During the 1990s, Australian unions engaged in a debate about their survival. This debate hinged upon the concept of ‘organising’. This article highlights the contribution that labour historians can make to the present Australian debates concerning trade union decline and organising. Although labour historians have rarely focused specifically upon union organising, by examining the rich contribution that labour historians have made to our understanding of Australian trade unions, we can find insights into this aspect of union strategy. There may be innovative approaches to organising that can be resuscitated from the past and modified for current circumstances. It is suggested that W.A. Howard’s ‘dependency thesis’ for Australian unions may be too simplistic in regard to organising. Preference clauses and right of entry for union organisers were not necessarily granted by the arbitration system to unions nor respected by management. The article also explores the role of employers in inhibiting, and peak councils in co-ordinating, union organising.