Print Page print
'Honest Jim' McGowen looked older than he was, earning himself another name, 'Old Jim'.

Image title:
James McGowen

Government Printing Office
collection, State Library
of New South Wales

James McGowen (1855–1922)

Labor leader and anti-federalist

McGowen was born at sea while his parents were coming to Australia from England. In Sydney he became a boiler-maker. This job required a high level of skill and was much in much demand, as trains and all other machines were powered by steam boilers. McGowan became a leader in the boilmakers' trade union and then, in the 1890s, leader of the new Labor Party. He was in charge of tactics designed to get improvements for the workers from the two major parties.

At the election of delegates to the 1897–98 Federal Convention, the Labor Party ran a full list of ten candidates, with McGowen at the top. Not one of them was elected. Labor wanted the colonies to combine, but not in a federation. It thought equal representation of the states in the Senate would give too much power to backward, small states. Labor wanted a single house of parliament and electorates allotted according to population. At both federal referendums McGowen led the Labor Party's 'No' campaign.

At the first Commonwealth election the Labor Party did well, but McGowen failed to get elected. He remained in state politics.