Remembering Jack Mundey

Jack Mundey was a great man, a working man with an enormous intellect, and a capacity to express ideas in the language of the people. But he was not just a thinker and speaker, he was a man of action, the man of action, especially in Sydney. He was a leader and an example of the Left’s early commitment to people (who they were, where they lived, and how they lived). And a critic of unfettered, profit-driven development and all that represented.

 

Jack grew up on the beautiful Atherton tablelands, in Far North Queensland. Good farming country, although he came from what my old Politics lecturer, Dr Paul Reynolds called ‘rural poverty’. Reynolds was a product of rural poverty himself (from New Zealand). Born in 1929, his family experienced the impact of the Depression and then, when hardly at school, his mother died.

 

Jack loved sport. He developed into a fine rugby league player and was recruited from the very strong North Queensland competition (think of the Foley Shield ) to play for Parramatta, which he eventually did. That’s what took to him to Sydney.

 

I did not know this until, drinking beer with a cadre of old Communists and local radicals (I still wonder which painters and dockers and BLF members and uni lecturers and anarchists and writers and musos I was sitting with that afternoon on Boundary Street, most of them much older than me) at the West End street fare, talk moved to rugby league as it often does in working-class Brisbane. (There has been a half-arsed debate in social media in recent days about whether sport is of the Right or the Left, which I’ll get to later as it’s a no-brainer. In fact, best to give Jack the last say on that later.) The person responsible for the conversation was Dr Greg Mallory, a radical Leftie – and labour and rugby league historian. Greg Mallory loved talking about Jack – one of his heroes.

 

I came to understand more and more about Jack Mundey thanks to Greg Mallory. I was in the Labor Party at that stage in the mid-90s and there were a few 80-somethings in our branch who had classic old Labor understandings, not unlike Jack Mundey’s. They hadn’t had much formal schooling but they’d observed and read and rubbed shoulders with their comrades and their understanding of Politics was as good as anyone’s. And, they could spot the impact of Capital and that cop was merely the slice of the pie which had been kept from decent workers.

 

I started to learn more about Jack and his activism.

 

The story is best recounted by Jack himself:

 

 

 

 

Before the First Test at the Gabba in 1998, Greg Mallory rang me to ask if I was going on the Sunday. “Jack’s coming,” he said.

 

In my circles ‘Jack’ meant Jack Nicklaus. But with Greg there was only one Jack, Jack Mundey.

 

So I started the day on the Hill (the last Test before the Hill made way for the new stand) before going over to the Vulture Street stand. It was the summer of the Camira cricket road trip.

 

The story is told in Confessions of a Thirteenth Man:

 

I wander across to the grandstand to catch up with an old history mate. He
loves Brisbane rugby league, good beer, and icons of the Left. He has invited one to
the cricket. Greg enjoys the proceedings with the environmental activist and union
stalwart, Jack Mundey. Jack grew up in north Queensland before being recruited
to play first-grade league with Parramatta in Sydney. I rib him: “What’s an old Leftie
doing at an Establishment game like cricket?”

 

He can hardly be bothered answering. “It’s a people’s game,” he responds. He
tells me of the sports culture he grew up with Up North and how he had a go at
anything. I realise that I have grabbed at a false stereotype and I want to tell him that
I don’t really think of cricket as a game of the Right; that my understanding of life isn’t
really so black and white (or red and blue). Australian sportsmen have come from
the coal-mines of Ipswich, from Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, and all places in
between. It would be great to sit and talk with him for a long time but this isn’t the place.
He strikes me as a man genuinely interested in people – all people. It is a gift I admire.

 

 

[Jack was with others so I did not want to intrude too much, but I spent the lunch break with him. And Greg. It was a memorable half hour.]

 

Cricket is a people’s game. As is rugby league. As is Australian Football. And because it means so much to people, Capital hovers. Once Capital worked out that salt-of-the-earth people drink, smoke, bet, eat, buy cars, need insurance, need to borrow money and generally live, it was on for young and old.  It’s easy dollars. (Or it used to be.)

 

Jack understood all that. Vale Jack Mundey, hero to many, mentor to some, a working class thinker with a belief in people and their communities.

 

 

 

The monument to Jack Mundey in the Rocks. Photo: Monuments Australia

 

 

 

There are many other interviews and profiles of Jack Mundey. Here’s a couple but it’s certainly worth following the YouTube and Google (All and Images) trails:

 

 

READ the The Australian Dictionary of Biography reference HERE

 

 

 

 

 

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Greg Mallory says

    Excellent article, Yes Jack was always interested in people, always made you feel welcome

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Very well said, JTH.
    Vale Jack Mundey.
    They don’t make ’em like that any more, which is but one of the reasons the union movement is struggling to gain traction in this country at present.

  3. Keiran Croker says

    Great story jth. Jack Mundey was a great man and lived a purposeful life.

  4. Adam Muyt says

    Thanks John for this. I have few heroes but Jack is one of them. I’ve been Union all my life and Jack is one reason for it. Principled but practical, in all the right ways. Patches of bush around Sydney Harbour, The Rocks and Darlo / Woolloomooloo, Vic Markets and the City Baths, all saved for posterity – for People – by the BLF. Our wages, our job conditions – <40hrs per week, leave entitlements, overtime, WHS, etc, – all done by unions.

    Am now re-reading Jack's little biography, published in 1981. It's a matter-of-fact, no bullshit, account of his life up until then. It's helping me remember one of the true greats. Probably impossible to find these days so for those interested in green bans and unions, Meredith Burgman's 'Green Bans – Red Union' is well worth tracking down. Apparently been re-released recently.

  5. Timely reminder of a genuinely public spirited Australian. Memory is how much Mundey was vilified at the time by business and newspapers. I was captivated by him because he didn’t seem to be “working an angle”. Huge contrast between the Sydney and Melbourne BLF with Norm Gallagher’s Victorian branch (and the WA branch) taking the angle that what was good for the bosses was good for the workers.
    Mundey stood apart for not stooping to naked self interest.

  6. Nice work JTH. Mundey was certainly an icon. Someone who lived what he believed. You have to admire that.

  7. Matt O'HANLON says

    In the history of the Atherton Roosters 1918-2018 written by Martin Grandelis Jack Mundey is remembered as a plumbers apprentice with a fiery character. Greg Mallory’s father was a committeeman and great family friend John Byrne is a legend of the club. I was fortunate enough to play and coach the Roosters and know Greg who told me Mundey was a tablelander! He may never be remembered for his league prowess but whenever I go to the Rocks in Sydney I think of the nature of our great sport that allowed us to share the stage with people who made a difference even if it was at a different time. Hence the beauty of the almanac and the need for the league section. RIP jack mundey

  8. Jack Mundey was a good man. He had a vision of us, a vision of our world moving beyond wage labour, of going beyond the limitations of a class bound society. The current commodification of all aspects of our life is the antithesis of what he struggled for.

    PB, i won’t comment on Kevin Reynolds and the WA branch of the ABCE&BLF. I remember seeing Kevin around but i don’t think we ever spoke. Norm was good, though he made some serious errors. In the words of his erstwhile comrade, John Cummins: you don’t judge a boxer by his last fight. I remember some interactions with Norm during my youth. Happy to encourage, support us youngsters, happy to have a beer and chat with us.The Melbourne Baths, the Gallagher/Hardy park in North Carlton stand as exemplary testament to the Victorian branch’s battles on behalf of the community. There are many other examples of there struggle on behalf of working people.

    But moving beyond the Norm/Jack dichotomy what is really important is they belonged to organisations that had a vision of a better world, a world beyond commodification of all aspects of our life. Let’s think about/work towards that. Remember, ‘the road is torturous, but the future is bright.’

    Glen!

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