Profile - Phyllis Johnson (1917-2009)

Phyllis Johnson was born in Albany, Western Australia, the daughter of Washington Mather, who became secretary of the Western Australia Lumpers’ Union and president of the Waterside Workers’ Federation. 

Phyllis moved to Sydney in 1933 and became active in her union and the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). She was passionate about working class rights and social justice and joined the communist New Theatre.   

Phyllis campaigned against fascism and participated in the Aid to Spain movement. She was also an active campaigner in boycotts over Japan’s invasion of Manchuria and China.  

One of Phyllis’ most significant achievements was establishing emergency care for pre-school children whose mothers had undertaken work in factories during the war: “We got together a group of women with pre-schoolers themselves to negotiate the use of local halls (church, progress, etc) in a dozen suburbs, equipping the halls with palliases, arranging simple kindergarten programs and providing milk and a sandwich lunch.” (Guardian: The Workers’ Weekly 2009). At the same time she also ran a weekly broadcast on radio 2KY titled Women for Victory. 

Phyllis’ work in child welfare continued after the war, working with the NSW Health Department to ensure children received government-issued milk and vaccinations against measles, diptheria and whooping cough. 

Phyllis was heavily involved in the women’s movement. In 1971 she helped found the group Women in the Community, which promoted women in government. She held the positions of president and committee secretary. In 1974 she successfully worked to change a proposal to place a plaque commemorating women in a local Bankstown park into a proposal to lobby local council and state government to establish a Women’s Refuge and Crisis Centre. This led to the women’s refuge and crisis centres in Glebe, Blacktown and Bankstown (Guardian: The Workers’ Weekly 2009). 

Phyllis was a committed Marxist-Leninist communist and stayed with the CPA following the split led by Ted Hill in 1956, joining the Marxist-Leninists of the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA) when the Laurie Aarons led group forced the old CPA to split in the late 1960s. 

In the 1970s Phyllis founded the organisation CARP (Campaign Against Rising Prices) and was appointed by Neville Wran to the Sydney Farm Producers’ Authority, the Bread Industry Committee and the Egg and Poultry Collective.  

Phyllis died on 20 July 2009 at the age of 92. 



Australian Communist Party 2020, Phyllis Johnson, accessed <>

Communist Party of Australia 2009, Phyllis Johnson - a life of struggle, Guardian: The Worker's Weekly, issue 1422, accessed <>


Phyllis Johnson, c. 1930s (N162-Album 10-258)

Phyllis Johnson, c. 1930s (N162-Album 10-258)