2011 ASSLH conference – Shirley Andrews: social idealist for Aboriginal rights or agent of the CPA?


Shirley Andrews: social idealist for Aboriginal rights or agent of the CPA?

 Sue Taffe


Shirley Andrews joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in 1945. During the Cold War years her Party membership had a negative impact on her life. Political interference by an anti-communist member of the Victorian Parliament meant she had to fight to retain a job to which she had been appointed. ASIO agents reported on her movements and she was known to once retort angrily to an agent: ‘Why don’t you go and get yourself a proper job, such as a brothel owner!’  

CPA interest in the Council for Aboriginal Rights, which was formed in 1951, led to Shirley Andrews volunteering to join the executive of this organisation. She worked within this body for a decade and was a key strategist in the formation of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement in 1958.

Over the next ten years Andrews used her position and her political skill to advance the case for full citizenship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. She saw economic rights as the plank on which all other rights should be built. She argued that the only way that the discrimination and stereotyping of Aboriginal people, which was used to justify the removal of their civil rights, could be lessened was when they were paid properly. Equal pay would allow people to have better homes and access to education which would break the cycle of poverty.

Andrews’ writings in this cause display her intelligence, tenacity and passionate engagement with this cause. Interviews with her over the last decade of her life show a self-reflective woman, saddened by the consequences of the 1966 equal wages decision and critical of the limitations of her own thinking at the time. This paper examines the influence of Marxist thinking through the years of  her Aboriginal rights advocacy, the pressure she applied on trade unions to accept responsibility for taking up the equal wages issue and her problematic relationship with the Communist Party.

Sue Taffe is the author of Black and White Together: FCAATSI, the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, 1958-1973, University of Queensland Press, 2005. She is also the author of a large web site ‘Collaborating for Indigenous Rights’ hosted by the National Museum of Australia. www.nma.gov.au/indigenousrights. She was the principal researcher for the exhibition From Little Things Big Things Grow: Fighting for Indigenous Rights 1920-1970 which was curated by the National Museum and is now travelling. Her current research project is a biographical study of mid-twentieth century activists for Indigenous rights. Sue is an adjunct research associate at the Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies at Monash University.


Activists working for Aboriginal advancement in Australia during the period of the Cold War were often dismissed as communists and considered a threat to Australian security rather than valued as visionaries for a progressive Australia. Fear of being labelled as such was a burden to them. For Shirley Andrews, being a woman was an additional burden. But she overcame these problems to work over almost two decades promoting the rights of Aboriginal people as Australian citizens, often in association with other members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Records of her work provide the necessary evidence for understanding the question of whether her political activism was so intertwined with the goals of the CPA that she could be seen as one of their agents, or whether her membership of the party provided ideas, strategies and networks which she used to advance her goals and, in this case, whether Marxist ideology was a help or a hindrance in her reform work.

While scholars agree that Andrews’s commitment to Aboriginal rights was considerable, there has been no examination of the relationship between her Communist Party membership and her work in Aboriginal affairs, nor of the effect of communist theory and praxis on Andrews’ contribution to the Aboriginal rights and advancement movement of the 1960s.1 From 1949 Andrews was of interest to Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) agents, who described the organisations of which she was an office-­bearer, such as the Council for Aboriginal Rights (CAR) and the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement (FCAA), (later the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI)), as front organisations under Soviet control. Statements by senior public servants, such as ‘Miss Shirley Andrews is a member of a Communist front organisation’, impugned her motives.2 As an activist for rights for Aboriginal Australians she made a number of crucial contributions at a time when momentum was building to challenge the status quo in which Aboriginal Australians were forgotten, their difficult lives invisible to, or disregarded by, the majority white population. I will briefly describe what Andrews’ contribution was before I outline some of the influences in her own past that might explain her dedication to the task of both structural political and economic reform, as well as engaging with the more nebulous business of shifting social attitudes concerning Aboriginal people. I will then briefly survey the history of the CPA’s contribution in this field in order to assess the influence that Party membership had on Andrews’ work. Was it, ultimately, a strength or a disability for Andrews to see the position of Aboriginal Australians through the prism of class-­war politics? 3

Andrews’ achievements in Aboriginal affairs

From 1952 when she became honorary secretary of CAR until 1968 when she resigned from her position as secretarial consultant of FCAATSI, Shirley Andrews was an assiduous researcher, skilful organiser, and prolific writer and speaker in the Aboriginal cause. She recalled that in 1951 a CPA colleague, John Walker, was asked to join CAR ‘to keep them on the right track’. At the time she was a member of a left-­wing scientists’ group and, because she was already interested in the Aboriginal cause, she arranged a swap with Walker and became a member of the inaugural committee of CAR.4 She believed that the main struggle for the rights of Aboriginal people depended on ‘the general public getting to know the truth’ and she set out to ensure that they had the opportunity to know it.5 As secretary of CAR she began writing a biannual bulletin which informed members of what was happening in different Aboriginal communities, of cases where Aboriginal people were before the courts, and of the State legislation that affected their lives.6 She soon became the hub of an informal network of activists. At a time when other similar bodies were focussed on the situation within their own states, CAR had a broader perspective and an Australia-­wide reach which included radical missionaries, politicians, anthropologists, trade unionists and members in Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom.

Early in her secretaryship Andrews became aware of Aboriginal ‘protection’ acts in all mainland states which stripped those who were defined as Aboriginal of basic human rights. Collating this state and territory legislation, she spent many hours reading the legalese and analysing the restrictive laws and the numerous determinations under them. She created a nine-­page chart based on a series of questions such as ‘Can Aborigines move freely around the State? Can Aborigines own property? Do Aborigines have control of their own children?’ She tabulated the answers, state by state, so that readers could easily see differences and similarities. For Western Australia, Queensland and Northern Territory the answers to these questions were mostly ‘No’.7 Her vision of a just society could be realised, she believed, if she could persuade enough Australian voters, by means of information and reasoned analysis, that legislative reform was necessary. Her research led her to the view that existing state-­based bodies such as CAR and the South Australian Aborigines’ Advancement League needed to come together in a federation to fight for the repeal of these restrictive laws. Furthermore, she understood that if the Commonwealth government had the power to pass laws specific to indigenous Australians, public pressure for change could be exerted more effectively.

Andrews’ skills as an organiser were of value in both the establishment of FCAA and in its development and campaigning. She envisaged a federal organisation in 1953 but was unable at that time to persuade state bodies to federate. When Lady Jessie Street, a high-­profile Australian activist and feminist living in London, proposed a federation four years later and charged Andrews with the task of organising the first conference, Andrews suggested five ‘general principles’ which should be agreed to by federating bodies, thus ensuring that the movement would get off to an effective start .8 These included full and equal citizenship rights, education to allow Aboriginal people to attain a genuinely equal standard of living, and the right of ‘tribal Aborigines’ to their own land. They were refined to become the principles that guided FCAA(TSI) over its first decade.

In 1962 Andrews agreed to co-­ordinate a campaign to amend the Australian Constitution to enable the Commonwealth to legislate in Aboriginal affairs. This, the first national campaign for Aboriginal justice, aimed to gather 250,000 signatures on a petition to remove the two exclusionary references to Aboriginal people from the Constitution. The phrase ‘other than the aboriginal race in any state’ was to be removed from section 51 (26) which read:

The Parliament shall, subject to the Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to the people of any race other than the aboriginal race in any state, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

The other change was to repeal section 127 which stated that ‘aboriginal natives shall not be counted’ in the Commonwealth census.9 Andrews was the principal drafter of the petition preamble and of the leaflets such as ‘National Petition: Towards Equal Citizenship for Aborigines’, which set out the arguments for constitutional amendment that were used to persuade the voting public of the justice of this cause.10 One example of her attention to detail was her research into newspapers and their circulation, Australia-­wide. Identifying appropriate papers to be approached for campaign advertisements, she sent the information to State co-­ordinators.11

Closer to her heart was the question of economic justice. Andrews rejected any notions of ‘rights’ which did not take account of this. ‘Equal rights’, she explained, ‘are not much good if the Aborigines are cut off from having an equal standard of living by wages like the present disgraceful N. T. ones’.12 With Dr Barry Christophers, president of CAR and a fellow member of the CPA, she set up the equal wages for Aborigines committee of FCAA in 1963 to continue work already begun on campaigning for equal wages and for equal access to social service benefits. Andrews was the principal drafter of the pamphlets that set out the case for equal wages, widely distributed in the early 1960s.13 This campaign culminated in the North Australian Workers Union’s application to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to remove a clause from the Cattle Station Industry (Northern Territory) Award, which excluded Aboriginal workers. The application was successful and in 1966 the Commission ruled in favour of this amendment.

As a writer Andrews set out to explain the facts concerning Aboriginal disadvantage, believing that if other Australians knew them they would add to the pressure for reform. She wrote speeches, book chapters, articles, letters to newspaper editors, pamphlets and leaflets setting out the arguments for equal wages and constitutional change.14 Two examples give us some insights into the character of Andrews. In 1963, with Rodney Hall she wrote a small four-­page document A Yinjilli Leaflet: Social Services for Aborigines.15 This was in response to a request for information from the Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League, three years after amendments to the Social Service Act, which increased Aboriginal and Islander eligibility for benefits.16 The federal government had not communicated these changes to those now eligible. The Yinjilli Leaflet set out the information on how to apply and exhorted people to keep contacting the Department regularly, warning them that they may be waiting for quite a long time but encouraging them: ‘It is important not to get downhearted. Be patient and keep trying’. Five thousand copies were distributed to missions, reserves and communities.17 In the same year she had an impact on quite a different audience when she addressed a United Nations seminar on the role of police in the protection of human rights. Representatives from seventeen countries, fifteen from Asia and the Far East, listened to Andrews’ examples of the human rights violations experienced by Aboriginal people. Her address made headline news in the daily papers; Andrews recalled that the dozing journalists sat up and started scribbling like mad when she began speaking.18

Andrews was the principal author producing the campaign literature supporting both the national petition for constitutional change and the equal wages campaign. She produced lucid, succinct prose which was factually based. She reminded one correspondent: ‘It makes our work of publicising injustices to the Aborigines so much more effective if we can always be sure of the facts, so that we do not raise a hue and cry where it is not justified but confine ourselves to the really authentic cases’.19

Today we might describe Andrews as a public intellectual in that she considered herself as having a responsibility to contribute to debate in the interests of public education.20 For example in 1953 she responded to an article by Macfarlane Burnet published in Meanjin, in which he argued that human conflict was inevitable and that striving for equality was unrealistic.21 She reminded him of ‘those millions of my own sex, whose age-­old struggles for equality are reaching a climax in this century’. A ‘clear and lively conception of equality’ she argued, is a ‘prerequisite for democratic thinking’.22 Her scientific training was coupled with a belief that good research, effectively communicated, would lead to attitudinal change. She set about addressing public ignorance, focussing especially on those ‘groups of white people who regard the Aborigines as inferior and therefore to be exploited’.23 Andrews was open to new ideas and worked with a broad range of people, one of whom, Mary Bennett from Kalgoorlie, influenced her thinking considerably. Bennett, who had a lifetime of experience working closely with the Wongi people of the eastern goldfields of Western Australia, challenged politicians and bureaucrats responsible for the restrictive laws that harmed her Wongi friends. She encouraged Andrews to use international conventions such as ILO Convention 107 concerning the rights of indigenous people which, on Andrews’ recommendation, became the basis of the second annual conference of FCAA in 1959.24

Her work, furthermore, was underpinned by a deeply held moral position concerning the establishment of the Australian nation. She explained to one correspondent that ‘as all our national wealth is founded on the land we took from the Aborigines you will understand that any thinking Australian who finds out the truth about the injustices meted out to our Aborigines feels a great sense of urgency’.25 She was describing her own position: she saw her task as awakening the Australian population, especially unionists, `to a long overdue debt to provide special facilities to make up for those denied in the past’.26

Andrews’ personal concerns for justice and equity

Andrews traced her engagement in Aboriginal rights activism from a schoolgirl concern about injustice, through her experience as a female undergraduate discriminated against by lecturers and then as a worker on a lower pay scale because of her gender. In her early years -­ her father died in the 1918-­19 Spanish flu epidemic in London -­ she was brought up by her grandmother so that her mother could work. She has described this upbringing with her grandmother, a conservative with ‘silly pseudo-­snobby ideas’ as stultifying and one reason for her shift to the left.27 It was with people in the radical nationalist tradition, who shared a belief in socialist ideals, that she felt most comfortable.28

With other female science students and staff she endured discriminatory treatment at Melbourne University in the 1930s. Frequently denigrated, she and the other female undergraduates were not encouraged in their work, and one quite brilliant demonstrator would have been employed as a lecturer, Andrews believed, if she had been male.29 This experience of sexual discrimination was linked, in her mind, with the development of what she has called her ‘fellow-­ feeling’ for Aboriginal people who also suffered from discrimination which, like gender discrimination, Andrews saw as being irrational as well as unjust.30

The ‘grand new order’, envisaged in the 1940s by Prime Minister Chifley was of a postwar Australia with full employment, improved living standards and the preservation of world peace. Andrews was swept up in this mood of hope and optimism when many, like her, believed that it was a time when an activist could contribute to the making of a better world and were attracted to the Communist Party.31 Harold Laski, chairman of the British Labour Party asserted at this time that ‘the world is going left and it is going left irresistibly’.32 He argued that ‘the issues we confront are not capable of being met in terms of the traditional order’. Andrews later explained to her old friend and fellow CPA member Wendy Lowenstein that she would probably have joined the Party when she was at university but for her mother’s gentle ridicule, adding that the fact that she was an average student meant she had to study hard and didn’t have time for student politics.33

In 1951, when she was employed by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) she applied for leave without pay to attend the Berlin Peace Festival. She had been assured that such leave was routinely granted. Instead her position was abolished. Andrews was incensed, writing a detailed criticism of her treatment to the organisation in which she referred to ‘considerable injustice’ to staff members. She wrote: ‘I consider that I have been treated very unfairly. I feel strongly that the action on the part of the executive creates a dangerous precedent’.34 It is not clear whether she suspected that she lost her job because of her CPA membership but this is highly likely. The organisation was restructuring and had been under pressure because of possible security breaches.35 Shirley’s application came at a convenient time; her political views and her gender most probably contributed to her loss of this permanent public service position.36

Andrews attended the Berlin Peace Festival, missing the opportunity to vote against Menzies’ referendum to outlaw the Communist Party but gaining a wider appreciation of left-­wing grass roots politics. She was amazed at seeing nuns and priests demonstrating in a communist march in Rome.37 Back in Australia the Cold War was being fought in the unions, in the parliament and in the media. Communists were painted as the enemy. The effect of this demonising on anyone who could be shown to have been a member of the CPA had obvious and enduring consequences. For example, ASIO surveillance records, including mundane details about people going about the daily business of living, meeting in cafes and getting in and out of cars, created an aura of suspicion about peoples’ motives. Activists in the Aboriginal rights field were aware that they were under surveillance, but the degree of intrusion into people’s private lives, and learning of perhaps trusted workmates handing over reports of conversations, often shocked people. Andrews realised, many years later when she read her own ASIO file, that one of her co-­workers at CSIRO had been reporting to ASIO, describing her as ‘an ardent Communist’ who engaged her work colleagues in political discussions to the concern of the director who was relieved when she left. ‘It is maddening to think of all the money wasted paying those miserable creatures for all that nonsense’ she wrote to an old friend who supplied the file to her.38 In 1953-­77 she worked as a biochemist at Royal Park Psychiatric Hospital, Melbourne.

The Council for Aboriginal Rights became her home base from which she operated as honorary secretary on her return from Europe until 1961, after which she was the Council’s research officer. She turned her attention to one of the greatest difficulties in working for full Aboriginal equality – those ‘groups of white people who regard the Aborigines as inferior and therefore to be exploited’.39

The CPA’s Record in Aboriginal Affairs

In a detailed survey of the CPA’s record in Aboriginal affairs since 1920, Bob Boughton wrote of ‘a vibrant tradition of working class and community activism in support of Indigenous rights’.40 Other historians have been more restrained, with Heather Goodall pointing out that the CPA was slow to address the issues of Aboriginal rights, its ‘Draft Program on Aborigines’ being a response to a Soviet reprimand in 1929. Stuart Macintyre also dates the Draft Program as the party’s first attempt at setting out some policy in Aboriginal affairs. The policy may have been in response to Moscow but certainly the CPA was decades ahead of any other political parties in Australia in developing policy in this area.41 Writing in Tribune in 1964 Barry Christophers argued that, despite policy statements, ‘in actual fact, the Party has taken an active interest in Aborigines only since the early 1950s’.42

Early CPA policy, influenced by the Comintern (Communist International), viewed the Aboriginal question as a struggle against colonialism and imperialism. In 1928 the Comintern, partly as a result of the intervention of Afro-­ American delegates from the USA Communist Party, had developed a new theoretical position that ‘recognised blacks’ interests as a national group, distinct from their interests as part of the working class’.43 The CPA’s ‘Draft Programme of Struggle Against Slavery’ (1931) detailed these rights: to equality, to removal of restrictions, to education and to bring up their children.44 It also called for the ‘handing back to the aborigines of all Central, Northern and North West Australia to enable the aborigines to develop their native pursuits’. These ‘aboriginal republics’ were to be independent of Australia or other foreign powers.45 A distinction was drawn between those Aboriginal people living in remote areas of the country and those living elsewhere.

Andrew Markus, in studying the relationship between trade unions and Aborigines, has drawn attention to trade union exclusion of Aboriginal workers, even though the CPA-­led North Australian Workers’ Union finally took an interest in Aboriginal workers in the late 1940s. He chose the Aboriginal-­English expression ‘talk longa mouth’ as the title of his essay to suggest that lip service rather than concerted action best described most unions’ approaches to the Aboriginal struggle for justice in the first half of the century. The same charge could be made against the CPA, in that it produced ideas that were often not acted upon. Christophers has maintained that the pamphlet written in 1939 by Tom Wright, New Deal for the Aborigines, was ‘the voice of a lone member’ and that the CPA had overlooked the more important contributions of people outside the party such as Mary Bennett and Frederic Wood Jones.46 Certainly self-­ congratulation such as: ‘Progressive forces in Australia, led by the working-­class, have also done much to save the aborigines from final extermination, through years of courageous struggle’ is highly questionable.47

A consideration of actions rather than policy statements would seem to support Christophers’ view that until the 1950s individuals rather than the party were active in the Aboriginal cause. Tom Wright, federal president of the sheet metal workers’ union and a member of the central committee of the CPA for many years, was one of these individuals. New Deal for the Aborigines called for reserve land to be made available for people still attached to a traditional lifestyle and for the development of a uniform policy in Aboriginal affairs administered by the Commonwealth government. This was the first substantial study by a member of the Communist Party of the past and present position of Aboriginal people of full descent. Wright, who saw the position of those of mixed descent as ‘a separate problem’, was critical of government ignoring Aboriginal ‘land property rights and laws’.48 Coinciding with the outbreak of war, the pamphlet’s publication had little immediate effect. In 1948 the 15th Congress of the CPA passed a resolution that the alienation of tribal land should stop and land should be returned to tribal groups. This resolution called for the federal government to assume full responsibility for Aboriginal governance, to supply an adequate health service and to assist in the development of economic activity. It called also for trade union protection for Aboriginal workers and demanded ‘the abolition of all laws and ordinances discriminating against them and the immediate granting of equality of rights with all other citizens’.49 There was little action to realise these aims however, and effective actions taken by party members through these years were isolated rather than part of a campaign. Most notably, Gerald Peel had supported the people of the Torres Strait in their 1936 strike and in his subsequent writings, and Don McLeod helped striking Aboriginal pastoral workers to organise in the Pilbara in 1946.50 Andrews later  agreed with Christophers that individual party members rather than the party per se were concerned with Aboriginal affairs.51

Party policy changed at the 17th National Congress in 1954, with Aboriginal people now seen as a single national group, ‘an oppressed national minority’ who were developing an awareness of themselves as racially and culturally distinct and who were conscious of their common oppression. Aboriginal people on missions and settlements were described as workers, not nomadic hunters, and earlier policy ‘based on an artificial separation of full-­bloods from half-­ castes’ was dismissed as ‘completely wrong’.52 Statements such as these were driven by theoretical conceptions rather than by interactions with human communities. In the ‘advancement leagues’ which, with the exception of the South Australian League, were being formed in the late 1950s, communists interested in Aboriginal affairs, such as Len Fox in Sydney, Kathy Cochrane in Brisbane, Joyce Tattersell in Cairns and Shirley Andrews in Melbourne, were meeting Aboriginal activists such as Pearl Gibbs, Gladys O’Shane, and Kath Walker, through the new multi-­racial bodies as well as in unions and the CPA branches. These Aboriginal activists recognised the value of white support and the organisational power of the left-­wing unions to raise funds and generate publicity in campaigning. An early example of this power was a case at Hopevale, in far north Queensland, where a young Aboriginal man was flogged for disobeying Mission rules. A coalition of communists, Trades and Labour Council people and other left-­wing supporters successfully pressed for the case to be heard in a public court and the missionary was found guilty of contravening regulations under the Aborigines Preservation and Protection  Act.53 Such engagement with Aboriginal activists resulted in actions driven less by theory and more by Aboriginal priorities.

It is clear, however, that a number of the reforms which the CPA pressed for in the 1950s and even earlier were incorporated into the aims of these multi-­racial leagues which were established in the late 1950s, including FCAA. Aboriginal ownership of reserves, the ending of discriminatory laws, the extension of full civil rights and the raising of living, education and health standards and the right of Aboriginal parents to child endowment were all party policy in 1954 and would be taken up and fought for by activists in the campaigns of the next decade.

In 1963 Ted Bacon, Queensland State secretary of the CPA, circulated for comment an updated draft of the party program for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Andrews took issue with him on a number of counts. He stated that Aborigines occupied leading positions in Aboriginal rights organisations; she pointed out that this was true only for the Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League. The draft maintained the earlier theoretical position that Aboriginal people were members of a national minority with strong working-­class ties; Andrews disputed this. Referring to an article in the Communist Review on this topic she wrote that ideas in the Aborigines’ minds that come from their position as a national minority and the ideas in their oppressors’ minds, are less important than ‘actual class relationships that exist objectively’.54

Andrews pointed out the weakness in the conception of Aboriginal people as ‘a national minority’.55 She was aware, through meeting Aboriginal and Islander people from across the country at FCAA conferences, of their vastly different experiences of dispossession? she was also aware that these conferences provided early opportunities for a gradual development of an awareness of Aboriginality among the Yolngu and the Yorta Yorta, the Kariara people at Port Hedland, who had formed a mining company, and the Eora activists from Sydney. Aboriginal people as a nation was no more than an idea at this time, not the reality suggested by the CPA. Andrews reminded the drafters of the program that ‘class relationships cannot be altered just by goodwill’, drawing their attention to an endemic racial prejudice among white pastoral workers in the outback, an apathy among white trade union leaders in the north concerning Aboriginal working conditions and pay, and unionists’ ignorance of conditions endured by Aboriginal workers. She encouraged the drafters of this policy to face these ‘unpalatable realities’.56 These criticisms were from a woman whose knowledge came from reflection based on her experience with Aboriginal people, trade unionists and other activists? from one who liked to correct misapprehensions when she came across them.

How was Andrews’ Aboriginal affairs activism influenced by her being a Communist?

In mid-­twentieth century Melbourne Shirley Andrews was a part of a vibrant left culture, a member of the Realist Writers’ group and of the Unity Dance group. She was active in the peace movement, addressing crowds on the Yarra Bank in the early 1950s. She described herself as ‘a leftie’ but made clear that she was not on any Communist Party committees; she was described by an ASIO agent as ‘terribly small time in the Party’.57 Andrews was a scientist, whose research training and respect for academic rigour was evident in all her work. And she was above all, a humanitarian, respected by activists of various political persuasions for her work in pursuit of justice for Aboriginal Australians. Dr Charles Duguid, an anti-­communist, praised her fine work, and Stan Davey, secretary of both FCAATSI and of the Victorian Aborigines’ Advancement League, recognised Andrews as a principled and humanitarian advocate for Aboriginal Australians, in contrast to some CPA members in other states whom he considered manipulative.58

What then was the influence of communism on Andrews’ thinking and activism? Apart from providing her with experience in organising, the most obvious influence can be seen in her analysis of the question of wages. This was both strength and limitation. She wrote about the ‘powerful forces at work opposing those who have been trying to obtain equality for the Aborigines for many years’, pointing out how extraordinary it was that the pastoral industry, the largest employer of Aboriginal labour, ‘should be singled out for special privileges and permitted to underpay the bulk of its employees’.59 She understood the value of cheap Aboriginal labour to the cattle barons in the north and the injustices suffered by working individuals, such as two ‘very fine young Aboriginal stockmen’ whom she met at a Cairns conference in 1962. She explained their situation in a lecture in Melbourne: they were about twenty-­five years of age and had worked on a cattle station since they were ten. They received only £10 at Christmas and when the local race meeting was held. As they hadn’t been taught to read it was very difficult for them to find out what they were entitled to and how to get it.60 Andrews was incensed by such situations. She believed that economic discrimination was the basis on which other discriminations against Aboriginal people were built. She linked the Western European colonising ventures with the development of a social Darwinism that saw Aboriginal people as inherently inferior and justified the taking of their land.61 In her mind, equal wages would make possible decent housing and that in turn would make education of children possible, so that racial stereotypes could be challenged. This analysis, however, was based on a series of assumptions about culture which, later in life, Andrews realised were flawed.62 The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission ruling on the Cattle Station Industry (Northern Territory) Award 1951 which established the precedent for equal wages was followed by unemployment for many Aboriginal pastoral workers, causing Andrews to reflect later that more creative, culturally appropriate solutions to the question of wage inequity might have been considered. She was saddened by the loss of jobs, and the dislocation which followed implementation of equal wages in the cattle industry.63

While the CPA referred to ‘backward peoples’, ‘national minorities’ and `ethnic minorities’, Andrews continued to critique the Party, the Commonwealth government and members of the public for unscientific thinking concerning gender and racial categorising. To demand equality as women do is a ‘natural human characteristic’, she wrote in response to the article by Macfarlane Burnet, and in the same response she drew attention to the tardiness of scientists in accepting responsibility for ‘dispelling the fog of unscientific racial theories and prejudices still overshadowing the world after the military defeat of Fascism’.64

 A vision of Australian society in which laws protected all individuals instead of sanctioning discrimination against some, and where social attitudes were no longer driven by irrational prejudices concerning race and gender, inspired Andrews. This brief analysis suggests that the origins of her awareness of injustice began in her personal experience of discrimination based on gender and increased after she found a role in a male-­dominated profession. The political era in which she grew into adulthood expanded her awareness of injustice to another social group -­ Aboriginal people – and socialist ideology guided her growing political sophistication. The CPA was a useful forum in which Andrews could develop her ideology and through which she could network with like-­ minded activists. While Andrews’ campaigning work benefited from the organisational strength of the CPA and the goals it set out in policy statements that work cannot be explained as the CPA promoting its objectives through an uncritical member.


1   Bain Attwood, Rights for Aborigines (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2003), 136-­137, suggests that Andrews initially became involved in Aboriginal activism as a result of her CPA membership though he sees this as only a partial explanation. Jennifer Clark has written about ASIO’s surveillance of Andrews and of the role of the Communist Party in Aboriginal activism in the 1960s, arguing that given the entrenched conservative government of the times it was natural for Aboriginal rights to be left of centre. Aborigines and Activism: Race, Aborigines & the Coming of the Sixties to Australia (Perth: University of Western Australia Press, 2008). Bob Boughton goes further, arguing that since its inception in 1920s the CPA has provided ‘the strongest and most consistent support for Indigenous rights’. ‘The Communist Party of Australia’s Involvement in the Struggle for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Rights 1920-­1970’, in R. Markey (ed.), Labour and Community: Historical Essays (Wollongong: University of Wollongong Press, 2001).
2   Neil Truscott for the Secretary, External Affairs, 22 May 1963, ECOSOS: Item on Aborigines A1838/1/557/9, National Archives of Australia (NAA).
3   For a broader biographical study of Shirley Andrews see S. Taffe, ‘Shirley Andrews: an architect of the national Aboriginal civil rights movement, 1952-­1968’, in History Australia, vol. 8, no. 2, August 2011. See also Taffe, Black and White Together FCAATSI: Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders 1958-­1973 (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2008).
4   Wendy Lowenstein recorded interview, TRC3111, National Library of Australia (NLA).
5   Shirley Andrews to Grace Bardsley, 10 February 1956, Council for Aboriginal Rights papers, (CAR), MS12913/2/4, State Library of Victoria (SLV).
6   Bulletin 1 – 13, April 1953 to March 1961, CAR, MS12913/5/5, SLV.
7   Shirley Andrews, ‘The Australian Aborigines: A Summary of their Situation in all states in 1962, CAR, MS12913/11/3, and revised in 1963 and 1964, SLV.
8   Shirley Andrews to Jessie Street, 27 August 1956, Jessie Street papers, MS2683/10/124, NLA.
9   The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Government Printer (1901).
10   ‘National Petition: Towards Equal Citizenship for Aborigines’ (1962), Barry Christophers Papers, MS7992/8, NLA.
11   File notes, CAR, MS12913/3/4, SLV.
2   Shirley Andrews to Mr Robinson, Council for Aboriginal Rights (NT), 24 November 1964, CAR, MS12913/9/9, SLV.
13   For example ‘The Facts on Wage Discrimination Against Aborigines’, n.d, printed early 1965; ‘Wage Discrimination Against Aborigines, n.d, but late 1964.
14   Some examples of her published work are: ‘There must be Federal control for Aborigines’ in Now, Brotherhood of St Lawrence, Fitzroy, October 1954; ‘Social service benefits still denied Aborigines’ in Beacon, Unitarian Church 1961? ‘Could legislation help instead of hindering the Aborigines?, Smoke Signals, April 1963? ‘Life in the sunshine state – if your skin is dark’, Smoke Signals, June 1964? ‘Assimilation – economy size’, Smoke Signals, September 1964? ‘Mr Lockwood takes a closer look’, Smoke Signals, April-­June 1965.
15   Shirley Andrews and Rodney Hall, A Yinjilli Leaflet: Social Services for Aborigines, Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement, 1963.
16   Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League, Resolutions on Social Services passed at the Cairns Conference, 2 December 1962, CAR, MS12913/9/8, SLV.
17   Andrews and Hall, A Yinjilli Leaflet.
18   Sue Taffe recorded interview of Shirley Andrews, 4 August 1994;? ‘Police Denials of “Victimisation” at U.N. Seminar, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1963.
19   Shirley Andrews to Arthur Ellemor, 30 March 1953, CAR, MS12913/1/4, SLV.
20   Andrews published as a biochemist: ‘Blood bromide levels in psychiatric patients taking bromureides’, Medical Journal of Australia (May ), 646-­652?  She was also an authority on Australian folk music: Shirley Andrews, Take Your Partners: Traditional Social Dancing in Colonial Australia (Melbourne: Victorian Folk Music Club, 1974)? Shirley Andrews and Peter Ellis, Two Hundred Dancing Years and How to Celebrate them with a Colonial Ball (Melbourne, Australian Bicentennial Authority, 1988). She also contributed to social and cultural debates, for example her response, unpublished, to Macfarlane Burnet’s ‘A Biologist’s Approach to Human Conflict’, text of a talk published in Meanjin, vol. X1, no. 3, Spring 1952.
21   Sir Macfarlane Burnet, ‘A Biologist’s Approach to Human Conflict’, Meanjin, vol. X1, no. 3, 1952.
22   Shirley Andrews, ‘A Next-­Generation Scientist Looks at “A Biologist’s Approach to Human Conflict”’ (unpub.) March 1953, Shirley Andrews papers, MS6000, series 22, NLA.
23   Shirley Andrews to Jessie Street, 31 August 1957, Street Papers, MS 2683/10/387, NLA; S. Andrews, `The Future’ in Mary M. Bennett, Human Rights for Australian Aborigines: how can they learn without a teacher? (Brisbane: Truth and Sportsman Limited, 1957), 53.
24   Convention 107, ‘Convention concerning the protection and integration of indigenous and other tribal and semi-­tribal populations in independent countries’, International Labour Organisation, 1957.
25   Shirley Andrews to Reverend A. J. Sopher, Presbyterian Aboriginal Evangelical Mission, 5 June 1954, CAR, MS12913/1/9, SLV.
26   Ibid.
27   Lowenstein interview.
28   Ibid.
29   Jane Carey recorded interview, 3 July 1998, in the interviewer’s possession; Lowenstein Interview.
30   Sue Taffe and Leanne Miller, Recorded interview with Shirley Andrews, Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders oral history project, 26 September 1996, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra; Carey interview.
31   Phillip Deery and Neil Redfern, ‘No Lasting Peace? Labor, Communism and the Cominform: Australia and Great Britain, 1945-­50’, in Labour History, no. 88, May 2005, 63; Lowenstein interview.
32   Cited in Robin Gollan, Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism and the Australian Labour Movement, 1920-­1955 (Canberra: ANU Press, 1975), 150.
33   Lowenstein interview.
34   Andrews to Director, CSIRO, 18 May 1951, Shirley Andrews papers, MS6000/1/4, NLA.
35   Meredith Burgmann, ‘Dress Rehearsal for the Cold War’, in Ann Curthoys and John Merritt, Australia’s First Cold War 1945-­1953 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1984).
36   A clearer example of political interference was her appointment to Royal Park Mental Institute which was challenged until Andrews’ lawyers threatened breach of contract. See ASIO senior field officer report, 30 June 1953, series A6119, control 1064, NAA; also Lowenstein interview.
37   Lowenstein interview.
38   Andrews to Don [Calman], 21 July 2001, Lowenstein papers, MS 9968, series 11, NLA; Shirley Andrews, A6119/1064, NAA.
39   Andrews, ‘The Future’, in Bennett, Human Rights for Aborigines, 58.
40   Boughton, ‘The Communist Party of Australia’s Involvement in the Struggle for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Rights 1920-­1970’, 264.
41   Stuart Macintyre, The Reds: the Communist Party of Australia from origins to illegality (Sydney:Allen & Unwin, 1998), 265-­267? Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal politics in New South Wales, 1770-­1972 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin,1996), 233.
42   Barry Christophers, ‘Self-­praise won’t influence people’, Tribune, 1 April 1964.
43   Boughton, ‘The Communist Party of Australia’s Involvement in the Struggle for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Rights, 1920-­1970’, 266.
44   ‘Communist Party’s Fight for Aborigines: Draft Programme of Struggle Against Slavery’, The Workers’ Weekly, 24 September 1931.
45   Ibid.
46   Christophers, ‘Self-­praise won’t influence people’. This is one of three articles by Christophers published in Tribune on this topic. The others are ‘Are the Aborigines a “Nation”?’, 18 March 1964, and ‘The exploitation of Aborigines’, 25 March 1964. Bennett published The Australian Aboriginal as a Human Being in 1930 and Wood Jones Australia’s Vanishing Race in 1934.
47   ‘A New Stage in the Development of the Aboriginal People’, Communist Review, September 1954, 283.
48   Tom Wright, New Deal for the Aborigines, 2nd edition (Sydney: Current Book Distributors, 1944), 21-­22.
49   Resolution carried by the 15th congress of the Australian Communist Party, held in Sydney, 7th– 10th May, 1948’, State records of Western Australia, 993, 592/48, Perth.
50   Gerald Peel, Isles of the Torres Strait. An Australian Responsibility (Sydney: Current Book Distributers, 1947); Boughton, ‘The Communist Party of Australia’s Involvement in the Struggle for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Rights 1920-­1970’, 272-­274.
51   Lowenstein interview.
52   ‘A New Stage in the Development of the Aboriginal People’, Communist Review, September 1954, 282-­285.
53   See Sue Taffe, ‘The Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League and the Community of the Left’, Labour History, no 97, November 2009, for details of these successful alliances. See also Taffe, Black and White Together.
54   Shirley Andrews, ‘Comments on draft of Communist Policy on the Aborigines of Australia’, 1963, Bacon papers, UQFL 241/9, Fryer Library, University of Queensland.
55   The draft policy and particularly the issue of whether Aborigines could be described as ‘a  national minority’ was debated in Communist Review in 1963 and 1964. See for example E. Bacon, ‘Draft Programme for Aborigines’, October 1964? A. L. ‘The Aboriginal National Minority’, February 1963; David (Vic), ‘Nationality of Aborigines’, September 1964.
56   ‘Communist policy on the Aborigines of Australia’ 23 August 1963, and comments on the policy, Bacon papers, University of Queensland.
57   ‘Aborigines’, series A6119, item 1064, NAA.
58   Charles Duguid to Shirley Andrews, 22 June 1953, CAR, MS12913/1/7, SLV? Francis Good, interview of Stan Davey, October 1986, NTRS 226, Northern Territory Archives Service, Darwin.
59   Andrews, ‘The Future’ in Bennett, 52.
60   Shirley Andrews, ‘The Aborigines-­Wages and Work’ Council of Adult Education lecture, Melbourne, January 1965.
61   Andrews to Street, 31 August 1957, Street papers, MS2683/10/387, NLA.
62   Taffe and Miller interview;? Peter Read recorded interview of Shirley Andrews, 2 March 1989, TRC 2303/33, NLA.
63   Ibid.
64   Shirley Andrews, ‘A Next Generation Scientist looks at “A Biologist’s Approach to Human Conflict”’, (unpub.), March 1953, Shirley Andrews papers, MS6000, series 22, NLA.