Whether God votes Tory or is a bleeding heart with a cruel sense of humour, Labor governments are seemingly fated to take office in the shadows of global calamity.

In 1914 Andrew Fisher became prime minister for the third time at the beginning of the First World War only to see his party split over the issue of conscription two years later. When Jim Scullin returned the ALP to the treasury benches after a decade in the electoral wilderness his government was promptly torn apart by the effects of the Great Depression. Curtin and Whitlam took office in periods of global war and economic downturn. Now Kevin Rudd’s stripling Labor administration’s first term has been dominated by the onset of the Global Financial Crisis.

Luke Foley’s piece in this edition of Hummer examines this phenomenon. He argues that Rudd Labor has successfully learnt from the disastrous experience of Scullin Labor during the Great Depression of the early 1930s.Through a combination of decisive leadership and progressive values, the response from Rudd Labor not only shielded working Australians from the worst effects of the financial tsunami but provided a striking example of superior social democratic principles.

Desmond Moore moves us away from the grandiose themes of the GFC. He explores a little-known prototype of the Greens Bans movement via the work of the East Villawood Progress Association in saving Thurina Park during 1960.After a concerted local campaign orchestrated by the Progress Association, which had support from unions, various community groups and the ALP local branch, the NSW Housing Commission dedicated 16 acres of land for a park and recreation area.

Branch President Sarah Gregson reinterprets one of the early twentieth century’s great tragedies, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Her account of the administration of Titanic relief in Southampton emphasises the working-class dimension. She challenges the dominant Titanic mythology of shared grief and social unity. Imbued with welfarist and gendered attitudes middle-class administrators determined the worthiness of each relief applicant and claim, their decisions underpinned by moralistic judgments about the habits and lifestylcs of Titanic dependants.

In the final feature piece Nick Dyreufurth’s essay from last year’s ‘What’s Left’ series in The Australian newspaper is included in edited form. Touching on many of the concerns raised by Foley, he argues that early social democracy was as much a culturalmovement as an economistic project that sought office for the benefit of working-class Australians. This reading of early Labor and social democracy in turn contains lessons for the current Rudd government as it seeks re-election in 2010.

This issue also contains two obituaries of NSW labour figures: we reprint Fairfax journalist Malcolm Brown’s obituary of legendary labour historian and ASSLH pioneer, Jim Hagan, whilst Damien Stapleton’s eulogy for architect and labour movement activist Anatol Kagan is also reproduced.

Elsewhere, Sydney Branch Secretary Sue Tracey reports on the Branch’s recently launched ‘Icons of the Labour Movement’ website, whilst Sarah Gregson reports on the 24th AIRAANZ conference which included a designated labour history strand in the program for the first time in many years.

Finally I’d Wee to draw the attention of Hummer readers to some upcoming events.

On Wednesday 24 March 2010 branch member, Sydney University academic and AWU historian, Harry Knowles, will be our guest speaker. Harry will present a talk on the early 1940s struggle for control of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) between Clarrie Fallon and his protege, Torn Dougherty.The new venue will be The Gaelic Club, Level 1,64 Devonshire St, Surry Hills with the talk beginning at approximately (dOpm and preceded by the Society’s AGM (see Notices). Drinks are available and light refreshments will be served.

On Tuesday 20 April 2010, the Business and Labour History Group at the University of Sydney is staging a one-clay seminar to mark the 100th anniversary of the Andrew Fisher-led Labor party’s sweeping victory at the 1910 federal election.The conference explores both the achievements of the first social democratic party to hold office in its own right anywhere in the world, and its place in the post-Federation nation-building project commonly known as the ‘Australian Settlement’. Professor Marilyn Lake, from Latrobe University, will give the keynote address. The seminar is open to the public at a small fee. Further information and a registration form can be found at:

aust _settlement_ fisher_ govt

Nick Dyrenfurth
Editor of The Hummer
Vice President, Sydney Branch ASSLH