Journal Abstracts No. 81

We all did voluntary work of some kind’ : Voluntary Work and Labour History
Melanie Oppenheimer

This article introduces a special section on voluntary work and labour history which was timed to coincide with the United Nations International Year of the Volunteer (2001). Voluntary work has only recently been considered a relevant topic for labour history. Its past neglect reflects the widely held view that voluntary work is unproductive. Voluntary work challenges traditional labour history and directly confronts the changing nature of work in our society. By positioning voluntary work as the central category of analysis, this thematic section further extends the boundaries of labour history, and, it is argued, provides an improved framework of analysis. Focusing attention away from the labour movement and labour processes and towards the social and cultural processes of everyday life gives a refreshingly new perspective on labour history.

Present at the Birth: Midwives, ‘Handywomen’ and Neighbours in Rural New South Wales, 1850-1900
Glenda Strachan

The pattern of assistance to women giving birth in rural Australia from 1850 to 1900 is investigated in this article. In the nineteenth century women assisted each other or called on ‘handywomen’ or midwives who had experience in confinements while doctors also acted in this capacity in more populated districts. Data from the civil registration of births is used to analyse the pattern of attendance at births of non-Aboriginal women in one rural area, Dungog and the Upper Williams Valley, New South Wales. The author explores the question of who was present at the delivery and assisted at the birth and concludes that about half the births were attended by women who gained a definite role in the community as midwife or ‘handywoman’ while the remainder were attended by female neighbours or relatives, a situation which was often reciprocated. Women attending births usually did this in a voluntary capacity although for a very few women this would have been an income-earning activity.

The Unknown Sock Knitter : Voluntary Work, Emotional Labour, Bereavement and the Great War
Bruce Scates

This paper explores the nature and extent of Australian women’s unpaid work during the Great War. It examines the class basis of war work and considers the patriotic and philanthropic motivations behind it. Many accounts have dismissed war work with an empty tally of knitting and sewing. This paper considers the emotional labour invested in unpaid labour and recovers women’s crucial role as the mediators of loss and bereavement. It identifies the paradoxical nature of war work, surveying the tension between militarism and humanitarianism and concludes that the movement at once challenged and enforced traditional gender roles.

‘Brass Hats … from Sydney’: Volunteerism, Contested Space and the Organisation of Fire Suppression in the Blue Mountains 1950-1960
Michael Wright

This article examines the demarcation of work which existed between career firefighters employed by the Board of Fire Commissioners (BFC) and local volunteer firefighters in the Blue Mountains (NSW, Australia) in the 1950s. It explores how career firefighters sought to control the activities of volunteer bushfire brigade volunteers by ‘gaining territory’ and asserting organisational control over it. In doing so, the article also highlights the way in which the local volunteers appealed to localist sentiments to resist and ultimately thwart domination by career firefighters and their organisation. They did this by influencing (and being involved in) local government and local progress associations, labelling career firefighters as ‘outsiders’ from Sydney and accusing the latter group’s organisation, the BFC, as not being attuned to the needs of ‘the bush’. The article concludes that the ability of local volunteers to dominate ‘space’ through localism enabled them to resist the encroachment of career firefighters and the BFC. This conclusion continues to have relevance fifty years on as the demarcation between paid and unpaid workers continues unabated in areas of rapid urbanisation.

Surf Lifesaving owes no person a living’: a Third Sector’ Case Study
Sean Brawley

Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) is one of Australia’s largest community service organisations. Since the 1980s, the volunteer ethos and character of this movement has been threatened by both internal and external forces that reflect broader historical changes in Australian society in the late twentieth century. This case study examines two issues that have been at the centre of this challenge – the professionalisation of surf lifesaving competition and the expansion of professional ‘lifeguard’ services. Through its examination of these issues, this study raises more general themes about the nature of volunteering in Australia in the early twenty-first century.

‘In the thick of every battle for the cause of Labor’: The Voluntary Work of the Labor Women’s Organisations in Western Australia, 1900-70
Bobbie Oliver

This paper examines the voluntary contribution of the Labor women’s organisations in Western Australia from 1900 until the end of the 1960s. It discusses the various voluntary contributions of the women to the ALP and the wider community and the motivation for these activities. In particular, it examines the women’s struggle for equal representation within the Party. The paper concludes with an assessment of the contribution of this work to the development of the ALP and to the Western Australian community. By the early 1970s, women’s organisations, both inside and outside of the ALP, began adopting more militant tactics to gain social, political and economic equality for women, assisted at last by a commitment from the ALP and the Trades and Labor Council. Consequently the year 1970 provides a logical point at which to conclude a study of this type of work by Labor women.

Soldiers of the Federation: The Women’s Committees of the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia
Margo Beasley

The Women’s Committees of the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia (WWF) were active in the 1950s and 1960s across Australia. Originally established to assist in the national waterfront strikes of the 1950s, the Committees developed into a women’s welfare organisation carrying out voluntary labour for those in need in their communities, in addition to supporting the union. Relationships between the union and the Committees varied from port to port, offering working class women a path to engagement in public affairs, sometimes on an international scale. This article charts the rise and fall of the Committees which was linked to the decline in the waterfront workforce, the decline of the Communist Party, and the increasing involvement of women in the workforce. It provides a pertinent example of the voluntary labour and activism of working class women in Australia in the post-war period.

Voluntary Work and Labour History : A Postscript
Alice Kessler-Harris

This invited postscript is a personal reflection on the articles which make up the thematic section on voluntary labour and labour history. Admitting that these articles have provoked the realisation of how narrowly labour historians have defined work and workers in the past, the postscript comments on other issues such as the innate tensions between paid and unpaid labour, the politics of location, the theoretical constraints of Marxism over labour history, and the connections between voluntarism and citizenship.

‘The Minister for Starvation’: Wilfrid Kent Hughes, Fascism and the Unemployment Relief (Administration) Act of 1933
Geoff Spenceley

In January 1933, Victoria’s recently elected United Australia Party government enacted the Unemployment Relief (Administration) Bill, a piece of legislation which, in terms of its attempts to force the unemployed to work for sustenance, was unparalleled in any other state. From this time on, the material fate of the still very large, if gradually decreasing number of Victoria’s unemployed rested greatly in its hands. The Act, which codified as well as added to its predecessors, formed the basis of the Victorian state government’s unemployment relief policy until the outbreak of the Second World War. It was arguably the most significant piece of legislation directed towards the unemployed in Australia during the depression.

‘To fight against the horrible evil of Communism’: Catholics, Community and the Movement in Rockhampton, 1943-1957
Barbara Webster

During the 1940s and 1950s, Rockhampton had the reputation of being one of the foremost centres of organised anti-communist activity conducted predominantly by the Catholic Church and its clandestine industrial organisation, the Movement. Historians have not explained this phenomenon nor have they undertaken much research into the post-World War II anti-communist hysteria in regional Australia in general. This article aims to redress this omission in Australian labour historiography by exploring the origin, organisation and operation of the Movement in Rockhampton. It locates the roots of Rockhampton’s reputation as a ‘hotbed’ of Movement activity in the socio-economic, political, demographic and cultural characteristics of the city in general and of the Catholic community in particular. It demonstrates the role of ‘community’, both subjectively and structurally, in mobilising Catholics against communism and the significance of ‘place’ in the production of community identity and maintenance of authority.

The Labour Movement in South Korea
John Minns

The labour movement in contemporary South Korea has emerged as one of the most militant and dynamic in the world. Like many other labour movements in the developing world it bears the marks of its colonial background. Two other more singular factors have shaped the modern movement. The first is the devastating impact of the war of 1950-53 and the anti-labour governments which followed it in Korea’s intense and long-lived Cold War. The second is the state-led industrialisation drive from the 1960s to the 1980s which produced rapid industrial growth, a concentrated and powerful working class and very close ties between business and the state.