John Joseph “Joe” Cahill 

“Dismissed by proclamation—Left work on Strike…. Agitator” John Joseph Cahill’s Railway Personal History Card

John Joseph Cahill

John Joseph “Joe” Cahill, Eveleigh railway fitter to NSW Premier, was driven by a commitment to improve conditions for the ordinary Australian inspired by his involvement in unionism and the labour movement at Eveleigh in the early 1900s.

Born in Redfern in 1891, Joe Cahill grew up among a tight-knit community of rail workers for which Eveleigh Railway Workshops was a central point of work, life, and action. First apprenticed as a railway fitter at Eveleigh in 1907, Cahill went on to become an active trade unionist, politician and eventually NSW Premier for the Labor party.

Cahill’s involvement in the Great Strike of 1917 both encouraged his political interests and resulted in his dismissal from the railways, a record entered on his railway employee card at the time describing him as an ‘agitator’, and he was not re-employed by NSW Railways until 1922.

Through his early career, Cahill continued to develop his political skills and education as an Officer of Amalgamated Society of Engineers and as a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU), although his prominence in leading a revolt against the AEU governing body saw him banned from holding formal office within the organisation until 1925.

Cahill was first elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly as member for St George in 1925, later becoming Secretary of Public Works when Labor won the State government in 1941. Proving his abilities as an able administrator and hard worker and successfully delivering several vital infrastructure projects, Cahill went on to serve as NSW Premier from 1952 to 1959.

One of the legacies of his office was the commitment to construct the Sydney Opera House, despite significant internal opposition. His name remains readily familiar to Sydneysiders, preserved in the Cahill Expressway that extends above Circular Quay, connecting the Bradfield Highway and Eastern Distributor.


David Clune, 'Cahill, John Joseph (Joe) (1891–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 April 2021.

Ellmoos, L, Great Strike of 1917, Dictionary of Sydney, 2018,, accessed 7/6/20.