John Rainford was born and educated in the United Kingdom. After three years in the British Mercantile Marine he came to Australia at the age of twenty. Here he worked in shipbuilding in Newcastle and Sydney before moving into trade unions, first as an organiser, then as a research officer, industrial advocate, and journal editor.
John studied law and philosophy at Sydney University and at the University of Technology, Sydney. He has researched the looting of Darwin following the Japanese bombing in 1942; the AIF 6th Division involved in the invasion of Crete in 1941 and the historical trajectory of social democracy.