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Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-A-139

Scope and Contents

The bulk of this collection dates from 1934 to the mid 1960s and includes personal ephemera, photographs, leaflets, bulletins, flyers, notebooks, minutes and agendas. The collection covers the period during which McAra was most active in the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ), but also contains papers relating to his employment in Waihi during the 1930s and with the State Placement Service in Wellington in the early 1940s. In addition, there are papers which relate to McAra’s association with the New Zealand Labour Party, the Thames Labour Representation Committee and various trade unions. This collection overlaps both chronologically and in subject matter with other collections held by the Library especially MSS and Archives A-9 and 94/4, both of which were donated by McAra, and should be considered in conjunction with these.

While much of this collection relates directly to McAra’s own life and work, some portions reveal his interest in collecting and preserving records of historical significance especially those pertaining to the history of workers organisations. Within MSS and Archives A- 139 there are several distinct sets of papers which fall into this category including the personal papers of Oliver Bennett Young Gregory (1909 – 1974), an active member of the Gisborne and North Shore branches of the CPNZ and a prominent member of the Workers Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) during the Depression. With the exception of the NUWM papers which form Series 9 of this collection, Gregory’s papers are spread through the collection but are easily identified by the fact that he wrote his name and address or initials on many items. Where it is clear that material originated with Gregory this has been noted in the item description.

The papers relating to the New Zealand Social Democratic Party are another clear example of material in the collection which was collected rather than created by McAra. Formed in January 1913, the Social Democratic party was a direct predecessor of the New Zealand Labour Party which was formed in 1916. The papers in Series 7, which include correspondence from future New Zealand Prime Ministers, Michael Savage and Peter Fraser, seem to have belonged to William Moxsom who was the Secretary of the Auckland Branch of the Party and an active trade unionist.

Lastly the papers in Series 8, which pertain to the Professional and Executive Unemployed Organisation, originate with Graham W. Massingham (1884 – 1947) who was a colleague of McAra’s at the State Placement Service.

The papers which make up the core of this collection were donated to The University of Auckland University by McAra in 1971, on arrival they were sorted and boxed by Michael Coleman. In 1979, Frank Rogers was asked to undertake their rearrangement and prepared a preliminary inventory, however, the collection was then re-arranged in to what was felt to be a more logical order and later rearranged again when another donation of material from McAra was added to the collection in 1980.

In the original guide for this collection Frank Rogers explains that;

Since the basic elements in the collection were official and semi- official circulars, minutes, publicity material etc. of registered unions and societies they were most simply classified under organisations with the exception of Series 1: the McAra mementoes. The existing parcels that had been given titles by McAra or Michael Coleman already carried labels; CPNZ, FOL and NZLP which set the pattern for the rest of the material.

The work of arrangement involved rationalisation i.e. the bringing together of all material about a particular organisation or subject. Where possible the items were then collated in either chronological or alphabetical order which ever seemed appropriate, e.g. chronological for elections, alphabetical for subjects.

At times this focus on arranging material by organisation has been at the expense of other relationships between items, and has resulted in items with the same provenance being split into different parts of the collection.

At some stage during the early 1980s Frank Rogers also decided to transfer the whole of Series 3: Communist Party of New Zealand 1921 – 1970, comprising of 92 folders of material, into another McAra collection MSS and Archives A-9 which McAra had donated to the University on behalf of the ESPAL Society. These files were then integrated with the material already in A-9. Series 4: Overseas communist parties 1935 – 1969, of A-139 was also transferred by Rogers to A-9 but unlike Series 3, was not amalgamated into the collection. As part of the work on the combined McAra collections in 2009 - 2010, the papers which make up Series 4 were transferred back to A-139.

Originally a large body of printed and cyclostyled material, including CPNZ National Secretariat bulletins and branch and trade union publications, was separated from this collection and placed with the CPNZ serials file. This material has also been returned to A-139 and is now listed as Series 13.

The 2009 – 2010 work on the collection also included a review of the original inventory and re-housing the collection into acid free folders and boxes. Frank Roger’s basic series arrangement and two part imposed numbering system was retained, however many large folders were broken down into smaller ones and given more detailed item titles.


  • 1913 - 1972


Conditions Governing Access

Not restricted.


Copyright in the papers of Wilfred (Bill) McAra is held by The University of Auckland.

Biographical / Historical

Peter Wilfred George McAra, known as Wilfred or Bill McAra, was born in the Coromandel gold mining town of Waikino on 15 April 1904. It is most likely that McAra received primary school education in Waikino and possibly some secondary school education in nearby Waihi . Items amongst his papers indicate that McAra also attended a number of courses offered by the Workers Education Association (WEA) and in 1939 was awarded a WEA bursary to study economics and political studies at Victoria University College, Wellington (MSS & Archives A139, item 1/12).

In 1920 McAra moved to Auckland and worked as a law clerk with A. Hanna, Solicitors. From 1925 to late 1926 McAra held an administrative position with T.Deane, a builder and then managed his own building business until 1931. Testimonials from this period describe McAra as a capable, energetic, and honest worker, with a good knowledge of accountancy, finance and commercial law and an “unusual ability both in regarding [sic] to building and construction” (L.M. Mansfield, MSS & Archives A-139, item 1/7).

During the early 1930s McAra returned to the Coromandel, and took up farming. He joined the newly formed New Zealand Labour Party and was an active member of the Thames Labour Representation Committee (LRC). McAra also served as an organiser for the Northern Thames Sub- Province of the New Zealand Farmer’s Union and as Secretary of the Waihi Agricultural and Pastoral Association.

In August 1937 McAra applied for a position with the Public Service in Wellington. Unsuccessful at first, he eventually gained a position in the Wellington Office of the Department of Labour’s State Placement Service. In Wellington, McAra joined the local branch of the Amalgamated Carpenters and Joiners Union serving as Chairman of the Union’s Building Investigation Committee, (June 1938 – April 1940), and as the Union representative on a Cabinet building committee formed in January 1939. In 1939 and early 1940 McAra also played a prominent role in the establishment of the New Zealand Building Trades Federation. In April 1940 McAra resigned from the State Placement Service to become a paid organiser for the Carpenters Union.

In 1938 impressed by the special dedication of Communists to [the] workers cause, McAra joined the Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ). Through the early years of the Second World War, McAra, like many members of the CPNZ, opposed New Zealand’s involvement in the War. During this period McAra was the president of the Wellington Peace and Anti–Conscription Council. However, from June 1941 when the Soviet Union joined the Allies, the CPNZ’s resistance changed to active and enthusiastic support; McAra agitated for the construction of air raid shelters, organised a Victory March and served in the Home Guard. He also continued his work as an organiser for the Carpenters Union, visiting the construction site for the Waiouru army camp and reporting on the abysmal working conditions.

In 1946 as an extension of his work for the Carpenters Union McAra assisted the ship carpenters to amalgamate with the New Zealand Waterside Workers.

Through the 1930’s and 1940’s McAra wrote a number of leaflets and booklets and was a regular contributor to the Industrial worker, Union news and People’s Voice. In 1949 he was appointed editor of the People’s Voice; a position he held until 1954 and which required moving back to Auckland.

In Auckland, McAra funneled his energy and flair for public relations into Communist Party related work. In 1954 he was selected as a paid organiser for the Party and was sent overseas for a period of two and a half years, visiting a number of communist countries including China and the USSR. He also travelled overseas as a Party representative in 1959 when he attended the 21st Congress of the CPSU in Moscow, and again in 1961 when he led an official delegation to North Korea and China.

Between 1947 and 1966 McAra was a CPNZ candidate in four local elections and two General Elections, standing unsuccessfully for election in Auckland Central and Grey Lynn.

From 1957 McAra was a member of the CPNZ National Executive, serving on the National Committee until 1973, the Political Committee until 1971, and the National Control Commission until 1973. McAra was also a member of the Party’s Trade Union Subcommittee and the Education Subcommittee. In February 1974 McAra was expelled from the CPNZ as a result of ongoing ideological and personal differences between McAra and other members of the Party executive. After his expulsion, McAra retired to Whangamata and concentrated his energy on disseminating Marxist/ Leninist ideas. He wrote a book, Laws of the New Zealand Revolution and various pamphlets, publishing them with Diana Wilsie as Pioneer Publishing, Waihi.

During his life McAra was married four times and had one daughter, Helen M. McAra, from his fourth marriage to Phyllis Winfred Allen, in 1959. From 1962 until his death in 1988 McAra had a permanent relationship with Diana Miriam Wilsie (1914 – 2002) an American of Russian Jewish ancestry.

Wilfred McAra died in Whangamata on 13 January 1989.


2.5 metres (24 boxes + outsize)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Wilfred (Bill) McAra in 1971.

Related Materials

The University of Auckland holds a number of other collections which contain the papers of Wilfred McAra these include,

MSS & Archives A-9: Communist Party of New Zealand records, 1924 – 1972.

MSS & Archives 94/4: Wilfred (Bill) McAra, papers 1929 – 1988.

MSS & Archives 89/25: Wilfred (Bill) McAra and Diana Wilsie papers, 1965 – 1977.

MSS & Archives D-5: Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers relating to industrial relations on the New Zealand waterfront, 1946 – 1953.

MSS & Archives D-6: Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers relating to the New Zealand Building and Allied Trades Federation, 1939 – 1945.

MSS & Archives D-10: Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers relating to the Building Investigations Committee of the Wellington branch of the Carpenters Union, 1937 – 1947.

MSS & Archives D-11: Wilfred (Bill) McAra papers relating to the building industry in New Zealand.


NRAM A860.

Inventory of the papers of Wilfred (Bill) McAra (1904-1989), 1913-1972.
Frank Rogers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, University of Auckland Repository

5 Alfred Street
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142 New Zealand