Vale Victor Isaacs 1949-2019

The passing of Victor Isaacs in October 2019 came as a shock to his many friends and acquaintances. Victor was a valued and respected member of the Canberra Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History and served as our Branch President during the years 2006 to 2009.

His interests were many and varied. Apart from political history, Victor was an authority on railway history and the history of Australian newspapers. He founded the Australian Newspaper History Group in 1999 and lectured extensively on his researches, including for the University of the Third Age.

Throughout his long association with the Labour History Society, he was happy to share his knowledge with his comrades. He presented a number of papers at our events, including at the National Labour History Conference in 2011. A selection of his writings can be found on this website under the ‘Articles and Publications’ menu.

Apart from his gifts as a scholar and presenter, Victor will be fondly remembered for his personal qualities as well. He was a good natured soul with a lively sense of humour. Our sincere condolences to his wife Agnes, his friends and family. He will be sadly missed.


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


Harry Holland – Son of Canberra honoured at last

The Canberra Region Branch of ASSLH had long sought to have some kind of monument erected to the memory of Canberra born labour pioneer Harry Holland (1868-1933). Those efforts came to fruition on 2 February 2011 when a commemorative sign was unveiled at Ginninderra village by the then ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and acting New Zealand High Commissioner Vangelis Vitalis.

For a report on the event, click here:

Harry Holland web site posting

Transcript of the NZ High Commissioner’s speech:

Holland Speech Vangelis Vitalis

To read what the sign says, click here:

Holland commemorative sign


Canberra centenary event 2013

In 2013, Canberra celebrated its centenary as the nation’s capital. Amid all the hype of the official  celebrations, the contribution of the early builders of Canberra was pretty much overlooked. Yet for much of its past 100 years, Canberra was largely a working class town with much of the population employed in building and construction. In order to address this omission, the Canberra Region Branch, with the assistance of Unions ACT, organised a bus tour of significant heritage sites, each of which offered a glimpse into the lives of the early workers of Canberra.

For a report of the event click here;

Canberra centenary bus tour


 The Communist Party Dissolution Bill – 60 years on

Symposium held on 8 May 2010 at the Australian National University hosted jointly by the ASSLH Canberra Region Branch and the ANU. The symposium featured a number of speakers who examined the political and historical significance of attempts by Liberal Prime Minister Menzies to outlaw the Communist Party of Australia in 1950.
A selection of the papers presented at the symposium can be accessed via the following links:

The Communist Party Dissolution Bill and its aftermath – George Williams

An audio recording of Prof Williams’ talk can be downloaded from the ABC web site

Communist Party Dissolution Attempt, 1950 and 1951 – 60 years on – Malcolm Mackerras

Venona and the Banning of the CPA in 1951 – Frank Cain


Vale Sigrid McCausland

sigrid-mccauslandMembers and friends of the Canberra Region Branch of the Labour History Society will be saddened to hear of the passing of Dr Sigrid McCausland, formerly ANU Archivist and an active member of our Society. Sigrid passed away on 30 Nov 2016. She served with distinction as Branch President from 2001 to 2003. This is a great loss to the communities of labour historians and archivists, as well as to Sigrid’s many friends, colleagues and admirers, including here in Canberra. Our condolences to her family and her partner Phil Griffiths.