Bob Heffron

Bob Heffron

Robert James (Bob) Heffron (10 September 1890 - 27 July 1978) was one of the longest-serving New South Wales state parliamentarians. He was the Labor Premier of New South Wales from 28 October 1959, to 30 April 1964.

Early years

"Bob" Heffron (as he was widely known) was born in Thames, New Zealand and left school at 15 to work in a gold-treating plant while studying metallurgy at the local school of mines. At 19, he went to California to work and to Yukon look unsuccessfully for gold and he returned to New Zealand in 1912. He joined the New Zealand Socialist Party in 1913 and became a union organiser. He married Jessie Bjornstad in 1917 and they travelled to Melbourne to avoid military service. He moved to Sydney in 1921 as secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Federated Marine Stewards' and Pantrymen's Association of Australasia.cite web
first= Robert
title =Heffron, Robert James (1890 - 1978)
publisher =Australian National University
work=Australian Dictionary of Biography
url =
accessdate = 2007-04-23

Political career

In 1927, Heffron contested Botany unsuccessfully on behalf of Lang Labor against Thomas Mutch, who had split from Jack Lang. He won Botany in 1930 and held it to 1950 and he was then member for Maroubra until 1968.cite web
title =Mr Robert James Heffron (1890 - 1978)
work =Members of Parliament
publisher =Parliament of New South Wales
url =!OpenDocument
accessdate = 2007-04-23
] In 1936, he began to organise against Lang, who had him and his followers expelled in August 1936. They formed the Industrial Labor Party, known as the Heffron Labor Party. In 1939, ILP was readmitted to the New South Wales Labor Party, under pressure from the Federal Executive of the party, and Heffron, William McKell and Lang contested the leadership of the reunited party, with McKell winning.

Once the state Labor Party had overcome the divisive 1930s legacy of Lang and had regained office in 1941, Heffron became a cabinet minister. In the series of Labor governments which ruled New South Wales uninterruptedly from 1941 to 1965, Heffron always held a prominent place. His main portfolios were those of Emergency Services (1941-44) and, above all, Education (1944-52, 1953-59); in 1946 he published a book on educational policy called "Tomorrow Is Theirs".

In youth a Catholic, he spent most of his adulthood — unusually for a New South Wales Labor politician at the time — outside the Roman Church. He unsuccessfully attempted to gain the Premiership upon the retirement of William McKell in 1947 (though McKell had hoped that Heffron would succeed him), and again at the departure of James McGirr in 1952. Finally, when Joseph Cahill died in office (October 1959), Heffron was elected Premier unopposed.

By this stage Heffron's best days were behind him; his reign coincided with the ever increasing political importance of television, on which his old-fashioned and rhetorical speaking style, honed on public platforms forty years previously, seldom appeared to advantage. According to future Premier Bob Carr (who eventually succeeded Heffron in the eastern Sydney electorate of Maroubra), the still-embittered Lang referred to Heffron as "Mr Magoo". In Robert Askin the New South Wales Liberals had, for the first time, a confident, tough, and photogenic leader, skilled — unlike Heffron — in TV debate, although Labor did respectably at the 1962 election. Heffron retired to the backbenches in 1964, his successor as Premier being Jack Renshaw.

Heffron died in the Sydney suburb of Kirribilli in 1978, aged 87, and was survived by two daughters.


Heffron was made honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Sydney in 1952 and University of New England in 1956, and an honorary Doctor of Science by the New South Wales University of Technology in 1955. The state electorate of Heffron was named after him and covers much of his former electorate of Botany.


NAME=Heffron, Robert James
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Heffron, James (birth name)
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Australian politician and Premier of New South Wales
DATE OF BIRTH=10 September 1890
PLACE OF BIRTH=Thames, New Zealand
DATE OF DEATH=27 July 1978
PLACE OF DEATH=Kirribilli, New South Wales

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