Luxury and the Australian Labour Press, 1890–1918
Labour history has paid more attention to the worker as producer than as consumer: previous work on Australian workers’ consumption includes studies of the co-operative movement and the consumption of women workers. This study differs from earlier work in that it concentrates on the impact on the labour movement of the vast and diverse theoretical literature on consumption, particularly luxury consumption, that circulated from the end of the nineteenth century. Debates about luxury were central to anxieties around the expansion of consumerism to include working people, and the labour press was in a prime position to influence the attitudes of Australian workers. The article finds the press was neither definitively critical of mass consumption nor explicitly complicit with it, reflecting its ambiguous position, as it tried to promulgate a message of change using the tools of the status quo, particularly commercial advertising.
A Beaut of a Cut Near Cairns: The Butty Gang System in the Cane Fields in John Naish’s The Cruel Field
Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui
Fictional works are a medium to not only understand the past but to give voice to the marginalised and lost. For over a century and a half sugar cane was harvested by hand in Australia, first by Melanesian indentured labourers, Asian labourers and then by free, mostly white labour. With the post-World War II economic boom, the sugar industry expanded. Thousands of men signed-on to cut cane despite its brutality and itinerant lifestyle. For an intense seven months they lived together in barracks and worked in gangs, eyes fixed on the pay packet, cut-out day and the retention money. The powerful sense of mateship that bound the gang often faltered under the heat of a tropical sun, as the cutters battled tangled cane, avaricious farmers, and the intransigent mills’ field arbiters, the cane inspectors. Welsh immigrant author, playwright, and cane cutter John Naish’s sugar country novel, The Cruel Field, authentically exposed the dynamics and workings of the butty gang system in the Australian cane fields in the 1950s and 1960s. In this article, Naish’s novel is used to examine the butty gang in the cane fields, suggesting the potential cogency of seeing labour history through the lens of a fictional work.
Working-Class Women’s Writing of Activism and Imprisonment: Political Violence and Emotions in Cold War Italy
This article analyses women’s experiences of agency and imprisonment, focusing on memoirs and correspondence written by left-wing working-class women witnesses and victims of the harsh political violence ravaging Cold War Bologna in the early 1950s. Working-class women’s gendered memoirs and correspondence, long stored in family archives and recently rediscovered, powerfully question the male-oriented collective narratives of those events. These materials reveal how writing acts as a medium for sharing intimate feelings with spouses and family members during imprisonment, and for recalling historical events from a gendered standpoint. The analysis of these women’s writing tackles the interweaving of private (ie family and female solidarity networks) and public (ie political engagement) in the narratives of labour struggles, political violence and imprisonment, thereby overcoming traditional, deep-rooted boundaries.
“An Active and Conscious Agent”? Ric Throssell and Soviet Espionage
This article examines the controversial Cold War case of Ric Prichard Throssell, the son of the famed Australian writer and communist, Katharine Susannah Prichard. Because of his relationship to his mother, his association with “persons of interest” to ASIO, the revelations of the Venona decrypts, and the evidence of Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov, ASIO was convinced that Throssell committed espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Numerous scholars and commentators have concurred with this view. Using Australian and British archival files, some recently declassified, the article revisits the case to argue the opposite: that the balance of probability points strongly to Ric Throssell being not a Soviet spy but a Cold War victim.
“Aussies and Stinking Reds”: The Antifascism of the Communist Party of Australia
The Sydney May Day demonstration in 1956 was largely a peaceful affair but around its edges conflict flared. A new Far Right organisation called the Australian Party mobilised against the march, declaring it filled with “stinking Reds.” The Communist Party of Australia (CPA), while condemning the Australian Party, urged physical restraint. The day ended without arrests. This article takes this moment of confrontation as the starting point for a deeper investigation of the CPA’s antifascism over time; from the 1920s through to the 1950s. This research is situated in historical studies of the politics of the CPA and also the developing field of contemporary antifascism studies.
Anti-Communism in the Unions: The Case of the Federated Clerks’ Union in South Australia, 1944–60
Malcolm Saunders and Neil Lloyd
Labour historians remain fascinated by the struggle against communism in Australian trade unions during the Cold War’s early years, typically examining major unions at the national level. This article, by contrast, uses detailed archival research to explore the anti-communists’ bitter, decade-and-and-a-half-long attempt to displace secretary Harry Krantz and his supporters in the South Australian branch of the Federated Clerks’ Union (FCU). While the aims of the right-wing activists were dubious, the incumbents’ methods were even more questionable. By 1952 the FCU in South Australia had distinguished itself by being the only major state branch to survive the anti-communist crusade. This article demonstrates reasons for the Left’s success. They were certainly aided by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) dissolving the anti-communist Industrial Groups in the state in 1951. But strategy, tactics and personal factors played a significant role. Krantz’s ability and political nous were not matched by the anti-communists, and he had won impressive gains for union members. A final factor was Krantz and his allies’ ruthlessness, and forensic knowledge – and exploitation – of union rules.
“The Best Way to Help Vietnam Is to Make Revolution in Your Own Country”: Student Radicalism at Flinders University in the Long 1960s
Nicholas Herriot and Paul Sendziuk
With its radical print culture and Maoist style of politics, Flinders University became an epicentre of student dissent during the “long 1960s.” This article employs oral history to understand how former Flinders students constructed their radical identities. In doing so, we challenge dismissive understandings of activism as a simplistic imitation of overseas protest or naive self-indulgence. Militant solidarity with struggles in Vietnam and South Africa motivated activists who hoped to make a revolution in their own country. Global events not only encouraged students to take to the streets, they also laid the foundations for battles on campus as activists sought to democratise Flinders University. We highlight the relationship between radicals and their own institution and suggest how activists approached localised concerns such as assessment as symptomatic of wider social issues beyond the campus boundaries. A significant yet overlooked case study of student radicalisation is therefore contextualised, locating Flinders University students within a broader narrative of sixties protest.
Co-operative Education: The Credit Union Foundation of Australia Development Education Program 1991–2013
Greg Patmore and Mark Westcott
The co-operative movement from its earliest days placed an emphasis on education not only for promoting technical education but also for reinforcing co-operative ideology. Credit unions, which are financial co-operatives, played a significant role in the co-operative movements in Australia and North America. Australian credit unions established the Credit Union Foundation of Australia as a development arm of the movement to promote credit unions in developing economies and within Australia among indigenous and regional communities. Its Development Education Program played a major role in promoting credit unions within Australia and in the Asia-Pacific region. Its eventual demise is linked to the changing nature of the credit union movement in Australia.
“Stopping the Mad Stampede”: The New South Wales Labor Party Opposes Sending More Men Overseas and Favours Home Defence, May–June 1918
The New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party concealed the details of an entire week of debate at its state conference in June 1918. This enabled it to consider in confidence recommendations from its State Executive to oppose sending more men overseas and to favour withdrawing Australia’s troops if the Imperial government did not make better efforts to negotiate peace. Conference approved the first recommendation, making it the most radical position taken by the Party on the war. In a related decision it also voted to retain compulsory military training for the defence of Australia. This note explains the background to these developments and, drawing on unused sources, recreates the outlines of the lost debate.