Welcome to the Canberra Region Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History.

The ASSLH aims to encourage the study, teaching and research of labour history and to encourage the preservation of labour archives.

This website was designed by Webtrax with the assistance of the Bede Nairn Fund. It aims to present a selection of articles and publications that can easily be accessed by students, teachers and others wanting to know more about labour history and politics.

The ASSLH encourages open debate on questions relating to labour history and politics. The articles published on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSLH and its officers. New contributions welcome. Links to other websites do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the content of those websites.

For news about our activities over the past year, click to read our Branch President’s report to the 2018 Annual General Meeting.  Branch president’s Annual Report 2017-18


Coming events

Annual Spanish Civil War commemoration

Friends of the Australian International Brigade will gather on Sunday 2nd December 2018 at 12.00 midday to enjoy a picnic lunch. The venue is the Spanish Civil War memorial at Lennox Gardens, situated between the Lake and the Hyatt Hotel.

Hear Republican-era Spanish music, poems and short speeches by historians, unionists and descendants of soldiers and nurses who fought in Spain. Everyone is welcome. There will be no cost. Bring your own food and drink. This year a special commemorative paella will be prepared. Older visitors are advised to bring a folding chair!

For further information, contact:
Brian Hungerford or Luisa Espino on 6282 4747 or 0418 48 18 67




Barry McGowan 1945-2018

Dr Barry McGowan, who died recently, was a good friend of the Canberra Branch of the ASSLH. He did a part-time undergraduate degree at ANU while working in the public service, majoring in Archaeology and History. For his post-graduate degree he undertook a study of mining communities in SE NSW. Before he finished his thesis he left the public service and began making a living from consultancy work. His clients were regional town councils, tourist organisations and, on one or two occasions, the NSW Police.

Canberra labour historians knew of Barry’s work and he was prevailed upon to give talks to branch members and to take them on a number of bush walks to abandoned mine sites. These outings were always enjoyable. The weather was unfailingly kind to us and Barry drew upon his extensive knowledge to bring the sites alive. By then he was a leading member of the Australian Mining History Association, an organisation fostering the history of mining Australia-wide. He had also become an author, having already published several of his consultancy reports and two books. His fourth book, Dust and Dreams: Mining communities in SE NSW, marked a return to where his scholarly interests began, his analysis now honed by a broader knowledge of small field mining.

Meanwhile the Chinese in 19th century Australia had become another dimension to Barry’s consultancy business. His talks to the branch focussed on the Chinese work gangs that did much of the ringbarking, fencing and dam excavation in the Riverina. He gave us some amusing examples of would be exploiters of Chinese labour finding to their chagrin that they had been themselves outwitted and exploited.

Barry ‘s work added substantially to the history of gold mining in 19th and early 20th century Australian history. While the small fields he studied were part of ‘the rush that never ended’, some of them, particularly those that survived for a long time (the Bywong field just North of the ACT is an example), helped local people to survive as small holders. They offered a way through tough times and/or a way to augment family incomes. Not least among their attractions was the fact that they were close by, ready whenever they were needed and boss-free.

In one way his life mirrored those of the hard working small holders striving for independence and security on the land. His bold decision to leave the Public Service left him with no alterative but to make a success of his writing and his consultancies. That he did so is a tribute to his industry, determination and scholarship.

John Merritt


Recent articles

Here are some of our recent articles. To search the complete list, click on the Articles and Publications menu.

  • Our Forgotten Prime Minister October 8, 2018 - Stephen Holt Australian Prime Ministers get to have a federal electorate named after them after they die. There are 22 deceased Australian Prime Ministers and after the latest redistribution there are, seemingly in line with this practice, 22 federal seats bearing the name of a deceased Prime Minister. There is an anomaly though and it […]
  • The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1912-19 June 20, 2018 -   Humphrey McQueen  (Originally published in Social Policy in Australia – Some Perspectives 1901-1975. Edited by Jill Roe. Cassell Australia 1976) SIX MONTHS BEFORE the Armistice ended the Great War a new and more deadly scourge was unleashed upon the world. Popularly known as ‘Spanish’ flu it killed twenty million people within twelve months.
  • Ghost of bankers past may come to haunt Shorten June 18, 2018 - Bob Crawshaw (First published in The Canberra Times 21 April 2016) You can almost hear the ghost of prime minister Ben Chifley applauding Bill Shorten’s calls for a royal commission into Australian banking. Yet while Chifley might approve of Shorten’s efforts, he would probably think they do not go far enough.
  • What happened to Childe? June 10, 2018 - V. Gordon Childe (1892-1957) made himself the most influential Australian scholar in the humanities and social sciences. Forty years after his death, his ideas stimulate thinkers well beyond his own field of Prehistoric archaeology. Humphrey McQueen has returned to Childe’s writings to reflect on current disputes about facts, theorising and politics in the piecing together […]
  • The New Guard June 3, 2018 - Originally published in Workers Online 2003: http://workers.labor.net.au/features/200313/c_historicalfeature_moore.html Andrew Moore Who were Australia’s fascists in the 1930s and was John Howard’s father in the New Guard? Labour historian, Andrew Moore, uncovers some surprising information about Australia’s fascist past.