Vale Tom McDonald. He and his partner Audrey played a significant role in establishing Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA in the 1980s.

Tom and Audrey McDonald with former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty at the launch of their book ‘Dare to Dream’.

Co-founder of APHEDA Dr Helen McCue recalls “along with ACTU president Cliff Dolan, we gained strong support from Tom and Audrey McDonald, Stan Sharkey and Pat Clancy and others. The Building Workers’ Industrial Union made an initial grant of $30,000 to help start the organisation.”

Their family helped in many peace and international solidarity struggles, supporting the anti-Apartheid movement and establishing the office of the ANC in Australia.

Tom was a mentor to many people across the union movement because of the way he lived his values of solidarity and internationalism. A memorial and celebration of his life will be held at the Sydney Town Hall at 10am on Monday 9 May 2022.

Below is a statement from the Australian Council of Trade Unions published on April 16. Labour History Melbourne has also published a summary of his political development and achievements.


The ACTU is saddened to announce the death of union elder, Tom McDonald.

Tom passed away peacefully this morning at Gosford Hospital aged 95.

The union movement, across all generations, is in deep mourning today.

Tom McDonald was the National Secretary of the Building Workers Industrial Union and Vice President of the ACTU.

A union legend, Tom fought for and won universal superannuation, accident pay for injured workers, long service leave and the minimum wage system that supports millions of Australian workers.

Tom was also the union movement’s greatest ever mentor to young and developing trade unionists.

Tom started work as a ships’ carpenter and joiner at Sydney’s Cockatoo Docks at a time of very low wages, terrible safety standards, no support for injured workers, long hours, insecurity and no superannuation.

By the time he retired as leader of his union 1991 he had transformed his industry.

But the struggles he led went on to deliver workers compensation and superannuation for all Australian workers across all industries.

Tom was a deeply principled person who, along with his life partner and comrade, Audrey McDonald dedicated his life to working people.

Tom believed in collectivism and solidarity, and he was a remarkable strategic thinker.

Educated by working people, the Communist Party and by his own quest for knowledge, he applied his magnificent strategic abilities to achieve major advances and increases in living standards for every worker in Australia.

He loved the union movement and dedicated his life to it, generously pouring all that working people had taught him into every generation of union officials who came after him.

His lifelong commitment to passing on what one generation had learnt onto another so we could all be lifted up was an act of love and generosity unsurpassed in our movement.

Tom believed that unions are about “we”, not “I”. After his retirement he volunteered for another twenty-four years inspiring and imparting his experience and considerable wisdom to trainee union organisers in the ACTU’s Organising Workers program, writing several books, many essays and recently podcasts.

Tom had a deep love for the Australian union movement, as an active rank and file building worker, organiser, union leader and elder.

Over his life he helped build and shape wins for all Australian workers, and then carefully and lovingly watched over those who came after him to continue the fight for better rights for working people.

The gift of his time and wisdom was an honour to receive.

All of us who were privileged to know Tom loved and were inspired by him.

The Australian union movement extends our deepest condolences to his partner Audrey, to Daren, Nivek, Casey and to all Tom’s comrades.

Our movement has lost our greatest elder.

Our country has lost a great Australian.

– Sally McManus


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