Abstracts – Labour History No. 108

Australian Women Journalists and the “Pretence of Equality”
Jeannine Baker

Australian women journalists were granted equal pay for equal work in 1917, under the first federal award for journalists. This article analyses the role of women in Australian journalism in the first half of the twentieth century and reveals that behind the appearance of gender equality is a history of persistent discrimination. Between the wars most women journalists were confined to work considered to be of lesser value, typically on the women’s pages of daily newspapers, and had limited opportunities for advancement to higher paid positions. Although World War II enabled many women journalists to move into higher status positions, they continued to be perceived according to gendered assumptions about their roles, modes of behaviour and abilities. War also reinforced anxieties about the disruption of normal gender divisions within the newspaper office.

“Nowhere Else to Work”: Advertising and the Left in Australia
Jackie Dickenson

From the late 1930s to the early 1970s, a noticeable cluster of left activists (both women and men, and all, at some point, members of the Communist Party) could be found working in the Australian advertising industry, using their artistic and writing skills to support themselves and pursue their political goals. The article explores the complex relationship between left politics and consumer culture in this period by examining the careers of a handful of these activists. It finds that the shift away from revolutionary politics in the late 1930s to mobilisation around anti-fascism made it possible for left activists to work in advertising without attracting significant criticism from their fellow party members. With the rise of a radical critique of consumer culture from the early 1950s, however, it became increasingly difficult for those who remained committed to left activism to justify working in an increasingly despised industry.

Women’s Work: The Professionalisation and Policing of Fortune-Telling in Australia
Alana Piper

In the early twentieth century, fortune-telling was being heralded by Australian newspapers as the nation’s latest fad. It was enjoyed as a popular form of entertainment, particularly by women. For other women though, fortune-telling represented a source of income, and sometimes their sole means of support. At the same time, fortune-telling was actually a criminal offence, leaving women who practised it vulnerable to police prosecution. Yet while fortune-telling had long been illegal and associated with a variety of criminal practices, the federation period witnessed a growth in legal activity against it. This was due in part to the increased visibility brought about by the practice’s professionalisation, which prompted innovations in policing that opened up other areas of work to female involvement. This article thus probes some of the changes that took place in the culture of women’s work during this crucial era.

Juveniles as Human Capital: Re-evaluating the Economic Value of Juvenile Male Convict Labour
Cameron Nunn

The application of “Human Capital” theory by Nicholas and others in the late 1980s to reframe our understanding of convictism was a watershed moment in colonial historical analysis. This was because it shifted debate away from the moral character of the convicts and reconceptualised them as a valuable labour commodity that was to be understood in the context of much broader patterns of forced labour migration. Drawing on pre-transportation records and evidence relating to two institutions for transported juvenile convicts – the Carters’ Barracks (Sydney) and Point Puer (Port Arthur, Van Diemen’s Land), this article examines the economic conceptualisation of juvenile male convict labour and critiques whether the same “Human Capital” theory can be applied to the juvenile convicts who were sent to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. The study posits that this conceptual approach frames the juvenile transportation phenomenon too narrowly temporally, socially and economically.

Unemployment in a Time of Full Employment: Counting and Regulating Worklessness in Mid-Twentieth Century Australia
Anthony O’Donnell

The post-war period saw the consolidation of new understandings of unemployment in Australia. This is evident both in statistical definitions of unemployment and in the social security provision of unemployment benefit during this period. Both represented a significant break from pre-war concepts and practices. This paper suggests that the emergence of these new understandings, at least in part, was linked to a changing labour market. The paper goes on to consider the extent to which the post-war binary divide between “employment” and “unemployment” adequately captured the labour market experience of two groups: married women and remote-area Indigenous workers.

“We Never Recovered”: The Social Cost of the 1951 New Zealand Waterfront Dispute
Grace Millar

In July 1951, 15,000 New Zealand watersiders, miners, freezing-workers and seamen returned to work after being locked-out or on strike, but their lives, and the lives of those dependent on their income, did not return to normal. For five months, most workers and their families had had to borrow money and leave bills unpaid in order to survive, and they needed to pay their debts. This article examines the social cost of the 1951 waterfront dispute. It concentrates on strike debt, and the long shadow that debt cast on family and community relationships. This article argues that many of the costs of an industrial dispute are not paid until after it ends, but in contrast to union’s collective concern about costs during the dispute, costs after the dispute are privatised and treated as the concern of individual families.

Constructing a Socialist Community: The Victorian Socialist Party, Ritual, Pedagogy, and the Subaltern Counterpublic
Liam Byrne

The Victorian Socialist Party (VSP) was a vital crafter of Australian labour’s political culture in the early twentieth century. It engaged in a wide array of cultural activities, most often associated in historical literature as an attempt to create a socialist ‘community’ which operated as a replacement for mainstream religion. Here, I endeavour to demonstrate the political implications of the organisations’ cultural activities and connect them to its broader project of social transformation. I do so by considering these acts of cultural creation against international literature on labour culture and propose a new understanding of the VSP as a subaltern counterpublic, as identified by Nancy Fraser, operating within a broader proletarian public sphere, a concept elucidated by Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge. This unique perspective enables an appreciation of the varying components involved in constructing labour’s culture, and enables such cultural expressions to be considered as fundamentally political, connected to a project of social change.

The “Necessity” of a Socially Homogeneous Population: The Ruling Class Embraces Racial Exclusion
Phil Griffiths

In 1888, the colonial governments of Australia came together to agree on a policy of racial exclusion – aimed at preventing Chinese immigration. This article argues that key figures in the colonial ruling class feared the development of a racially divided population and shows them drawing on the mainstream liberal theory of anti-slavery, and John Stuart Mill’s theory that representative government required social homogeneity, to construct and legitimise their position. While anti-slavery has long passed as a major element in public policy, Mill’s argument for homogeneity shaped Australian justifications for White Australia through much of the twentieth century and, arguably, still informs elements of contemporary immigration policy.

Black-Bans and Black Eyes: Implications of the 1971 Springbok Rugby Tour
Nick Scott

The 1971 Springbok rugby tour has become infamous for disruptive anti-apartheid protests, which culminated in the declaration of a State of Emergency in Queensland. Opposed to the racist selection policies of the South African national team, the trade union movement and the New Left attempted to directly stop the tour. Conservative governments took extreme measures to undermine a union black-ban, while rugby games were marred by clashes between police and demonstrators. This article offers the first sustained examination of this protest campaign. It traces efforts to stop the tour, connecting the role of the union movement to that of the New Left, and examines the reactions of governments and police forces.