The Hummer No. 1 [June 1983]

The New Sydney Branch of the Labour History Society

The recent reestablishment of the Sydney Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History has belbeen motivated by a desire to provide a focal point for research into labour history and for the preservation of labour archives. Until recently there was no organising group in Sydney able to provide an arena for researchers and participants in labour history to discuss their experiences and ideas on the role of the labour movement in Australian society. Further. a group was required to bring together researchers and participants in the labour movement to co-ordinate the retention hlistorical records relating to work in Australia. The new Branch, in this capacity, can make record holders aware of the available archival facilities and the significance of their records in the history of the labour movement.

The inaugural meeting of the Branch was held on the 26th of April 1983 in the Merewether Building at the University of Svdney. Approximately 30 people were present and apologies were received from 15 others The guest speaker was Dr Eric Fry of the Australian National University:–. Dr Fry was one of the founders of the Society for the Study of Labour History back in 1961. He outlined the history, organisation and objectives of the Society and discussed the purpose and scope of the Society’s journal Labour History, The meeting elected an Interim Committee to administer the Branch and The Committee was given power to co-opt additional members to assist. The committee was also given the responsibility for arranging an initial series of talks and for issuing a regular bulletin, The meeting also resolved to levy a membership $5 and and a concessional fee of $3.00 for the year 1983-4.

Who’s on the Branch Committee?
Greg Patmore(Chairperson)
John Shields(Secretary
Andrew Moore (Treasurer)
Michael Easson
Paula Hamilton
Margaret Lee
Gary Nicholls
Tom Wheelwright

Getting involved in the study of Labour History
If you would like to become involved in the new Sydney Branch of the Society for the Study of Labour History send your 1983-4 membership payment of $5.00 ($3.00 if you’re a student, unemploved or a pensioner) along to the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History – Sydney Branch , Box 3406, G.P.O., Sydney, 2001 Membership will entitle you to receive 1983-4 issues of the Hummer, the Branch’s bi-monthly bulletin, and to participate in all Branch activities, including regular talk sessions, addresses and conferences.

Hope you’ll join with us.

Forthcoming Talk Session (our first!)
The Branch will he holding its first talk session at 7pm on Tuesday .28th June 1983. The venue will be Lecture Theatre in the Merewether Building (Faculty of Economics , which is on the corner of City Road and Butlin Avenue at the University of Sydney. The topic for discussion will be “Union Banners: Living Sydmbols or Dead Cloth” We’ll have slides and a number of speakers will address the meeting. Remember, eating facilities are available on campus. All welcome to attend.

What’s your research interest in Labour History?
In the next issue of Hummer we will be publishing a list of research being undertaken in the Sydney area into labour history. If you have a research project under way at present which fits this bill why not forward along to us (GPO Box 3406, Sydney 2001) an outline of your work and we’ll let our readers know about it.

Humming in history
“The Hummer?! Aw buzz off; you can’t call it that!”
“Why not?”
“Well, er.. it rhymes with … well, you know the original Hummer was a sexist,racist rag. wasn’t it! It just won’t do. It’s got a doubtful past, right?”
“Well, maybe, but isn’t that the point of it all? I mean coming to terms with all aspects of labour’s past and you know, not just celehrating some bits and turning away from others.” “S’pose you’ve got a point there. But I still think there has to be a better name around for a Branch bulletin.”

“How about a few suggestions then!”
“Well, there’s umm.. er.s.; there’s…”
“Look, while you’re thinking about it, let me tell you a bit about the original Hummer. See, It all began in Wagga back in 1891, just a short while after the end of the big maritime and shearers’ strike of 1890 and 1891. The first issue of the paper appeared on the 19th of October 1891. It was a free issue and it was circulated around by the Wagga Branches of the Shearers’ Union and General Labourer’s Unon. Later on, issues sold for a penny a piece,”

“0.K. but who was behind it?”
“Ah, there was Walter Head, Jim Mooney and Arthur Rae. Rae has just a little bloke. but he was full of fight. and later on he became a Senator and a respected figure in the Labor Left. He and Head were the founding editors. Mooney put up the £160 needed for the purchase of a printing press and with help from a few others away they went.”

“What I’d like to know though is how the thing got its name.”
“Here, let me read you something that the labour historian Lloyd Ross once wrote about it, . The paper, he wrote was called the Hummer because of the holy horror expressed by Wingen Abbott and other right-thinking persons at the humming tone of the cyclostyle circulars that had been used by the Wagga Unions during big strike!’
Anyway. the Hummer was the first labour journal in Australia to be wholly set up and run by a local union branch.”

“So what sorts of things did it take a stand on?”
“Oh, it had a lot to say about industrial and political solidarity; about an independent, republican Australia; about collective ownership; about social equality and so on, As you suggest, though, there was something of a darker side to it all as well. There was a lot said about mateship which was clearly sexist; there was a lot said about non-European labour which was unashamedly racist. Fact is, though, that we’re only taking up the title. not the tune. We can hum along in whatever way we want.”

“What became of the Hummer then?”
“Seems its existence as an independent branch paper was short –lived. Once it had acquired general acceptance it was taken over by the Amalgamated Shearers’ Union and relocated in Sydney. In September 1892 it was renamed the Worker. So there you have it.”
“Look, I don’t know; I’m still not convinced”
“Reckon you can better it then? Always open to suggestions, you know!”

Printed courtesy of ACOA (NSW Branch)- – many thanks from the Group.