This article explores the emergence and development of the poet Bernard O’Dowd as a radical intellectual in the years before World War I. It is a case study of the relationship between Australian intellectuals and the labour movement during its formative period, focusing on the themes of democracy, class, race and gender. O’Dowd’s radicalism incorporated various strands of liberal, radical and socialist ideas without necessarily reconciling them. Indeed, his writings and activities reveal many of the tensions experienced by middle-class intellectuals of his generation and inclinations as they confronted the problem of political commitment in a context of working-class mobilisation, socialism and the movement for women’s rights. O’Dowd’s attachment to liberalism and vitalism, two important foundations of fin de siècle bourgeois radicalism, gradually alienated this ‘poet militant’ from the movement whose cause he had conscientiously sought to advance.