Journal Abstracts No. 80

New Theatre and the State: the Ban on Till the Day I Die, 1936-41
Robert Darby

It is generally believed that the Commonwealth Government’s efforts to ban public performances of Clifford Odet’s play Till the Day I Die in 1936 were a response to objections by the German consul and that its policy was an aspect of appeasement. In this paper it is suggested that the government’s response was not determined by the consul’s protest but by its own desire to curb the activities of the Communist Party. The paper aims to show that the main objections to the play were its communist propaganda content and its presentation by New Theatre, a party front; that several other complaints of anti-German sentiment in films and plays made by the consul were not acted upon; and that the movers in the affair were not politicians but key figures in the Commonwealth Investigation Branch and their allies in other Commonwealth and state security agencies.

‘It all started on the mines’? The 1934 Kalgoorlie Race Riots Revisited
Sarah Gregson

Previous studies of the 1934 anti-southern European riots in Kalgoorlie have predictably focused upon racial division. This article will address the other side of the story – examples of solidarity across perceived ethnic boundaries. While competitive labour relations in Kalgoorlie’s goldmining industry undoubtedly created rifts, some attention should be given to the fashion in which the mines cohered a multi-ethnic workforce, sharing similar living and working conditions. It is suggested that this environment created as much basis for unity as it did for division. The article also contends that the Returned Services League played an ideological and practical role in fanning the outburst.

‘A Case of Mild Anarchy?’: Job Committees in the Broken Hill Mines, c1930 to c1954
Julie Kimber

Job Committees, like shop committees in other industries, emerged in Broken Hill during the height of the Great Depression, thrived in the decade 1935-45, and all but vanished during the Cold War. The committees were a focal point for struggle and contestation between the various competing interest groups and ideologies vying for ascendancy in the local miners’ union, the Workers Industrial Union of Australia. This study of job committees seeks to show that the dynamics of trade union behaviour are forged by a series of complex and contradictory human relationships. The processes associated with the success and eventual isolation of the job committees should not be seen as a failed attempt by the rank and file to democratise a bureaucratic leadership. Rather, they should be seen as an ongoing dialogue between various interest groups within the union whose orientations, expectations and priorities changed with the altered context of wage and employment levels, ideology, occupation, and location within the union hierarchy. In this sense job committees and their activist participants performed an intermediary role between leadership and membership.

The Politics of Coal Dust: Industrial Campaigns for the Regulation of Dust Disease in Australian Coal Mining, 1939-49
Pamela Kinnear

This article analyses a neglected piece of labour history within Australian coal mining – the industrial campaigns for the recognition, compensation and regulation of respiratory diseases due to the inhalation of coal dust. Australia is known on the international stage for its successful control of this notorious occupational hazard, but little is known about the basis of this success. This article argues that the origins of success can be found in the industrial disputes and political responses which led to Australia’s relatively early recognition of coal dust disease as a legitimate and serious occupational hazard. Adopting a social constructionist theoretical framework, the article highlights the role of the Miners Federation and the State in mediating and interpreting medical and scientific disputation about whether or not coal dust was harmful. Using the dust issue as a powerful symbol of poor working conditions, the miners’ campaign to resolve the problem coincided with the Chifley government’s initial post-war strategy of industrial appeasement to take control of the chaotic industry. The task for resolving the problem was then given to Chifley’s new post-war regulatory body, the NSW Joint Coal Board, effectively closing opportunities for medical views against the legitimacy of disease to retain a foothold in public policy

A Social Tyranny : the Truck System in Colonial Western Australia, 1829-99
Simon Stevens

The truck system was a way of paying workers’ wages by means other than money, usually either in chits redeemable at a company store or directly in goods. It prevailed throughout the colony, and in most cases was extremely exploitative. It also helped the capitalist class transform the cash-strapped Colony of Western Australia into a profitable enterprise, mostly at the expense of the working class. Initially, due to the lack of capitalist and industrial infrastructure, the truck system was to a certain extent unavoidable; but it did not simply evaporate with the advancement of industry. Long after the convict era, wealthy companies continued to operate the truck system in the form of company stores and towns. It was not until 1899 that Western Australia’s colonial government banned the truck system in most industries. However, in those industries exempted by the Act, such as agriculture, the practice continued well into the twentieth century. Its limited role in the twentieth century is not the subject of this article, but its historical development in the colonial era is. It is in the colonial era that the truck system can be clearly explained and understood in historical context. The whole question of the truck system is vitally important in showing some of the various ways and means capitalists accumulated capital; and how, in the process, they sought to control the working class. While it barely exists in Western Australia today, it still has relevance in the fact that truck-wages remain a prevalent form of remuneration for labour throughout much of the world.

‘A kind of Elysium where nobody has anything difficult to do’: H.B. Higgins, H.V. McKay and the Agricultural Implement Makers, 1901-26
Charles Fahey and John Lack

The years 1907 to 1913 were a period of bitter industrial relations at the Sunshine Harvester Works. It was here in 1907 that H.B. Higgins handed down his famous needs based wage for unskilled labour. However, the same award rejected the use of improvers and offered large pay increases to skilled and semi-skilled employees. For this reason it was opposed by the industrialist, H.V. McKay. Intent on introducing modern manufacturing methods, McKay was determined to resist wage rates comparable to those prevailing in general engineering. Failing to win wage rises through arbitration, his employees attempted to introduce a closed shop in 1911. McKay in turn locked out his workforce. At the end of bitter strike, McKay not only broke the union but he was also free to introduce piece work. He also kept the Commonwealth Arbitration Court from investigating his workplace. In the decade after the strike, McKay heavily invested in plant and by the early 1920s Sunshine was a modern factory with machine tools, work study practices and piece work. Yet in winning this battle, McKay had to make concessions. To keep his plant at full capacity, McKay had to offer high earnings and secure employment. Sunshine also had an important impact on Higgins, and his objection to the use of improvers, first encountered at Sunshine, remained with him throughout his career as an arbitration judge

Institutional and Social History Interpretations of New Zealand Waterfront Industrial Relations, Depression to Early 1940s
Michael Barry

The analysis of New Zealand waterfront industrial relations from the early-to-mid-1900s focuses predominantly on rank and file initiatives to alleviate intermittent employment and deplorable working conditions. This paper examines how forces operating beyond the workplace shaped waterfront industrial relations during the 1930s and early 1940s. While clearly important, job control initiatives remained but part of a complex relationship between union leadership and rank and file that worked to drive the watersiders’ claims for improved employment conditions in often-conflicting directions. Important distinctions between coastal and overseas shipping companies also set the boundaries for the type of actions conducted at the point of production. Far from remaining ‘unimportant’ as has been suggested, the arbitration system and the institutional forces of union and employer bargaining structure and strategy drove the industry’s pattern of industrial relations and had a significant influence on waterfront employment.

‘Be good, sweet maid’: Sister Probationer Nora Barton at the Sydney Infirmary, 1869-72
Judith Godden

In 1869, Nora Barton chose to become one of the new ‘Nightingale nurses’ at Sydney Infirmary. She entered as a ‘Sister Probationer’, one who underwent training not so much to nurse, but to supervise nurses. Ideally, the sister probationers were upper middle class, Protestant, and conformed to the Nightingale image of reformed nursing. Barton was an ideal recruit as a sister probationer. Her experience provides an insight into Nightingale nursing as it adapted to Australian conditions, and helps explain why the English, class-based ideal of the sister probationer did not survive. Nora Barton’s experience also offers a different perspective on the choices available to her and other middle class women. From our modern perspective, women like Barton had very restricted life choices. From the perspective of Nightingale and the founders of Nightingale nursing, colonial women not only had more choice than their British counterparts, they had too much choice.

Post-Suffrage Factory Inspectors in New South Wales
Kay Whitehead

The burgeoning feminist and labour movements provided the impetus for Annie Duncan and Belle Golding’s employment as inspectors in the New South Wales public service in the late nineteenth century. This article demonstrates that their work was enmeshed in their feminist politics in the post-suffrage era, and Belle was also committed to the Labor party. As inspectors both women worked assiduously to improve conditions for women and girls in factories and shops, and deployed their differing personal and associational networks in the same cause. Given the nature of their work within the public service and their political commitment in the post-suffrage era, both Annie and Belle might reasonably be considered as early twentieth century femocrats.

Australian Orientalism and Liberal Governance : Asian Labour in South Australia and the Northern Territory, 1890s
Ivan Krisjansen

This article seeks to provide a post-colonial analysis of race relations and to contribute a critical examination of the discourses and the government of racialisation. Chinese labour in South Australia and the Northern Territory is examined in relation to the development of citizenship, race and the White Australia Policy. The aim of examining race relations between Europeans and Orientals is to problematise the ‘race question’ in terms of racial comportment, especially as it pertains to issues of labour, sexuality, life, and production. The paper queries the efficacy of historical accounts that have become mired in liberal orthodoxy or naive Marxism in relation to these kinds of racial issues. This account provides a conceptual model derived from the writings of Michel Foucault and Edward Said. The focal point is the multiple processes and diverse trajectories of events, discourses and practices concerned with race relations. In particular, one of the controlling generalities of modernity – namely, science becomes a key focus of analysis especially in relation to its impact on government policy. The investigation is expository in as far as this remains a contested area in the historical terrain.