A.R.U. (N.S.W. Branch) Centenary History Project

Mark Hearn, Project Coordinator

During 1986, the Australian Railway Union (N.S.W. Branch) is celebrarting one hundred years of rail worker solidarity. March 1886 saw the beginnings of industry unionism in the New South Wales Railways with the formation of the Amalgamated Railway and Tramway Service Association (A.R.T.S.A.), the A.R.U.’s predecessor. Part of this celebration includes an historical research project, which will both explore written records and seek the accumulated wisdom of past A.R.U. members in a series of recorded interviews.

The project team will be housed in the N.S.W. Branch Office for 36 weeks. The team consists of three interviewers, a library assistant, and the co-ordinator. The team has been put together under the auspices of the Community Employment Program, and is sponsored by both state and federal governments.

The available written material is diverse and extensive. It includes materia1 placed in the National Library by the former N.S.W. Branch Secretary Dr. Lloyd Ross, and an extensive collection deposited by writer Dorothy Catts, which includes papers on her husband J. H. Catts, who was State Secretary , from 1903-1913.

Both the Business and Labour Archives at the Australian National University and the Mitchell Library have a wide range of N.S.W. Branch records, although State Council and Executive minutes from 1934 onwards are still held by the A.R.U. The Mitchell also has shop committee records dating from the 1930s.

In terms of the various journals which have appeared over the century under the name of either the A.R.U. or its predecessor, the A.R.T.S.A., Greg Patmore has managed to track down the location of various collections, which together cover most of the period. Interestingly, the only complete set of the A.R.T.S.A.’s journal for April 1888 to May 1892 is held by the N.S.W. State Rail Authority Archives. Obviously the S.R.A. was an early and enthusiastic observer of union affairs.

Other journals, such as the RAI LWAY AND TRAMWAY COOPERATOR of 1910-1917, and the ALL GRADES ADVOCATE of July-November 1917, are held in the newspaper section of the N.S.W. State Library and Mitchell Library respectively. The Mitchell Library also has the RAILWAY UNI0N GAZETTE and the RAILROAD from 1921 onwards.

One of the aims of the project is to produce a detailed document covering all records held in various locations that pertain to the N.S.W. Branch of the A.R.U.

The project’s other major function is to record a series of interviews with past members, to document history as it was lived and understood by both the rank and file and their elected representatives. Initially these interviews will be retained by the union, although they may eventually be passed on to an archival institution.

During the year articles on aspects of the union’s history will appear in the RAILROAD, and it is hoped that a short centerary radio program will be put together. At the conclusion of the project, the A.R.U. (N.S.W. Branch) will have at its disposal a body of written research material and a series of interviews, which may form the basis of future research and will hopefully itself provide a rich insight into the career of a durable and successful trade union.

Naturally, I invite any HUMMER readers who have information or documents relating to the A.R.U. to contact the project.