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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lawson, George (1880–1966)

by Manfred Cross

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

George Lawson (1880-1966), by Sidney Riley

George Lawson (1880-1966), by Sidney Riley

National Library of Australia

George Lawson (1880-1966), trade union official and politician, was born on 14 August 1880 at South Pine River, Caboolture district, Queensland, eighth child of Irish-born parents Alexander Lawson, farmer, and his wife Ellen, née Rilley. Educated at Warner State School, George drove three-horse teams for R. Jackson, a Brisbane carrier. In 1901-02 he fought in South Africa with the 5th (Queensland Imperial Bushmen) Contingent and was mentioned in dispatches. At her father's South Brisbane home on 16 January 1907 he married with Presbyterian forms Rebecca Jane Buchanan, a civil servant; they were to have two sons before she died in 1918.

In 1907 Lawson founded the Brisbane Trolleymen, Draymen and Carters' (later Carters and Drivers') Union and in the following year became its secretary. The union affiliated with the Australian Labour Federation in 1911. During the 1912 general strike Lawson served on the strike committee. Later that year, at the union's first State conference, he was elected general secretary, a position he held unopposed for almost twenty years. He was a capable administrator, and the union grew in numbers and influence. Expanding his activities, he attended (1910-31) the Queensland Trade Union Congress (president 1927), joined the amalgamation committee which established the Trades and Labour Council of Queensland in 1922 (president 1924 and 1927), attended the seventh International Labour Conference at Geneva (1925), and was a delegate (1930-32) to the executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

An alderman (1916-21) of Windsor Town Council, Lawson had joined (1916) the central political executive of the Queensland Labor Party. In 1919 he was appointed to the Legislative Council, the Labor majority of which voted for its abolition in 1922. Lawson attended six Labor-in-Politics conventions. On 19 December 1931 he won the seat of Brisbane in the House of Representatives. An energetic parliamentarian, he was Opposition whip in 1934-41. He married 30-year-old Kathleen Lally on 14 September 1935 at St Stephen's Catholic Cathedral, Brisbane.

In October 1941 Lawson was appointed minister for transport, but lost his portfolio when the ministry was reconstructed in September 1943. He attended the twenty-seventh I.L.C. in Paris in 1945, then toured Europe as a member of Les Haylen's Commonwealth immigration advisory committee. In 1947 Lawson moved in caucus to increase the number of members in Federal parliament; the change was implemented by the time of the 1949 elections in which Labor was defeated. Thereafter, Lawson played the part of an elder statesman until his retirement in 1961. A strong opponent of both the communists and the 'groupers', he supported the leadership of Dr H. V. Evatt.

Lawson served as a bridge between the industrial and political wings of the labour movement. He was loyal to the principles and policies of his party, and forthright in expressing his views. A devoted family man, he enjoyed reading, gardening and a modest bet on the horses. He died on 25 November 1966 in his home at Ashgrove, Brisbane, and was buried with Catholic rites in Pinaroo lawn cemetery; his wife survived him, as did the sons of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Cross, 'George Lawson, Portrait of a Union Leader', Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal, 10, no 1, 1975-76, p 116
  • Transport Workers Union records (Newstead, Brisbane)
  • TLCQ records (University of Queensland Library)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Manfred Cross, 'Lawson, George (1880–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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