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Australian academic and activist, David Plowman (1941-2013), spent time in a children’s home.

David Henry Plowman was born at the Mtarfa Military Hospital in Malta to an English soldier, Harold Plowman, and a Maltese woman, Josephine Cassar. He had an older brother, Jim, and a younger brother, Richard. The family moved to Bournemouth, England after the end of WW2. But the family soon made  the decision to return to Malta due to David and his brother’s chronic respiratory health issues. However, David’s father never rejoined his family.

Jim convinced David that the boys should travel to Australia as child migrants for better opportunities in life. The brothers travelled separately to Fremantle in 1953. David was ten years old.

David and Jim were sent to the Tardun Farm School, an agricultural college in the small Western Australian town of Tardun. Many years later, he would publish a history of the school titled, Enduring Struggle: St Mary’s Tardun Farm School (2003).

Without parents or family the life of schoolwork and farming chores was tough, although at David’s funeral Jim informed us that it was pretty handy to have a pugilistic brother like David at your side. His Tardun classmates, some also from Malta, became family to him and remained very close throughout his life (Todd).

Eight years after they arrived in Western Australia, David and Jim “sponsored their mother and younger brother to join them in Australia.” (Dabscheck, Economic and Labour Relations Review).

David completed his Honours degree in Economics from the University of Western Australia, which he followed with a Master of Arts in Industrial Relations at the University of Melbourne. His doctorate, on employer associations and wages in Australia, was completed through Flinders University in South Australia.

He subsequently became an academic specialising in industrial relations and was head of the School of Industrial Relations at the University of New South Wales.

When he returned to Perth in 1993, David Plowman was the Foundation Director of the Graduate School of Management at the University of Western Australia.

During his career, Plowman wrote and co-wrote more than one hundred and thirty journal articles and many books and textbooks on Australian industrial relations.

Between 2002 and 2009, David was Chair of the Child Migrants of Malta (C-MOM) organisation which raised awareness of this demographic and was involved in successfully lobbying for memorials, for “the erection of visible reminders of child migration in Western Australia and Malta” (Plowman, 1).

A statue of two forlorn looking children arriving with a suitcase is Australia’s tribute to those long-ago Maltese youngsters who bravely travelled alone for three weeks on a ship in search of a better future.

Located at Fremantle Port in Perth, the monument was one of the first official visits by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi on this, his first day of a 12-day trip to Australia (Malta Independent).

Plowman served as President of the Association of Industrial Relations Academics, Australia and New Zealand (AIRAANZ) from 1987-1988 and was conferred with a Vic Taylor Distinguished Long-Term Contribution Award by AIRAANZ in 2013.

He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2012 for his services to the community “through support for child migrants, as the founding chair of Child Migrants, and to higher education” (Dabscheck, Economic and Labour Relations Review).

David Plowman was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (FASSA) the following year and, also in 2013, received both the Chancellor’s Medal and the Dean’s Award from the Business School at the University of Western Australia.

David was one of those who saw the glass as half full. He approached life with enthusiasm and energy. He was an energetic and hard working scholar, and an able and forthright administrator. David was not one for airs and graces. His approach to everyone was simple, genuine and courteous. He liked helping others and was never happier than when one of his students reported back to him about their progress (Dabscheck, Economic and Labour Relations Review).

David passed away on 22 December 2013 months after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, children Michael and Emily, and granddaughter, Ella Rose.


Bamber, Greg. “Professor David Plowman AM, FASSA.” Labour and Industry, vol. 24 (2014).

Dabscheck, Braham. “David Henry Plowman AM: 9 April 1942-22 December 2013.” The Economic and Labour Relations Review, vol. 25 (2014): 3-4. 

Dabscheck, Braham. “David Plowman: Child migrant became IR expert.” Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 2014.

Plowman, David. “A Fragment of the Maltese Exodus: Child Migration to Australia 1953-1965.” Journal of Maltese History, vol. 2 (2010). 

“Prime Minister’s Visit to Australia.” Malta Independent, 1 August 2007. 

“Tardun Farm School (1928 – 2008).”  Find & Connect, 2021.

Todd, Patricia. “Professor David Plowman AM (1942-2013).” Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 56 (2014): 322-323.

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