Last week we shared Max Ogden’s memories of Michael Beahan, whom we lost recently to cancer. Today we want to talk about Michael some more! We can’t have a drink with him now, which makes us sad… so below, we share with you a well-used TUTA drinks coaster from the archives. This is in honour of Michael’s contribution to the TUTA logo design process in the mid-70s. It was unusual at that time to devote resources to a unified approach to design, and Michael was proud of what the TUTA logo said to the world: trade union education matters! No doubt he posed a glass or two on one of these coasters over the years. And now, read on….
From the time I became involved in the TUTA Project, in mid-2017, I was struck by the decency and warmth emanating from Michael Beahan, as well as the depth of his knowledge and experience in union education.
Once I recalled when he had been in Parliament and had served as President of the Senate, we worked out that we’d probably met back then, as I was working in Canberra as a Labor adviser. You would never know of Michael that he had achieved such lofty political heights! He seemed like too nice and gentle a soul, but underneath that exterior he must have been a tough nut in his day, given his role as mediator between factional heavyweights.
Fittingly, he was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours in January 2011. Michael would be the last person to seek such acknowledgement. It seemed to be enough for him to know that he had positively shaped the lives of workers, including through his foundational role with TUTA.
I will really miss his presence at our meetings, his grace, his friendly smile, and his quietly spoken words of wisdom!
When I joined the ARC project on trade union education in January 2020, Michael was a partner investigator. He started off with a generous gesture, lending me essential publications including former trainer Mike Newman’s The Third Contract and a complete collection of Trade Union Training Authority Annual Reports.
I was fortunate enough to interview Michael early on about his own TUTA experiences. He was a little surprised when I asked about his early life before TUTA, but it was clear that his having been a migrant to Australia, an electrician, unionist, small businessman and teacher, had all equipped him extremely well for his role as the first director of the Western Australian TUTA centre (not to mention his later political career). We plan to share some excerpts from his interview on our Voices page.
Despite his illness over the last two years, Michael attended our research team meetings regularly and was very generous with his time and attention. He was always keen to hear what we had found, to answer questions, to fill in context when we needed it. I personally feel I have lost not only a supporter of the research, but a new friend.
In the week after Michael died, I was working through files in the National Archives of Australia containing submissions to the 1977 Inquiry into Trade Union Training. To my great surprise, these files were not the formal (and somewhat dry) submissions I had encountered elsewhere, but a collection of hand-written letters by TUTA course participants, mainly shop stewards, from all over the country. I wish I could have shown these to Michael. He would have appreciated the many, many stories of educational discovery and empowerment threaded throughout these letters written to convince the commissioners of the importance of keeping TUTA going.
Michael may also have enjoyed, in his own modest way, the fact that several who wrote from Western Australia mentioned him by name.
An AMWU shop steward from Perth wrote in his letter that ‘a high degree of praise is in order to Michael Beahan.’ May Michael rest in peace, knowing that we will keep the trade union education project alive and tell the stories that matter.
I met Michael in 1999 at an NTEU symposium where I was speaking on the then proposed Ensuring Integrity Bill. His was a nodding, smiling face among those gathered. We were introduced following the event and I was struck by his gentle and genuine warmth, so much so that learning of his background as a parliamentarian left me confused! I feel very fortunate to have worked alongside Michael on the TUTA project and will remember him as welcoming, insightful and generous. Vale Michael.
It has been such a privilege working with Michael Beahan on the TUTA research project. Conversations with Michael revealed his deep knowledge about the labour movement, politics, history, community, social equity and so much more. Michael was a powerful storyteller, thoughtful, insightful and humorous.
He was extremely generous, acknowledging the contribution of others, even some with whom he didn’t completely see eye to eye. He was also generous with his time and his ideas.
I miss Michael’s warmth and his calm consideration of whatever issue needed to be examined or problem solved.
How often one of us would say: we need to check that with Michael.