Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Pratt, Sydney Ernest (1887–1973)

by C. J. Lloyd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Sydney Ernest Pratt (1887-1973), journalist and trade union leader, was born on 28 March 1887 at Paddington, Sydney, fourth child of William Rider Pratt, a journalist from Scotland, and his English-born wife Alice Virginia, née Phillips. Educated at Fort Street Model School, he joined the Sydney Morning Herald as a journalist. After working briefly in Melbourne, he transferred to Adelaide where he reported for the Register and then for the Daily Herald, a Labor newspaper. Syd was prominent in the movement to form a national organization of journalists that culminated in the foundation of the Australian Journalists' Association in 1910 and its registration as a Federal trade union in the following year. At the Congregational Church, East Melbourne, on 2 September 1912 he married Adelaide Susan Mary Martin, a milliner.

While honorary secretary of the A.J.A.'s South Australian district in 1911-19, Pratt helped to establish and develop the union's national headquarters in Melbourne; for this work he was awarded (1915) the association's gold honour badge. He was a member of the team that prepared the union's submission in proceedings—before (Sir) Isaac Isaacs in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration—which led to the first Federal award (1917) covering journalists. In 1919 he became general secretary of the A.J.A. and moved to Melbourne.

Pratt was an adroit conciliator, settling most disputes and concluding industrial agreements with newspaper proprietors by extensive negotiations. Three events stood out in his long industrial career. In 1927-28 he and the A.J.A.'s president Syd Deamer successfully argued before (Sir) Robert Menzies, who had been appointed arbitrator, that all newspaper literary staff should be graded as journalists covered by industrial awards. Menzies' arbitration endorsed the principle, established by Isaacs in 1917, of equal pay for men and women in the profession. Elements of the journalists' grading system were to survive for more than seventy years. During the 1930s Pratt worked assiduously to prevent substantial cuts in newsroom jobs and to minimize wage reductions at a time of large-scale labour attrition. He adeptly guided the A.J.A. through the Depression, but later conceded that the pressures on the association in those years had 'nearly wrecked it'. In 1954-55 he directed a protracted and arduous industrial-award hearing which resulted in significant improvements in salary and conditions; it was one of the few occasions when he was forced into a court battle with proprietors.

Straightforward, meticulous and pleasant in approach, Pratt enlivened his advocacy with touches of colour and hyperbole. At one hearing he described the modern press photographer as a combination of 'mechanic, electrician, chemist and racing driver'. Menzies had claimed (1927) that, if all trade-union leaders were of Pratt's quality, 'there would be no strikes or industrial disputes'. In 1944 the A.J.A. made Pratt an honorary life member. He was appointed M.B.E. in 1951 and he retired in 1955. Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 21 May 1973 at Donvale and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $20,272. The A.J.A. paid a pension to his widow for the remainder of her life. Pratt's son Mel also worked as a journalist.

Select Bibliography

  • C. J. Lloyd, Profession: Journalist (Syd, 1985)
  • Journalist, June 1973
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 May 1973
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May 1973
  • private information.

Citation details

C. J. Lloyd, 'Pratt, Sydney Ernest (1887–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pratt-sydney-ernest-11451/text20411, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 April 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019