One hundred and thirty years ago in the Illawarra, mineworkers established an autonomous district union which by 1911 numbered nearly 4,000 members working in 22 mines along the escarpment. The same generation of workers established one of the first attempts in Australia to organise working people including but beyond their workplaces, at the community level, by forming the Illawarra District Council of the Australian Labour Federation in 1896, which tried to combine industrial and political activities in one organisation in the one community.1 The history of unions in regional Australia is the story of their existence in the community.1 Historians and sociologists have captured some of this and in this paper, in seeking to answer the question ‘what do unions do that make them successful parts of their communities?—I have reviewed the now quite substantial literature on regional unionism covering Broken Hill, Bulli, Lithgow, Newcastle, the Pilbara, Port Kembla, Wagga Wagga, Wollongong and Wonthaggi.