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Patrick Reginald Heagney (1858–1922)

by J. Bremner

This article was published:

Patrick Reginald Heagney is a minor entry in this article

Muriel Agnes Heagney (1885-1974), trade unionist and feminist, was born on 31 December 1885 in Brisbane, daughter of Patrick Reginald Heagney (1858-1922), publican and later a carpenter, and his wife Annie Agnes, née Currie. Muriel was raised in a Labor atmosphere. Her maternal grandfather, an Irish immigrant, was a friend of Peter Lalor. Her father, born in 1858 at Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, was the son of Martin Heagney, farmer, and his wife Catherine, née Hogan, both from Ireland. Patrick went to Queensland in the 1880s, became an early member of the Australian Workers' Union and contributed to the Worker and the Bulletin. He married on 9 February 1885 at Isisford and moved his family to Melbourne in the late 1890s.

In 1902 he founded the Richmond branch of the Political Labor Council. He was secretary of the central executive of the P.L.C. in 1904-10 and attended the Commonwealth Political Labor conferences of 1905 and 1908. He was defeated as Labor candidate for Bulla in the Legislative Assembly elections of 1907 and also in a by-election for Mornington next year. Heagney was a member of the Richmond Council in 1908-11. With his daughter he attended the Australian Trade Union Congress in Melbourne in 1921 and that year published the pamphlet Social Reconstruction: Plans and Specifications. He died on 7 December 1922 at St Kilda.

Muriel was educated at a Richmond convent and later trained as a primary school teacher, a vocation she abandoned in 1915. A member of the Richmond branch of the P.L.C. from 1906, she was a delegate to the Women's Central Organizing Committee in 1909 and attended the first Victorian Labor Women's Conference. During World War I she worked as the only female clerk in the Defence Department and, significantly, received equal pay. She was active in the anti-conscription campaigns and in 1915 was a committee-member of the Workers' Educational Association.

Secretary of the Australian Relief Fund for Stricken Europe in 1921-23, she spent the following two years overseas; she visited Russia, worked briefly for the International Labour Organization in Geneva, and in London in 1925 represented the Melbourne Trades Hall Council at the first British Commonwealth Labour Conference. Returning to Melbourne, she was a member of the Victorian central executive of the Labor Party in 1926-27, when she also helped establish the Labor Guild of Youth, and was an unsuccessful candidate in the Boroondara by-election of 1933.

Heagney's main endeavour was to establish equal pay for women; she saw wage inequality as the major obstacle to the achievement of equality of status and opportunity. In 1919-20 she worked as an investigator for the Federated Unions of Australia in their submission to the Commonwealth royal commission on the basic wage and in 1923 and 1927 she prepared cost-of-living schedules for the Clothing Trades Union in its submissions to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration for a uniform basic wage for both sexes. In 1928 she presented a paper 'The trade union women' at the first Pan-Pacific Women's Conference, Honolulu.

Alarmed at the plight of jobless women during the Depression, Heagney in 1930 formed the Unemployed Girls' Relief Movement which established sewing centres where women worked for unemployed families in return for a relief allowance. She also set up a jam factory. To counter propaganda against employment of women in the 1930s, she undertook a survey for the Victorian branch of the Open Door Council and published Are Women Taking Men's Jobs? (1935); the book made equal pay a serious national issue, but brought no practical results.

In 1937 Heagney helped to found the Council of Action for Equal Pay under the auspices of the New South Wales branch of the Federated Clerks' Union, and was honorary secretary until 1949. A witness in basic wage hearings before the Arbitration Court in 1937 and 1949, she appeared before the New South Wales Industrial Commission in support of the Clerks' Union's case for equal pay in 1940. By 1941, the year she attended the International Labour Organization conference in New York as an observer, she believed victory on female wages was imminent. But while the Women's Employment Board awarded a high percentage of the male rate of pay to women in 'male' industries for the duration of the war, women in the traditional female sector remained disappointingly on 54 per cent.

In 1936-42 Muriel made a living as a travel organizer for the Queensland Tourist Bureau in Sydney. In 1943-47 she was women's organizer there for the Amalgamated Engineering Union. She wrote Equal Pay for the Sexes in 1948. In 1950 she returned to Melbourne where she wrote the condemnatory Arbitration at the Cross Roads (1954). Her Labor Party activities continued: in September 1955 she became secretary of the Women's Central Organizing Committee and an ex officio member of the party's central executive. She began to write a history of the labour movement, but was unsuccessful in her application for a Commonwealth Literary Fund grant. She died in poverty at St Kilda on 14 May 1974, and was cremated. A week earlier the National Wage Case decision had granted women an adult minimum wage.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Bevege et al (eds), Worth Her Salt (Syd, 1982)
  • Refractory Girl, Autumn 1974
  • LaTLJ, 4 (1975), no 15
  • Labour History, Melbourne, Recorder, June 1974
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 June 1930, 1 Feb 1935
  • Truth (Sydney), 12 July 1936
  • Labor, 27 June 1974
  • P. Ranald, Feminism and Class … (M.A. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1980)
  • Clothing and Allied Trades Union of Australia, Equal pay records (Trades Hall, Melb)
  • A. T. Brodney papers and M. A. Heagney papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

J. Bremner, 'Heagney, Patrick Reginald (1858–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia


7 December, 1922 (aged ~ 64)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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