When the Canberra Region Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History was established in 1995, one of its first activities was to initiate an oral history project featuring some past and serving officials of the ACT Trades and Labour Council, now known as Unions ACT.

The project was very much a self-driven initiative, conceived and carried out by the unionists themselves. Chief amongst them was Ted Forbes, inaugural ASSLH Branch President and former ACT branch secretary of the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union. Ted recorded most of the interviews himself on an old analogue tape recorder.

Some of the original participants are now deceased but their interviews bear witness to their pioneering efforts to get the union movement on a firm footing in Canberra. One was the veteran TWU bus driver Doug Carpenter who ‘ran the union from the seat of a bus.’ Another was Amos McVeigh who tells of his experiences in the Great Depression, how he organised the hospitality workers in the Canberra men’s hostels and later rose to become Federal Secretary of the Liquor Trades Union.

More recent history is contained in an extensive interview with Charles McDonald who served as Secretary of the ACT Trades and Labour Council for 20 years from 1974 when the entire assets of the TLC consisted of ‘$4,000 in the bank, no office, a Gestetner, a manual typewriter and a four-drawer cabinet.’

The interviews delve into the major issues that confronted the trade union movement during the Hawke-Keating years – issues such as enterprise bargaining, the Prices and Incomes Accord and the impact of union restructuring. Taken together, they comprise an interesting snapshot of Canberra’s industrial history at an important turning-point in union history.

The order in which the interviews are presented is based roughly on when the participants first became active in the trade union movement in Canberra.

The interviewees and positions they held were as follows:

  Name Union position
1 Doug Carpenter Branch Secretary TWU and TLC President
2 Amos McVeigh Branch & Fed Secretary Liquor Trades Union
3 Bill Spellman Branch Organiser AWU
4 Charles McDonald Secretary Trades & Labour Council
5 Athol Williams Organiser SDA
6 Dave Cunningham Organiser BWIU
7 Peter O’Dea Branch Secretary BLF and TLC President
8 Ted Forbes Branch Secretary FMWU and TLC President
9 Des Heaney Branch Secretary ADSTE & AMWU
10 Gil Anderson Branch Secretary LHMU
11 Jeremy Pyner Industrial Officer BWIU and TLC Secretary
12 George Wason Branch Secretary CFMEU
13 Rob Hampstead Industrial Officer MEAA
14 Bob O’Hara Branch Secretary AMWU