Journal Abstracts No. 74

Voluntary Work and Labour History

Melanie Oppenheimer

At a meeting of the Sydney Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History in early February 1997, I presented a paper based on my doctoral thesis which revolved around aspects of voluntary work in Australia during World War II. This thesis focussed on voluntary work, or unpaid work, carried out by people within structured organisations in the public sphere. In the presentation, I argued that not only was this type of voluntary work productive, but that it should be considered an appropriate topic for labour history. I stated that it was now important for labour history to embrace the concept of voluntary work; and offered some views as to why it had taken until now for the discussion to commence. Perhaps not surprisingly the paper sparked considerable vigorous and lively debate. This article is an expanded version of that paper. It is introductory in nature and is designed to offer some preliminary ideason the topic of voluntary work and labour history, and to initiate discussionand debate.

Voluntary Work as Work?: Some Implications for Labour History

Joanne Scott

This paper considers why voluntary endeavours have been omitted from standard studies of labour and examines some of the implications of recognising those endeavours as work. The inclusion of voluntary activity raises questions about how we define work and careers, and how we distinguish between work, activism and leisure. Through its intersections with other types of work, it contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the economic roles and relationships usually encompassed within the field of labour history. Although the study of voluntary work is itself problematic, it may provide new points of entry into a history of labour.

Death Was in his Face: Dying, Burial and Remembrance in Early Sydney

Grace Karskens

This paper explores common experiences, attitudes, responses and rituals associated with dying and death among Sydney’s earliest European settlers. By looking at dying, post-mortem care, mourning, and remembrance in the context of the work of British and European thanatologists, it offers a portrait of cultural identity and affiliations, and insights into the human experiences by which the colony emerged.

Some Aspects of Colonial Marriage: A Case Study of the Swing Protesters

David Kent and Norma Townsend

One of the most important but least understood aspects of colonial society was the process of marriage involving the lower ranks. Legal marriage was the only officially recognised form of cohabitation. Those who were free were subject to the same scrutiny as convicts if they were marrying a convict or ticket-of-leave holder. Common-law relationships were not common and usually arose because of a woman’s marriage in the colony. Women who usually held the whiphand, choosing men with skills or some capital, cannot be ignored in adiscussion of marriage. Although the Swing protesters fared slightly better than others in the marriage stakes (33%) they were not as attractive marriage partners as we had expected. Few achieved material success and their average age at their colonial marriage was far higher than colonial men as a whole. Various stratagems to outwit the bureaucracy reveal the extent to which Swing men valued matrimony.

`The Nature and Effects Thereof Were by Each of Them Understood’ : Aborigines, Agency, Law and Power in the 1867 Gurnett Contract.

David Sampson

This paper examines an 1867 contract for a European tour between a group of Aboriginal workers, a white manager and a white entrepreneur to explore incongruities between literally read legal rights, assumptions of indigenous agency, and historicised inequalities of inter-racial (and inter-class) power. Resulting from an unsuccessful initial attempt to launch the famous 1868 Aboriginal tour of England, its primary functions were twofold. In the face of powerful government and philanthropic opposition, it was an attempt to convince an influential legal advocate for Aborigines of the propriety of the tour. Furthermore, it bound the potentially lucrative Aborigines by contracting not only them but their familiar `manager’, Hayman, to the entrepreneur, Gurnett. Explicit conditions of the indenture reveal the extent of control over the Aboriginal signatories and distinct racial and class inequities. But more severe disproportions of power and limitations to the exercise of Aboriginal agency can be located outside the contract. Conditions relating to touring Native American performers provide a critical commentary on both the organisers of the Aboriginal tour and the Victorian government’s legislative reactions.

The People and Their Experts : a War-Inspired Civics for H.C.Coombs

Tim Rowse

The 1944 `Powers Referendum’, lost by the Curtin government, has been subject to diverse historical interpretations – some emphasising the solid good sense of `the people’, others the spoiling of rational debate by fear-mongering tactics of the `No’ case. This paper examines some features of H.C. Coombs’ participation in the referendum. As Director of Rationing in 1942, Coombs developed a sense of the popular thirst for egalitarian reform; as Director-General of Postwar Reconstruction, he attempted to `channel’ this popular feeling so that it would provide the labor government with a mandate for, among other things, constitutional reform. The paper traces his ideas about the relationship between `experts’ and senior government officials on the one hand, and `the people’ on the other. His practice as adviser to government and as animator of popular opinion made him an unorthodox public servant. The nature and limits of his `public service’ were matters for comment by others and by Coombs himself. A theme of the paper is that both activist bureaucrats and historians have mobilised conceptions of `the people’ which repay historical investigation.

The RSL and the Cold War, 1946-1950

L.J. Louis

As part of a larger study of the Cold War in Australia, this article examines the anti-communist crusade waged by the RSL, 1946-50. As distinct from agencies of the state, the RSL was a large, influential, voluntary organisation which played a significant role in the development of the Cold War. The first section of the article is essentially a detailed narrative ofthe implementation of a policy of purging the membership of the League of suspected communists. Then an account is provided of the wider aspects of the campaign to eliminate all influences of the Communist Party. In the final section,an attempt is made from several different approaches to explain the crusade and the intensity of its prosecution. No simple answer emerges, but the exploration reveals further essential components of the development of the Cold War in Australia.

Fascism Revived? The Association Stands Guard, 1947 – 52

Andrew Moore

This article documents a little-known aspect of Australia’s `secret history’. At the height of the Cold War in the late 1940s and early 1950s, an Australia-wide paramilitary organisation known as The Association maintained a silent vigil, preparing to put down a communist revolution. Led by Australia’s most eminent soldier, Major General Sir Thomas Blamey, The Association was well prepared and well funded. This article describes the activities of The Association, while also examining the reliability of intelligence reports which were oftencritical of the paramilitary group’s vigilance and fascist potential. Frustrated by the Communist Party’s apparent reluctance or inability to inspire a working-class uprising, The Association engaged in vigilante violence. The secret army also became involved in the 1949 coal strike, perhaps influencing the Labor Prime minister, Ben Chifley, to send in troops as strike breakers. In 1950 and 1951 its members may have been used to implemen tthe Menzies government’s plans to intern communists and other labour radicals.

The Quest for Efficiency and the Rise of Industrial Psychology in Australia (1916-29)

Kevin Blackburn

This article looks at how industrial psychology in Australia originated in the efficiency movement of the early twentieth century. While the connection between the quest for efficiency and the discipline of industrial psychology has been established by historians of psychology in the United States and in Britain, little has been done in examining this link in the Australian context. The study examines how applying psychology to industry in Australia was perceived as being part of the process of what Max Weber called the rationalisation of labour. Also investigated is whether there is evidence for Weber’s thesis, that the demand for efficiency from labour, which was part of this process of rationalisation, emerged out of the asceticism of Protestantism.

The Pursuit of Serviceable Labour in Australian Capitalism: the Economic and Political Contexts of Immigration Policy in the Early Fifties, with Particular Reference to Southern Italians

Robert Tierney

The paper examines the class context of Australian mass immigration from southern Europe, particularly from southern Italy, in the late forties and early fifties. I argue that economic and political considerations were primary in the minds of the industrialists (especially from the automotive and iron and steel sectors), politicians and senior public servants who developed policy on the size and composition of mass immigration at the time. These considerations included the desire to overcome chronic labour shortages through the importation of what was commonly considered to be `docile’ and `hard working’ labour. The industrialists who deeply influenced mass immigration policy were convinced that the mass immigration of southern Europeans (particularly southern Italians) would shift the balance of power between organised labour and capital further towards the latter. This created tensions within the councils of immigration policy development between the industrialists and those representing the trade unions. The role of the public service and of the Immigration Minister in quarantining the policy advice of the industrialists from excessive trade union intervention is also considered in this paper.