Book Review

A.F.Howells: Against the Stream: The Memories of a Philosophical Anarchist, Hyland House, 1984. rrp 414.95

Readers of Labour History will already be familiar with several sections of Arthur Howell’s beautifully written autobiographical piece. Those parts of his reminiscences covering his involvement in the Movement Against War and Fascism and the writers’ League in Melbourne in the ‘thirties were reproduced in the May 1977 issue of the journal. Now the reminiscence, previously held in manuscript firm in the La Trobe Library, have’ been published in their entirety by Hyland House.

The book provides us with a valuable addition to existing material on the political,literary and, last but not least, social history of the Australian Left in the inter-war years. This time, the contribution comes from someone who remained outside the C.P.A. itself. This fact alone makes the perspective offered quite intriguing.

First up, we are given a vivid description of Sydney poverty in the 1920s, and a candid account of Howells’ radicalization under the twin influences of work experience in a rubber factory and the Domain oratory of the I.W.W.’s Charlie Reeve. Howells then opens a new window on the Labor Party in rural N.S.W. under Lang, and this is followed by accounts of his experiences as a depression battler, his move to Melbourne, and his participation in the M.A.W.F. and the Writers’ League. The latter chapters capture delightfully the vibrancy and sense of purpose which underpinned Melbourne’s anti-fascist left literary movement in the later 1930s.

This is a fine book: the work of a man of gentle nature and keen social conscience.