Lawrence Louis Sharkey (commonly known as “Lance” Sharkey or L. L. Sharkey) was born on 18th August 1898 at Warree Creek, near Cargo, via Orange, New South Wales. Having left school at 14, Sharkey took on a couple of jobs.
After World War I, Sharkey moved to Sydney, where he became a lift operator and trade union activist in the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union (FMWU). In 1925 he was elected to the executive of the FMWU, becoming Vice-President before losing that post in another election that same year.
During this period, in 1922, Sharkey joined the newly formed Communist Party of Australia (CPA) which only had a few hundred members, mostly located in Sydney. In 1925, Sharkey was elected to the executive of the CPA. However, the following year he was dismissed for resisting the policy of forming a united front with the Australian Labor Party.
Sharkey’s absence from Party leadership would not be long, re-emerging behind Bert Moxon and J. B. Miles who won in their fight against the reformist leadership. With Moxon and Miles at the helm, Sharkey became editor of the Party’s newspaper, Workers’ Weekly.
Sharkey’s work ethic resulted in the growth of his stature inside the Party and abroad, highlighted by his election to the executive-committee of the Communist International at the 7th World Congress of the Comintern.
At the 15th National Congress of the Australian Communist Party (as it styled itself from 1944 to 1951), in May 1948, Sharkey was elected General Secretary.
The following year saw Sharkey become a national figure. Speaking to a reporter, Sharkey stated that “Soviet Forces in pursuit of aggressors entered Australia, Australian workers would welcome them.” The Party’s newspaper Tribune highlighted, at length, how this quote was taken out of context. Nevertheless, he was tried in the Central Criminal Court, where he was ultimately found guilty of uttering seditious words. Upon Appeal, the High Court of Australia upheld his conviction, and he was sentenced to three years imprisonment. However, the term was reduced, and he served thirteen months. On his release, he embarked on a national tour.
Sharkey died suddenly of coronary atherosclerosis on 13th May 1967 in Sydney and was cremated.