace movement, and attracting a more middle-class element. Continuously for over forty years Alan held various executive positions on the State committee, including the presidency; in the early 1940s he was president of the local branches of the Australia-Soviet Friendship League and of the Russian Medical Aid and Comforts Committee. He stood as a communist in almost every State and Federal election between 1943 and 1967. His preferences allowed the Australian Labor Party to oust (Sir) Archibald Grenfell Price from the Federal seat of Boothby in 1943, and to win Prospect in the 1944 State election. He was not a good public speaker, and once the Cold War set in he gained few votes. Although shocked by Nikita Krushchev’s revelations about the Stalinist era in 1956, he remained in the party, visiting the Eastern Bloc in 1958, and campaigning for peace and social justice.

After a stint as a general practitioner in 1947-49 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Finger practised at Pennington, Adelaide. He and his wife had divorced in 1947, and on 12 December 1949 at the office of the principal registrar, Adelaide, he married Jean Isobel Sams, née Marshall (d.1978), a divorcee, and an active party member. In 1969-75 he was a full-time medical officer with the Department of Public Health, gaining recognition for his work combating venereal diseases. After retiring he worked (1977) for a community health service at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. On 11 March 1982 at the office of the principal registrar, Adelaide, he remarried his first wife, also widowed; they settled at Reservoir, Melbourne. Still fit and active, the brash, dogmatic communist had mellowed into a good-humoured family man. Survived by his wife, their two sons, and the daughter of his second marriage, he died on 24 January 1985 at Heidelberg and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Sendy, Comrades Come Rally (1978)
  • J. Moss, Representatives of Discontent (1983)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 Dec 1975, p 4
  • News (Adelaide), 30 Jan 1985, p 14
  • series A6119, items 3536-3547 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jenny Tilby Stock, 'Finger, Alan Henry (1909–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/finger-alan-henry-12491/text22471, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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