Sydney Branch ASSLH Executive Committee 2020/21

President: Rosemary Webb
roselw@gmail.com Vice-President: Jim Rooney
james.rooney@adfa.edu.au Hummer Editor: Jim Rooney
james.rooney@adfa.edu.au Secretary: Danny Blackman
dannyblackman9@gmail.com Treasurer: Laila Ellmoos
Member: Diana Covell
dianacovell@gmail.com Member: Neale Towart
ntowart@unionsnsw.org.au Member: Margaret Walters
margaretwalters2@gmail.com Member: Lance Wright
wrightl@ozemail.com.au Member: Sue Tracey
suetracey@bigpond.com Member: Jim Kitay

Hummer Editorial Committee:

Danny Blackman, Margaret Walters, Rosemary Webb

The Sydney Branch Committee:

Elected at the Annual General Meeting (held between September and November each year). All members are encouraged to participate.

Branch Membership:

Membership of the Branch is open to all persons interested in the history of working life and the labour movement, both industrial and political. Anyone wishing to join the Branch should simply write to the Secretary for a copy of the membership form or apply online: www.labourhistory.org.au/branches/sydney or download a membership application from the webpage and email to the Secretary: sydneybranch.asslh@gmail.com

Membership of the Sydney Branch of the ASSLH includes a subscription to The Hummer, an opportunity to participate in Branch activities including talks through the year, and full membership of the federal body. Labour History, the federal body’s journal, is available separately by subscription.


As this issue of Hummer goes to press, the Society and the community of historians both in Australia and overseas have been saddened by the news of the death on 22 November 2021 of the ASSLH federal president, Stuart Macintyre. Stuart’s death leaves an enormous gap in the Australian history landscape. His impact on labour and left historical scholarship, and on the Society itself, was immense and is ongoing through the legacy of his writing, teaching and many friendships. Stuart was a preeminent intellectual and historian, a prolific writer with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian and working-class history; he was also a generous teacher who, as Michael Lazarus wrote in Jacobin Magazine, “gave his time freely and magnanimously, and his dedication to imparting his knowledge and advice reflected the best traditions of the twentieth-century left”.

Stuart took on the ASSLH presidency at a critical time when the Society had just lost institutional funding. He helped navigate the Society through the tumultuous period when operations of the federal journal Labour History were moved to Liverpool University Press and the Society itself was reliant on donations from members. His wise counsel and experienced leadership were invaluable.

He will be greatly missed. Vale Stuart Macintyre.

Our main article in this issue, by Wollongong writer Mike Donaldson, explores the social conditions in the NSW South Coast in the two decades leading up to the formation of a Communist Party branch in the South Coast in October 1920, on the same day as – or the day immediately following – the founding meeting of the CPA in Sydney on 30 October 1920. Mike’s carefully researched article, which draws heavily from contemporary accounts in the local newspapers, identifies as key precursors the growing militancy of the local mining communities and the appalling conditions in which miners lived and worked, the significant presence and influence of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a broad-based and hard-fought anti-conscription campaign and the emergence of the Australian Socialist Party.

We next offer a review of Meredith Burgmann and Nadia Wheatley’s Radicals: Remembering the Sixties (NewSouth Publishing 2021), an excellent book containing a series of conversations with 18 Australians from diverse backgrounds, all of the ‘sixties generation’, whose lives were significantly shaped by the zeitgeist of the period, together with the authors’ reflections on the times and their impact, and the circumstances of their own radicalisation.

Sadly, we can almost always count on being able to run at least one tribute to someone of labour movement significance, and this issue contains two.

In the first, “From an Island in a River: Remembering Vera Deacon”, Rod Noble draws heavily on ASIO’s records in telling the story of Vera’s life of passionate activism, noting the many ways in which she and her family were affected by the constant surveillance. It is a worthy tribute to an inspirational woman with a lifelong commitment to “people working together collectively to change society and the world for the better”, a woman who was “an example to us all, as a political activist, an advocate for those not so well off, and for those in need of support”.

During the apartheid regime in South Africa, South African exiles and African National Congress (ANC) freedom fighters Eddie and Nosizwe Funde established the ANC’s Mission to Australasia. In the decade they spent in Australia, the Fundes built a vast, powerful and broadly supported anti-apartheid movement in support of the ANC and, by raising the awareness of the Australian people about the horror of apartheid, did much to change Australian attitudes to racism. Daren McDonald, a close friend of the Funde family, offers a heartfelt personal tribute to Nosizwe, whose recent death in South Africa follows that of her husband Eddie in 2018.

In our regular feature, A Movement That Sings, we offer two songs, the first of which, the well-known “Weevils in the Flour” is a further tribute to Vera Deacon, whose early life it portrays. Our second song, Alastair Hulett’s “The Siege of Union Street” tells of one of the most violent – and also the last – of the legendary clashes between Depression era anti-eviction activists and police, which prompted legislative change to halt evictions of the unemployed. We publish it in this issue to mark the 90th anniversary, in June this year, of the Siege and to emphasise the need for a public campaign for recognition of such sites of labour movement significance.

Our final section, the Bulletin Board, is as usual a listing of events and resources of labour history interest. As always, we encourage readers to alert us to items for inclusion in this section.

Finally, I note that this year, 2021 is the 60th anniversary of the founding of ASSLH. Despite higher education sector changes that have led to a decline in the teaching of labour history as a separate discipline, relevant research on labour history topics is still being conducted in other academic areas such as Australian History. But the study of labour history should not necessarily be restricted to academia; it can occur in different ways: within the labour movement itself, in local communities, in schools and by using a variety of media, including particularly film. And more than ever, it is important to ensure that sites and precincts of labour movement importance are recognised and preserved.

This is my last issue as Acting Hummer editor, and I’d like to thank Margaret Walters, Jim Kitay and Sue Tracey for all their assistance during the year. I wish the incoming editor, Jim Rooney, all the very best during his tenure as The Editor, and hope that he finds the Hummer he now takes over to be in good order.

Danny Blackman

Acting Editor, The Hummer
December 2021