Bill Ludwig, a long-time dominant figure in Queensland's labour politics, says outrage over shearers' wages launched him into politics and kept him there.
Hundreds of delegates passed a motion at the union's four-day conference on the Gold Coast to make Mr Ludwig a life member.
"I've only been waiting 50 years," he joked on stage.
When accepting the honour, Mr Ludwig reminisced about how he became political.
It was late 1955 when he was working as a shearer.
Wool prices had never been better and graziers had more money than ever.
"And they chose to take our wages down," he said.
"I got a bit angry, I got real angry."
Mr Ludwig said they had a dispute across the nation which lasted 11 months.
"It was quite a struggle," he said.
"That anger has stuck with me and it doesn't take much to bring it back."
He left the stage with parting words to delegates, as well as politicians.
"If you want to have a fight with the AWU, you want to be able to fight hard and long," he said.