Mervyn Percy Copley
1914 – 1978
Merv Copley was born in Western Australia in 1914. On leaving school he joined the Public Service in that state, becoming a clerk of Petty Sessions and serving as secretary to two Royal Commissions. Disturbed by the poverty and injustices he saw on a daily basis during the Great Depression, he became interested in Socialism and gave up a promising career to become an organiser for the Clerks Union. After he joined the Communist Party of Australia he moved to Sydney, then to Newcastle in 1948 where he worked as an organiser for the Clerks Union and latter as a tally clerk on the waterfront.
Merv was an activist all his adult life. He was an honorary research officer for Newcastle Trades Hall Council for many years amassing a huge amount of statistical and other material along the way. One of the many campaigns in which he took a leading role was in the struggle to reduce air pollution in Newcastle during the 1950s. At this time it was so bad that it was a real danger to people’s health. His booklet ‘Eliminate that Smoke’, published in 1957, made a significant contribution to the campaign which eventually forced the NSW Government to strengthen legislation regarding air and water pollution despite prolonged opposition from BHP and other big polluters.
In all his campaigns, Merv was assisted by his partner, Janet. Both of them helped organise International Women’s Day and May Day celebrations in Newcastle during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. In a letter to Vera Deacon in 1993, Janet Copley described how they worked together:
I gathered a lot of material for him from Trade Union Offices. About 4 pm on Fridays I took the shopping trolley to the Trades Hall and visited the Trades Hall Council, the Waterboard, and The Seamens Union office etc, and picked up the daily papers and Hansards they had finished with and brought them home for Merv to disect them. We worked during meal time with Merv clipping the various papers and Janet with a lead pencil in her hand recording the dates and the paper or book from which they had been out.
Janet Copley’s father, George Cant, born 1892 in Dundee Scotland was a ploughman who came to Australia in 1910. He later joined a WW1 Reconstruction Team sent to repair homes in England. May, her mother, was a Dora Creek girl whom George met after he settled in Morisset. Both were very active in the Hamilton North P&C struggling for improvements in the primary and kindergarten school. George founded the Timberworkers’ Union, worked in the railway, gas works. Retirement saw them both active in Pensioner and other community movements.
Some of the ephemeral material, such as pamphlets, leaflets and election material, which Merv and Janet collected would otherwise have vanished completely. It has now found a permanent home in the Archives of the University of Newcastle.
This information was provided by Mr Ross Edmonds and Mrs Vera Deacon.
Ross Edmonds; Interview with Janet Copley, July 2010.
[Letter] Janet Copley to Vera Deacon 7 January 1993.
Geoff Curthoys; Funeral Oration for Merv Copley, September 1978.
The Collection was deposited in the University circa 1978 and was finally accessioned May – October 2006 by Mr Peter Gray – Brattan. The listing of the Merv and Janet Copley Collection was made possible by the kind generosity of the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund.
Finding Aid: The Merv and Janet Copley Collection (PDF File)