Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Francis John Bertram (Frank) Hursey (1912–1990)

by Rod Hunt

This article was published:

Francis John Bertram (Frank) Hursey (1912-1990), wharf labourer, commercial fisherman and timber-cutter, was born on 30 August 1912 in South Hobart, second of three children of Tasmanian-born parents James Alexander Hursey, fireman, and his wife Ellen Catherine, née Smith. Educated by the Christian Brothers at St Virgil’s College, Frank began work as a labourer and house-builder. On 6 January 1933 in Hobart he married with Catholic rites Ella Olive Webberley (d.1969). They lived on a small farm at Saltwater River on the Tasman Peninsula until 1935, when Hursey became a wharf labourer at Hobart. Injured at work in 1947, he used his compensation to purchase a ketch and entered the fishing industry. He bought land at Raminea, near Dover. A tall, thin, garrulous man with a glass eye, he was noted for his extravagant language and his habit of making pronouncements. He was a member of the Australian Labor Party from about 1936. In 1954 he failed to gain endorsement as a candidate for the State election.

In 1955 Hursey moved to Warrane and applied to work again on the Hobart wharves. Initially the shipowners’ association and the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board opposed his re-registration but, assisted by the local branch committee of the Waterside Workers’ Federation, he won the right to return. His son Dennis also became a wharf labourer and union-member. In 1956 Hursey joined the newly formed Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist) (Democratic Labor Party from 1957), and was endorsed for the district of Franklin in the State election. Both he and Dennis refused to pay a levy struck by the Hobart branch of the WWF to help the ALP finance its election campaign. A long-running dispute ensued: the Hurseys were expelled from the union and protracted industrial action followed, aimed at preventing them from reporting for work.

The Hurseys won a Supreme Court of Tasmania injunction in June 1958 against the WWF. Represented by Senator (Sir) Reginald Wright in a case beginning in July, they claimed in two writs that the branch had no authority to impose special levies for political purposes, or to stop them from working. A counter writ by the union argued that the Hurseys should not have been rostered for work when they were not union members. The Hurseys won the case and were awarded £3200 each for lost wages and suffering. Supported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the WWF appealed to the High Court of Australia, which, in September 1959, found in favour of the union and reduced the damages awarded to the Hurseys. Despite the decision, the ACTU reached a national agreement that saw unions abandon compulsory political levies. Amanda Lohrey based her novel The Morality of Gentlemen (1984) on the case.

Leaving the waterfront in 1959, Hursey and his son returned to fishing and also won a timber-cutting contract. As secretary of the new Tasmanian Fishermen’s Union, in 1970 Hursey lodged a challenge in the Supreme Court to the Tasmanian government’s control of waters below the low-water mark. On 17 May 1987 at St Mary Our Hope Catholic Church, Dover, he married Adelina Arbues, née Abubo, a divorcee. He died on 30 March 1990 at Dover and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife and the two daughters and four sons of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Bull, Politics in a Union (1977)
  • M. Beasley, Wharfies (1996)
  • T. Bull, Life on the Waterfront (1998)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Nov 1958, p 1, 17 Sept 1959, p 7
  • Sunday Examiner Express (Launceston), 14 Mar 1970, p 2
  • Bulletin, 21 Mar 1970, p 23
  • Saturday Evening Mercury (Hobart), 7 Oct 1972, p 26
  • Mercury (Hobart), 17 Apr 1973, p 3, 7 Dec 1977, p 3
  • Examiner (Launceston), 3 Apr 1990, p 35
  • series A1533, item 1953/793, part 1, and files on F. J. Hursey in series A10145 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Rod Hunt, 'Hursey, Francis John Bertram (Frank) (1912–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 August, 1912
South Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


30 March, 1990 (aged 77)
Dover, Tasmania, 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.