Michael Dineen O’Keeffe: president of the Thames miners’ union
Hart, P. (2016). Michael Dineen O’Keeffe: president of the Thames miners’ union. (Te Aroha Mining District Working papers, No. 154). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato, Historical Research Unit.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10493
An Irishman, O’Keeffe remained very ‘Irish’ throughout his long life as a miner. Arriving in New Zealand in 1879, he moved to Te Aroha in 1881 and became one of the more prominent miners at Waiorongomai. Partly because of his wit and vibrant personality he was prominent in the community, and assisted efforts to aid mining and the district more generally. Financially he struggled, for instance being unable to develop a farm at Gordon and becoming bankrupt; whilst the latter was relatively common, he was most unusual in paying his creditors in full, an illustration of his high ethical standards. In the 1890s he mined at Thames and, despite his clearly limited education, studied at the Thames School of Mines to become a certificated mine manager. After being increasingly involved in the Thames Miners’ Union he became its president, and by forcefully standing up for the rights of his members became very prominent for his outspoken views and very popular with most of the members (though the more conservative members were upset by some of his behaviour). Controversially, he wanted the union involved in politics, and particularly controversial was his criticism of an arbitration court judge whose award went against the union. He struggled to satisfy the demands of the Waihi branch, which would later break away. During all this time he was prominent in the wider community. After ceasing to be involved in the union, he mined at Coromandel, Kuaotunu, Karangahake, and Marlborough, managing some mines, but struggling to make much money at any of these places. His financial situation required him to continue mining almost until his death at age 79. After being one of the most well known men in Hauraki, his final years were spent in obscurity.
Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato
© 2016 Philip Hart