Archives Update

John Shields

The latest issue of ABLative (No.9. Autumn 1989) – the splendid little clarion of the ANU Archives of Business and Labour (ABL) – is given over entirely to the theme of railways and rail workers. Whilst this is certain to bring on a full head of steam amongst our many train- buff comrades, the issue also offers a wealth of information for we run-of-the – mill labour historians. To start with, there are two highly informative short pieces by guest contributors Mark Hearn and Greg Patmore, both of whom are Sydney Branch stalwarts. Mark’s article deals with how he went abut shaping “the various and scattered records” of the Australian Railways Union, NSW Branch, into a readable and interesting history. Most of the ABL’s holdings of NSW Branch material, he notes, relate to the ARU’s early years (c. early 1900s to mid 1930s) and to the predecessor ‘all-grades’ union, the Amalgamated Railway and Tramway Service Association, which collapsed following its de registration after the 1917 general strike. Greg writes about the many uses to which he put the ABL’s holdings in his research into the history of industrial relations in the NSW railways prior to 1930. One of the many interesting points he makes (he can pay the editor later!) is that the records of the various unions covering rail workers are useful not only for what they reveal about union affairs and strategy per se, but also for the many insights which they provide into the Byzantine labour policies of railway management – from victimisation and company unions to job hierarchies and welfarism. For instance, the records of the National Union of Railway Workers of Australia – originally a ‘scab union’ – contain valuable management records no longer held by the State Rail Authority Archives, including correspondence, circulars and staff magazines. ABLative No.9 also carries handy snippets on a dozen or so selected Archive sources relating to rail workers. Holdings covered include ACTU records, NUR photographs (1900-35), Eveleigh Loco. Workshop Shop Committee (1940s-1960s; very revealing on the sometimes stormy relationship between unions and their rank-and- file), railway journals, rail workshop -engineers in Queensland, and the vast records of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Engineers – the proud aristocrats of the iron horse.

The previous ABLative (No.8, Spring 1988) also has plenty to interest labour historians. There is a splendid essay by Ewan Maidment on ABL pamphlets collections, including useful discussion on the collections of Harry Holland (militant socialist and leader of the NZ Labour Party), J. Normington Rawling (CPA functionary in the 1930s and labour historian), Ian Turner and John Playford (need we say more!), Tom Wright (NSW Branch secretary of the Sheetmetal Working Industrial Union from 1936), and Geoff McDonald (union industrial officer since the 1960s). All these are large collections of 600 or more items. Smaller collections also hold interesting pamphlet material, one such being the papers of Joe Owens (BLF, NSW branch). Ewan also makes the point that pamphlets and other published material is also to be found in great quantity in the records of individual unions and employer bodies. Bosses, of course, were/are habitual hoarders of incriminating material on the class enemy – an ill wind that at least blows the labour historian some good. Did you know, for instance, that amongst the records of the NSW Graziers’ Association are copies of The Shearers’ Record, Shearers’ Union branch reports, strike bulletins and the like (wonder how they got there!) as well as a copy of that rather rare tome, the Report of the Royal Commission on Strikes, 1891. There are two lessons here for all of us: think laterally, and pay close attention to employer as well as union records. ABLative No.8 also has brief notes on recent deposits. There are entries, for instance, on new material relating to the FEDF A, NSW Branch (1915 -78), the Factory Employees Union of Australia (mainly 1908-10) and the Clothing and Allied Trades Union of Australia (1870s).

Remember, copies of ABLative are available to bona fide researchers on application to ANU Archives of Business and Labour, GPO Box 4, Canberra City, ACT, 2601.

Good news too, from the Mitchell Library Manuscripts Section. Revised contents lists have recently been issued for three of the Mitchell’s oldest and most important labour history deposits: the Industrial Worker” of the World (IWW), George Waite and George Black collections. The IWW collection includes records of the Sydney Branch (1907 – 21) and records of the United Labourers’ Protective Society (1861-1906). The latter body started out as a union for building trades assistants but by the 1900s had widened its membership base to include all types of urban construction workers, iron pick and shovel men to concrete layers and scaffolders. The Waite collection has some interesting subject files on various political and industrial themes of importance during and immediately after World War 1. There are files, for instance, on ‘socialism’, ‘communism’, and the ‘IWW’, the ‘OBU’, the ‘seamens’ strike’ and ‘trade unions and industrial disputes’, as well as some extra material on the United Labourers’. The Black collection incorporates important correspondence and other material on the early Labor Party in NSW and Party internal affairs, including the split of 1916/17. George Black, of course, was a journalist, historian, Labor parliamentarian and party “rat”. A founding member of the NSW Labor Party and member of the Australian Socialist League, he was expelled from the Labor Party in 1916 over his support for conscription.

We read in the latest issue of Labor Times that the” Archives of the Labour Movement., first announced back in 1986, is now up and running. The Archives, sponsored by the ALP, NSW Branch, focuses on the records of the NSW Branch, principally from the later 1960s until the present. Records for the 1950s and 1960s are housed in the Mitchell Library. A three volume guide to the two collections is available in limited numbers from the NSW Branch office. In addition, the Branch has recently announced the opening of the Colbourne Library. The Library contains over a thousand publications, including many rare historical items. Use is open to all party members and, with the exception of rare items, holdings had to be borrowed on inter-library loan. Hummer wishes both projects every success.

One final note. As we go to press, the ASSLH Federal Executive is considering various proposals for a formal Society policy on archives matters. This is a difficult problem indeed. Should the Society establish and maintain its own archive deposit for any material which comes its way or should it hand material over to established public collecting agencies? If the latter, then to which agency or agencies should material be directed and on what criteria should such decisions be made? Should archive handling be a Federal matter or should it be left to the State Branches to decide? If the latter, should there be specific Federal guidelines? What approach should the Sydney Branch have to these important matters? Air your views by writing to Hummer now.