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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8647

Senator FORSHAW (9:50 PM) —Tonight I rise to note the passing of a truly significant figure in academia, in the study and teaching of the history of Australia, in the Labor Party and in the union movement. I wish to note the passing of Professor Jim Hagan. Jim was a significant figure in the Illawarra region, as I said, in the academic world, in the study of Australian history and in the Australian Labor Party and in the union movement. Jim passed away suddenly on 20 October this year. Let me first put a few biographical details onto the Senate record, and in doing so I take much of the information from an obituary by Malcolm Brown in the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 November 2009.

Jim Hagan was born on 23 October 1929, so when he passed away he was just three days short of his 80th birthday. Jim was educated at Bondi Public School and then at Sydney Boys High School. He was a highly intelligent young man and, in 1939, at the age of 12, he became one of the ‘quiz kids’. There are people as old as me, or older, maybe some younger, who remember the great radio program compered by John Dease, the Quiz Kids. We all used to sit around the radio—radiogram, I think we used to call it—listening to the Quiz Kids. Jim Hagan was one of the quiz kids. He was on that program until 1945.

He went on to study at the University of Sydney, graduating with an honours degree in arts in 1943. He then took up teaching. Through his involvement in teaching and in studying for his diploma of education, he became involved and active in politics and in the labour movement. He was concerned about the plight of trainee teachers and helped to found the Trainee Teachers Association. He went on to teach at schools in Parramatta and then in the Sutherland shire at Sutherland and Caringbah. Whilst in Caringbah, in 1956 he joined the Caringbah branch of the Australian Labor Party. Subsequently, in 1963 he moved to Canberra and completed his PhD in history. His PhD thesis was on the history of the printing unions and the role of printing in the history of this country. In 1966 he moved to the Illawarra and commenced a long and distinguished career as a history lecturer at Wollongong College. Wollongong College at that stage was a campus of the University of New South Wales. At that time Jim joined the Thirroul branch of the Australian Labor Party. He remained a member of that branch for the rest of his life until his sudden passing last month.

It was around 1966 or 1967 that I first met Jim Hagan. I was a young man becoming involved in the Labor Party. I joined the Cronulla branch of the Labor Party in 1967. My father and my mother were very active in Labor Party politics and I followed that tradition. I met Jim, who at the time was President of the Hughes Federal Electorate Council. In those days the seat of Hughes was represented by Les Johnson, a distinguished former minister of this parliament and a former high commissioner to New Zealand. Les Johnson represented the seat of Hughes, which stretched from Cronulla down the south coast of Illawarra to Bulli and out west to Cabramatta. As an added piece of history, the seat of Hughes was created in 1955, but prior to that it was part of the greater seat of Werriwa represented by the one and only Gough Whitlam, also a resident of the Sutherland shire in his early years in Cronulla.

Jim Hagan spent the next 43 years as either the Vice-President or the President of the Hughes FEC and of the Thirroul branch up until a redistribution occurred and Thirroul became part of the seat of Cunningham, which it is still today. One of my clear recollections of those years was travelling from Cronulla down to Thirroul, a slower journey than it is today, and going to Labor Party branch meetings and federal electorate council branch meetings in the Thirroul Railway Institute, the old building next to the Thirroul railway station. On the walls were photographs and memorabilia of the railways industry and the mining industry of the Illawarra region, industries that played a critical part in the development of that great industrial area of the Illawarra. I also remember going there for many other functions over the years. Dinners were held in that restored railway hall where I was able to taste Jim Hagan’s home brew. He loved making home brew. There are lots of Australians who think they can make home brew beer, but Jim actually could. He used to bring it along to these functions and we would all partake.

Jim was an exceptional Australian historian. He wrote The History of the ACTU and co-authored A History of the Labor Party in New South Wales, 1891-1991. He also co-authored a significant and groundbreaking history titled People and politics in regional New South Wales. Jim, in addition to his lifelong dedication to the labour movement and to the Labor Party, was an exceptional person who taught at university and who campaigned to achieve autonomy for the University of Wollongong. The University of Wollongong is now one of our leading tertiary institutions. It has been named the Australian University of the Year on at least two occasions. I know that there are many thousands of students in the Sutherland shire and the Illawarra region—my two older sons are amongst them—who have attended the University of Wollongong and benefited from the great education they received at that institution. Jim was instrumental in turning Wollongong College into a fully fledged university. In 1976 he became chairman of the board of governors of the Riverina College of Advanced Education. That later became Charles Sturt University and Jim became its deputy chancellor. The University of Wollongong recognised Jim Hagan’s outstanding contribution when it awarded him the position of Emeritus Professor in history. I quote from the article I referred to earlier in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Wollongong University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor … Professor Rob Castle, co-authored a paper with Hagan in 1998, entitled: Settlers and the state: The creation of an Aboriginal workforce in Australia. Castle said: ‘Jim was always extremely loyal, dedicated and he was still working literally right up until the end. He was talking to his publisher about a new book on the day he died.’

The former Premier Bob Carr sent an email saying that at the beginning of a history lecture he had just given, he had expressed his debt of gratitude to Professor Hagan, who had written a history textbook, Modern History and its Themes, which Carr had studied for his Leaving Certificate.

I last saw Jim Hagan and his wife Lois on 24 September at a forum in the Sutherland shire on electricity privatisation in New South Wales—a rather contentious topic. Jim was still passionately arguing his point of view at that forum, but doing it in his quiet, diligent and erudite way. Jim Hagan was a great man, supported over 45 years by his wife Lois and his family. Tonight I express my gratitude and the gratitude of many, many other people in the region to the late Professor Jim Hagan.