Labour biography is an exercise in shaping meaning from the unruly experience of a life immersed in activism. The biographer facilitates the evolution of a labour tradition with lessons of solidarity and social justice, resistance and betrayal. The complex dynamics of leadership and activism have compelled labour biographers from H.V. Evatt's study of William Holman, to the recently published first volume of Jenny Hocking's biography of Gough Whitlam. Outstanding biography is prompted not only by the qualities of the subject but also by a tension between leadership and the tests of war and economic depression, post-war reconstruction, and above all the progressive renewal of Australian society that characterises the historic mission of the labour movement. The article also explores how women's 'distinctive class subjectivity' might be drawn into recasting the terms of not only describing the role of women in the labour movement, but also recasting our wider understanding of Australian labour history.