Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Reginald Roslyn (Reg) Broadby (1904–1956)

by Robert Murray

This article was published:

Reginald Roslyn (Reg) Broadby (1904-1956), trade union leader, was born on 25 June 1904 at Queenstown, Tasmania, son of Reginald Saunders Broadby, a native-born bootmaker, and his wife Ruby Olive, née Ward. Reg was educated at Queenstown State School and from childhood absorbed the staunch though moderate trade-union traditions of the isolated, vulnerable mining towns of the rugged Tasmanian west coast. He moved to Melbourne in 1925 and on 5 December at the Catholic Church of Saints Peter and Paul, South Melbourne, married Ellen Enright, a dressmaker from Queenstown.

After working as a clerk and commercial traveller, Broadby joined the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board as a conductor in 1926. Forced into part-time work by the Depression, he became active in union affairs, originally through involvement in the Tramways Athletic and Social Club. By the late 1930s he was taking the moderate position against Clarrie O'Shea, the communist secretary of the Australian Tramways and Motor Omnibus Employees' Association. O'Shea led the militant Victorian branch while Broadby became a leader of the moderate national organization of the union, holding the positions of general secretary (1944-48) and arbitration advocate; he was also State president (1944-46). Broadby was, as well, president of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council in 1944-45 and of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1949-50.

As the Cold War reached into nearly every section of the union movement, the Communist Party of Australia operated a well-organized and disciplined faction which won control of the left wing of the union movement. The fine balance between left and right was shown by the margin of only one vote in 1948 when the interstate executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions chose Broadby ahead of the communist candidate for the new position of assistant-secretary. In 1949 he was elected secretary, succeeding Albert Monk who became president.

At first Broadby was an influential supporter of 'the (Catholic) Movement' (later National Civic Council) and the A.L.P. industrial groups, which together combated the communist advance in the unions. He had been foundation secretary (1946) of the A.L.P. industrial groups committee which was appointed by the (State) central executive of the party. By the early 1950s, however, Broadby, Monk and a number of other senior Labor men had turned against the anti-communist force and formed a 'centre' faction, believing that the anti-communist 'groupers' were becoming too aggressive and disruptive, and beginning to resemble their opponents. Broadby complained about Labor 'getting rid of one intolerance only to replace it with another'. He was further alarmed by rising sectarian suspicions and tensions. Like his allies, he wanted to create an ideological wedge and balance of power to unify and develop the A.C.T.U.

This faction, with Broadby among its leaders, supported the 'anti-grouper' side in the Labor split of 1955 and he returned to the Victorian central executive of the A.L.P. After years of being attacked by the left, his moderating position earned him bitter opposition from some former friends. His personal ease was not helped by being a Protestant with a Catholic wife and family.

Slight in build, industrious and methodical, Broadby was regarded as a sensible, conciliatory secretary who helped to establish the foundations of Monk's twenty-year presidency of the A.C.T.U. Broadby was distressed by the fanaticism and hostility of the era, but held to the belief that the divisions within the unions were manageable. A popular spokesman for the unions, he gave press interviews, addressed community groups and attended international conferences.

In 1955 the Cain Labor government appointed Broadby a (part-time) commissioner of the State Savings Bank of Victoria. He died of asthma complicated by bronchiectasis on 14 July 1956 at Williamstown. Former tramways colleagues lined the street when his mile-long funeral procession passed Essendon depot on its way to Fawkner cemetery where he was buried with Presbyterian forms. His wife, son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Murray, The Split (Melb, 1970)
  • J. Hagan, The History of the A.C.T.U. (Melb, 1981)
  • K. White, John Cain and Victorian Labor 1917-1957 (Syd, 1982).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robert Murray, 'Broadby, Reginald Roslyn (Reg) (1904–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 June, 1904
Queenstown, Tasmania, Australia


14 July, 1956 (aged 52)
Williamstown, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.