Contributed by Joe Montero
Norm Wallace passed away yesterday (17 September 2018). He was a well known and respected union figure, shaped by the 92 years of his life. His was a life lived well.
Norm lived through the Great Depression and World War Two. Events that shaped the way he saw the world and drove him to act against injustice and the exploitation of working men and women. His was a generation at learned from the school of hard knocks.
I first got to know the man, when I became a young official of the Builders Labourers Federation in Melbourne. This was a place where the demands of work were immense, and as a greenhorn trying to find his way, he was the one I could turn to for help. Norm was always there for you with his characteristic smile.
Norm Wallace was the kind of leader wo won people over through his capacity to see the good side of someone and show them friendship and trust. He was easy to get along with, and it won them over to him.
Norm the fighter was the other side. On seeing an injustice, he couldn’t help but to take a stand against it.
These two sides of him, a compassion for people and a hatred of injustice, are what drove him and the reason why he became a union official.
Under the wing of the legendary Paddy Malone, he and Norm Gallagher had been recruited into the union’s Committee of Management in the early 1950’s. Before long, both became organisers. These early days were the time when the organisation was taken out of the control of gangsters and put back into the hands of its members. They did it in Victoria, while Joe Owens and Jack Mundy did it in Sydney.
Although the teams in each state were destined to fall out, they had much more in common than their differences.
Norm Wallace became the Assistant Secretary of the union. Through it all, he always remained true to his convictions.
The deregistration of the union and the subsequent lack of funds forced Norm into an early retirement. This did not stop him from being involved in the cause.
His greatest legacy is all those he mentored, and continue to put their shoulder to the wheel, not only in the union movement, but also out there in the broader community. He lives on through all of us.
Norm Wallace was one of those who passionately held that unions and their leaders should be concerned about more than the bread and butter issues of wages and working conditions and be concerned about the just causes of all sections of society. The wider political arena is also union business.
He may have left the room. But I for one am one of those who consider themselves lucky to have been inspired and influenced by him. He will be missed. Especially by his family. But also all the others he touched. In a real sense, he will still be with us always.