ANOTHER of Newcastle's "old guard" of trade union identities - former Waterside Workers Federation branch president Donald "Ducky" Williams - was farewelled by more than 100 people yesterday at Pettigrews Wallsend.
Mr Williams, a Carrington boy who spent the final years of his life at the Tinonee Gardens village at Waratah, died last Friday aged 86.
Like his union comrade Denis Nichols, who died in May, Mr Williams played first grade and representative rugby league in his youth, and packed down as hooker beside Mr Nichols in the North Newcastle "Bluebags" scrum.
The funeral heard Mr Williams also played hooker for representative Newcastle rugby league teams against England, France and New Zealand, and scored a try in all three.
Friends said he was waterside workers branch president from 1980 to 1992, when the union merged with the seafarers to become the present-day Maritime Union of Australia.
Ducky loved telling stories, whether they were true, half-true or mythsJohn Thomas
Celebrant Carolyn Read told the COVID-spaced mourners inside the chapel, and a larger group watching on television screens outside, Mr Williams was "a man's man".
After two of his footballing mates, Karl Hutchinson and John Thomas, had taken their audience on a trip down memory lane, Ms Read said with a smile that "the blokes" had gone on for so long that there was little time for the rest of the service!
Perhaps the most important of the many stories and anecdotes was one that "Ducky" himself had told and retold over the years, about a trip to Sydney to see the Labor premier of the day, Neville Wran, about hospital funding for Newcastle.
Yesterday, retired Newcastle Hospital physician Dr John Hollingsworth took up the tale, describing how the two union officials, "Ducky and Denis" - the latter a metalworkers union organiser and president of Newcastle Trades Hall Council - had organised a meeting with Wran, together with the head of the Hunter health service at the time, Dr Owen James.
The connection had begun through football, with Dr James and Dr Hollingsworth both serving as team doctors for Norths.
It was the mid-1980s and Dr Hollingsworth said the push to replace Royal Newcastle Hospital was under way but not receiving the funding support the region thought it needed from Sydney.
"They were in the meeting and Don said to Neville you should see what's happening in Newcastle," Dr Hollingsworth said.
"What do you mean: 'What's happening in Newcastle?' Wran replied.
A staffer went away and came back a minute later and said: "Nothing's happening in Newcastle'.
"He was right. Don had gotten the unions together, and they'd organised a half-day stoppage.
"Buses, trains, the ferries, and the port, which meant the coal ships. Everything stopped.
"Neville looked at him and said: 'You bastard! How much do you want?' $200 million. They got it, and John Hunter was built."
John Hunter anaesthetist and Newcastle Institute co-founder Dr Ross Kerridge, who is travelling in Tasmania and unable to attend the funeral, said yesterday that people should know that "John Hunter Hospital is a memorial to Ducky and those like him in the Hunter community".
"Without the muscle of the union movement, the push for a major tertiary referral hospital in Newcastle would have been strangled in Sydney," Dr Kerridge said.
The service heard some more subversive tales from Ducky's time on the wharves, including one involving the liberation of a few boxes of Julius Marlowe shoes from a goods train parked one night on a siding.
The youthful pilferers even evaded a knock on the door from the police when one of them put a "chenille dressing gown over his wharfie's overalls" and answered the door pretending to be woken up.
The police gone, they opened their spoils only to find that the left and right shoes had been boxed separately.
And all theirs were left feet!
Son Paul Williams said his father could be "a rogue" but said he and his sister Karen-Lee had enjoyed a wonderful childhood.
He said his father, born in 1934, had experienced the Depression and wanted them to have what he missed out on.
Later, he loved being a grandfather to his two sons and his sister's two daughters.
His widow, Veronica ("Vera") said after the service that they'd had 64 wonderful years together.
"He was two years older than me," Mrs Williams said. "I met him at 18, engaged at 19, married at 20.
"Everyone knew him and he knew everybody. He was one of a kind."
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