Book Reviews

Stuart Macintyre: Militant: the life and times of Paddy Troy, George Allen & Unwin, Sydney 1984

This is a superb book which firmly establishes Stuart Macintyre in the front rank of Australian lahour historians. It has many merits. The genesis and development of Paddy Troy’s political and industrial career, particularly with the Communist Party and the West Australian Coastal Dock Rivers and Harbour Works Union, are systematically and sympathetically explained. Macintyre also guides the reader through a number of topics, especially life in the working class district of Fremantle and the labour process in the maritime industry, in a fashion which competently sets them in their wider historical context. The appalling record of ALP apparatchik, Joe Chamberlain for stamping on progressive forces is all cited chapter and verse. The AWU also emerges from Macintyre’s even-handed treatment of its affairs with the dockies looking distinctly battle scarred. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the book is the attention paid to the “typical working day” of dockies before the Second World War (pp 75-76). Changes in the technology of the maritime industry have done more than deprive Balmain of prospective front row forwards. They have led to the destruction of a way of life and it is important that historians like Macintyre should provide a lasting evocation of what was involved for that is essential for an understanding of militancy in the industry.

If the book has a fault it is that Paddy Troy emerges as less than a living, breathing human being. This is unfortunate but inevitab1e given that on two occasions, Paddy was forced to destroy personal documents lest they fall into the hands of the secret police.

A. Lohrey: The Morality of Gentlemen Sydney. Alternative Publishing Cooperative Ltd., Chippendale. 1984, p.p. 243. [Review by] Chris Keane

Although the title is somewhat misleading, the subject matter of The Morality of Gentlemen presents a remarkable reconstruction of a series of events which erupted along Hobart’s waterfront in the 1950s. Dominating the drama is the infamous Moseley case. Father and son refuse to pay the political levy on ‘Menzie ‘s money’ to their union and are expelled. The ensuing political, industrial and legal struggle unfolds, propelling the story towards its shattering climax.

Lohrey’s story breaks with conventional narrative style to proceed in a dialectical fashion. The community of characters who are progressively introduced by her (the detached narrator) shape the course of events and are in turn altered by them. ldeas and actions become inextricably mixed leaving the reader with the impression that this is the real thing .

There is something for everyone in The Morality of Gentlemen. We are treated to the inside conversations and schemes of establishment figures along with the connivings of lawyers, groupers and communists. As a piece of political and labour history, Lohrey’s first novel surely deserves a place among the book shelves of Australian labour historians.

Peter Love: Labour and the Money Power – Australian Labour Populism Mel bourne University Press, Melbourne 1984, r.r.p. $9.95

Peter Ryan and Melbourne University Press are to be congratulated on the publication of this book. In fact looking at the recent crop of titles from the big publishing firms one reaches the conclusion that Australian labour history has definitely become respectable. Readers of the Hummer are advised to clean up their acts! Seriously though Peter Love’s book is an outstanding achievement. It synthesizes a vast panorama of labour history from the bank crashes of the 1890s to Chifley’s plans far bank nationalizations in the 1940s. Love provides an intellectual history of Labour’s approach to the ‘Money Power” – the populist view that the basis of oppression under capitalism lies less with a complex set of social relationships than with the malevolent intrigues of a few international plutocrats connected with banking and credit.

This argument is a topical and important one given Paul Keatinq’ s current policies. It can also be seen as a significant political intervention for it challenges the reader to ask: how much of labour’s policy is socialist in orientation and how much is populist? This is not just an academic question because, as Love points out, at times of genuine full -blown capitalist mobilisation in 1930-1932 and 1947-1949 the mass party of the Australian working class has never really understood the nature of its adversaries and thus has been easily defeated. As well because the book digests large slabs of political history, it will be welcomed as a teaching resource. It is written in a most lively fashion and though there are many areas that will stir possums – Love, for instance is excessively harsh on Jack Lang – there is no doubt that this is a fine piece of scholarship.

Members of the Labour History Society have particular reason to purchase a copy of Labour and the Money Power. For many years Peter Love has been a stalwart of the Melbourne branch of our society and its journal Recorder. It is Peter Love’s first book and at its launching at La Trobe University he paid handsome tribute to the Labour History Society for the free education it has given him.

D.B. Waterson: Personality, profit and politics: Thomas McIllwraith in Queensland 1866-1894, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1984, r.r.p. $1.50

Speaking of Peter Love’s populists and their conspiracy theories, perhaps the career of Sir Thomas McIllwraith, old “Boodlewraith” himself, pastoralist, political entrepreneur, Queensland treasurer, premier and banker, suggests that they were not entirely wrong. This monograph, the John Murtagh Macrossan Lecture of 1978, is written with flair and erudition. It is an integretative essay and reveals the extraordinary diversity of Professor Waterson’s intellectual inspirations in coming to terms with the notorious Sir Thomas. W.H. Auden, E P. Thompson, Carlyle, Patrick White, Vergil, John Fowles, Frederick Jackson Turner, Marx and best of all, Robbie Burns all put in a cameo appearance and the effect is to make this monograph rattling good read. It also serves to whet the appetite for Waterson’s forthcoming full scale biography on McIllwraith.

Roger Millis, The Serpent’s Tooth: an autobiographical novel Penguin, 1984, r.r.p. $9.95.

Any book which carries, in its first edition, an endorsement on its back cover as glowing as that written by Stephen Murray-Smith for Serpent’s Tooth is wont to engender a certain amount of initial suspicion. On the other hand Dr. Murray-Smith may well be right. It could be that Roger Milliss’s Serpent’s Tooth is a coming-of-age of Australian writing. . . the first totally – honest, utterly convincing and fully realised work of Australian autobiography…an astonishing work? For Serpent’s Tooth would seem to be headed for a series of literary accolades. It is a gut-wrenching account of personal relations between the author and his father, Bruce when the latter had deserted the CPA to follow Ted Hill, as well as between the author and his reluctant lover, Susie. It manages to blend the personal and the political in a fashion no other Australian book has attempted, let alone succeeded in. At times this appears to be almost unconscious. Men from Melbourne always seem to be causing aggravation, whether they be Hill luring Bruce Milliss towards the “Vatican” or Peking, or unspecified paramours from Melbourne standing between the author and his beloved Susie. But the book is far more than a piece of literary confection. From a labour historian’s point of view it provides one of the best biographical portraits of a prominent communist (in this case, Bruce Millis), yet written. Even Macintyre’s book on Paddy Troy looks decidedly sterile by way of comparison. It is also, quite possibly, the most lucid account of lived experience in the Cold War Years. If objectivity was one of the author’s goals, which it is not, it could be argued that his equation of those who follow the Chinese road to socialism with programmatic simple-mindedness could have been softened. But on the whole, this is a valuable addition to any labour historian’s library.