Bill Cumming

PSA foundation Member and activist

Bill Cumming was a foundation member of the PSA, in 1913, and active in it from its inception until his retirement in 1950. After retirement he offered his services as secretary of the PSA’s Palmerston North section, a job he was still doing in in 1963 when the union celebrated its 50th birthday.

 

Bill Cummings started his working career earlier than most.  He ran away from home at 11 (to become a baker), and to sea at 17. Within his first two days in the Navy he was punished for insubordination for telling an officer what he could do with a bucket of water. After five years in the Navy, Bill returned to shore and took a job as attendant in the Mental Hospital at Avondale.

In 1912 Bill transferred to the Burnham Industrial School, made famous by John A Lee’s book The Hunted. Conditions there, he recalled, both for staff and inmates, were shocking. Bill earned a reputation for independence quite early for refusing to beat a boy for running away. Why, he asked, should I punish a kid for doing what I would do myself in his position?

When the PSA was formed in 1913, Bill became the secretary of the sub-section at Burnham, and for years held this position as well as representing the sub-section on the Canterbury section committee.

From Burnham, Bill was transferred to Otekaike, and then to become the first child welfare officer outside the main centres, stationed at Timaru. From here he took on the organisation of the PSA’s newly established South Canterbury section, and did a large amount of organising over a large area covering the Waitaki hydro, Lake Pukaki, as far north as the Rakaia River. This work, done exclusively in his spare time, sometimes involved his not getting to bed till 5am but never prevented, his turning up for duty at 8am.

He was made a Life Member of the union in 1949, and, as can be seen in the photo, always proudly wore his life member’s badge with his best suit.

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