Abstracts – Labour History No. 105

Modern Labor in Queensland: Its Rise and Failings, 1978–98
Bradley Bowden

This article explores the emergence of “modern Labor” in Queensland. Previously under Trades Hall control, Queensland Labor was transformed in 1980 when the Reform Group gained control after intervention by Labor’s Federal Executive. Between 1989 and 2012 it was only out of office once (1996–98). Labor’s restructure, however, brought neither rank-and-file involvement nor a substantial membership. Authority was vested in factional powerbrokers. Whereas prior to 1980 Queensland Labor was a union-controlled party (ie a labour party), it now became a faction-controlled party.

Triumphant, Troubled, then Terminal: An Examination of the Cain and Kirner Decade 30 Years On
Alistair Harkness

More than 30 years have elapsed since the election of the Cain Labor government in Victoria in April 1982 and, given that only limited academic literature exists on this period of governance in Australia’s second most populous state, it is worth examining in detail the Cain and Kirner Labor governments. This article sets this period in the context of the longer political history of Victoria, provides analysis of Labor’s rise from electoral inconsequence to government, and charts the course of Labor’s decade in office until it ended unceremoniously in October 1992. The article argues that, in contrast to the Hawke and Keating federal governments, Labor in Victoria largely eschewed neoliberalism and pursued a more traditional social democratic agenda. This program proved fruitful until “the recession we had to have” severely impacted on the local economy in 1990–91 and led to the landslide defeat of 1992.

Opposition to the Accord as a Social Contract in the 1980s
Jonathan Strauss

The approaches that organised workers and their unions took to the Accord in the 1980s are typically explained in terms of consent and conformity, the suppression of worker dissent, or waning industrial militancy that might otherwise have enabled opposition. These explanations are problematic; the lack of a substantial challenge to the labour movement’s adherence to the Accord was not predetermined. In particular, some unionists were motivated to oppose the Accord because they thought, in various ways, that the Accord imposed a social contract on labour that subordinated it to capital. However, their actions were inconsistent and disparate. Some of those who held to this oppositional sensibility identified a regeneration of the political party Left, which would then guide and unite such action, but they did not try to implement it. The way was left open for a radical decline in union strength in the 1990s.

John Curtin’s Forgotten Media Legacy: The Impact of a Wartime Prime Minister on News Management Techniques, 1941–45
Caryn Coatney

As Australia’s wartime leader, John Curtin generated international headlines for his “breaking news” broadcasts, candid media conferences and electoral success. Yet there has been a lack of studies on Curtin’s impact as a media communicator. To evaluate his legacy for government-journalist relations, this article conducts a multi-method approach, including analyses of rarely viewed archives about Curtin’s use of the media and the newspaper coverage of his major wartime speeches. The research indicates that Curtin expanded the ways that the prime minister communicated with public audiences through press interviews, the radio, films and television during World War II. Through his extraordinarily frequent media discussions, he opened up more opportunities for citizens to interact with political leaders, the government and parliament. Arguably, modern political communicators still borrow from Curtin’s news management legacy through the use of question-and-answer media conferences, news briefings, occasional off-the-record talks and use of the most advanced audio-visual technological innovations to communicate with voters.

The Annihilation of the ILP: The Third Industrial Labor Party and the Sturt Vacancy
Paul Adams

The Australian Labor Party has long been drawn between the socialist ambitions of some trade unions and parliamentary real-politics. During World War I and the years that followed, the will to political change within the political Left was dominated by the “industrialists,” many of whom were drawn to the American internationalist syndicalism of the Industrial Workers of the World and/or the Russian soviet model. In New South Wales, three different but related manifestations of this leftist direction titled themselves the “Industrial Labor Party” (ILP). All three ILPs were short lived. Two were breakaways from the ALP but ultimately the existing party prevailed. This paper charts the creation and the dissolution of these three parties, concentrating on the final ILP which was defeated through a combination of the death of its only parliamentary representative, the cynical filling of his vacant seat, insufficient electoral support, and the foibles of NSW’s experiment with multi-seat electorates.

“Ballot-Faking Crooks and a Tyrannical Executive”: The Australian Workers Union Faction and the 1923 New South Wales Labor Party Annual Conference
Scott Stephenson

A faction based on the Central Branch of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) controlled the New South Wales Labor Party from 1919 to 1923. According to the historiographical literature, it was the AWU faction’s corruption that caused it to then lose control of the party. This article argues that the downfall of a much diminished AWU faction in 1923 was instead the result of a broad rejection of its authoritarianism and abuse of Executive power. Furthermore, the evidence against the AWU leadership in the ballot box scandal, and other cases of alleged corruption, remains inconclusive.

Labor, Capital and Land: The Transnational Dimensions of the 1910 Federal Land Tax
Andrew Dilley

While Australian labour historians have devoted attention to land radicalism in the 1890s, its continuation into the 1900s has attracted less attention. This article highlights the importance of land taxation in federal Labor politics, focusing on the struggle surrounding the progressive land taxes introduced by Andrew Fisher’s government in 1910. It uses these struggles to engage with a recent transnational turn amongst labour historians, highlighting the heavy influence by New Zealand precedents, and the ways debates drew on a global vocabulary of examples. Nonetheless, these transnational influences were deployed in the service of locally (or nationally) determined goals. This contrasted with capital’s organisationally integrated transnational campaign against the tax, led by the London-based pastoral finance lobby. Finally, an examination in the defeat of this lobby suggests that the attraction of the nation state to politicised labour was in part a product of the more intensive globalisation of capital.

“This is a British Colony”: The Ruling-Class Politics of the Seafarers’ Strike, 1878–79
Phil Griffiths

The seafarers’ strike of 1878–79 has occupied a special place in the history of White Australia, representing the idea that militant working class action led to the racial exclusion of Chinese and other non-white people. This article demonstrates that the strike was, remarkably, supported by a significant proportion of the colonial ruling class, including the conservative politicians and newspapers of Queensland, primarily because they were concerned at the impact of Chinese immigration on British colonisation, especially in the north. Historians have wrongly seen the opposition of the Sydney Morning Herald to the strike as reflecting support for Chinese immigration and “cheap labour.” The article concludes by suggesting that far from leading the campaign for racial exclusion, the union movement adopted the anti-Chinese politics of the ruling class. It concludes by discussing the ways in which our histories have masked the role of the ruling class in anti-Chinese politics.

“Better than Nothing”: Eurasian Labour in New South Wales, 1853–54
Tony Ohlsson

In 1852 an English charitable society at Madras proposed to rescue Eurasians from poverty by sending them to New South Wales on the same terms as assisted emigrants from the United Kingdom. Squatters led by W. C. Wentworth would have preferred Indian coolies but Robert Towns considered Eurasians “better than nothing.” The colonial press warned that Eurasians would propagate “a mongrel and degenerate progeny,” thereby endangering the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race in Australia. Henry Parkes launched the movement for a White Australia when he told the Legislative Council in July 1854 that “the general and lasting interests of the Country” demanded the restriction of coloured immigration. Colonial reactions to Eurasian labour presaged the tension between national interests and aspirations on the one hand, and prejudice, ignorance, and irrational fears on the other, in the development of the White Australia policy during the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Banning of Redheap: Sober Facts about an Inflammatory Fiction
Robert Darby

The banning of Norman Lindsay’s novel Redheap in 1930 was a controversial decision at the time and has been the subject of much commentary by historians, biographers and journalists. Since the 1960s there have been some half dozen contradictory explanations for the decision, ranging from standard operating procedure in the Department of Trade and Customs to the personal intervention of Lindsay’s mother. In this paper, I outline the various theories, identify their fallacies and comment critically on the tendency for secondary accounts to repeat the claims of previous writers, no matter how erroneous or improbable, with no attempt at verification. In the first part, I outline the contending theories as to the origins and cause of the ban; the second part is a brief narrative of the affair; in the third part, I evaluate the theories and make a judgement as to which accounts come closest to the truth. I conclude that none of the accounts is satisfactory and that the explanation for the ban is to be found in the policies and attitudes of the government officials and politicians involved in the case.

“A Petty and Spiteful Spirit on the Part of the Company”: The 1881 Cromwell Company Strike at Bendigo, Otago
Lloyd Carpenter

The historic reserve at the goldfields-era ghost town of Bendigo is a spectacularly beautiful place of stone ruins, abandoned cottages and mining detritus scattered across a quintessential Central Otago landscape. The archaeological landscape features one atypical ruin, the remains of a very substantial house. Unlike similar structures which have crumbled naturally through years of exposure to the extreme Bendigo climate, it was deliberately wrecked during a bitter industrial dispute in 1881. This conflict tore the community apart. In scenes reminiscent of Highland Clearances and Irish Land League battles, armed police oversaw the employer-decreed destruction of homes and the eviction of families in what was the only New Zealand dispute to escalate into this sort of extreme behaviour. Contemporaneous local and regional newspaper reports have been used to examine the events of the strike and discuss the profoundly polarised parties in the dispute, highlighting the unique aspects of the events in New Zealand’s labour history.


Clarence Wilbur (Carl) Baker, 1888–1967
Carolyn Skinner

Carl Baker was one of the founding members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Appointed paid editor of ‘The Communist’ in March 1921, he later became acting General Secretary of the CPA. However, his high standing was short lived. Accused of being ‘more concerned about a meal ticket than the movement’ in 1922, he was expelled from the CPA in 1926 for allegedly stealing money from workers. Believed to be an American, little else was known about his life. Recent research for a biography of Christian Jollie Smith has uncovered further details.

Australia’s most evil and repugnant nightspot”: Recollections of the FOCO Club, Brisbane, 1968–69
Frank Neilsen and Peter Gray

It cannot be overstated how repressively conservative the status quo was in Brisbane during the 1960s. For many of the younger generation, Brisbane was a mind-numbing, cultural desert. Yet, despite everything, oases began to appear. In 1964, I was privileged to start working as photographic assistant to Geoff Dauth at his Petrie Bight studio. I fell into the habit of frequenting Brisbane’s hippest place, the Primitif Café, which was owned by Geoff’s friend, a glamorous woman named Peter Cox. It was here that I met Larry Zetlin, who was a student at the University of Queensland (UQ). There were few places, apart from the ubiquitous milk bar, where young people could gather to listen to interesting music, enjoy a bite to eat, and simply ‘hang out’. Larry had recently taken up the role of Brisbane correspondent for Go-Set, Australia’s first pop-music newspaper, which was published weekly from February 1966 to August 1974. Larry invited me to become their Brisbane-based ‘rock’ photographer. That sounded interesting, so I agreed, as an extra-curricular activity; mainly for the fun of it, as the pay was a pittance.