by Stephen Holt
(A review of Liam Byrne’s new book Becoming John Curtin and James Scullin: The making of the modern Labor Party. The article was published in The Canberra Times of 7 July 2020 and is posted here with the permission of the author.)
On 14 December 1918 an election took place in the federal seat of Corangamite. It was held to choose a successor to the previous member J. C Manifold who had fallen victim to the influenza pandemic that was then sweeping the world. Continue reading
Drew Cottle and Angela Keys
Factory occupations are rare in Australian labour history. While ‘work-ins’ and other forms of workers’ control have occurred in coalmines, power stations, on building sites and on the waterfront, they are almost unknown in factories. Their importance has always been a crucial part of the Left’s political programme and strategy to establish socialism. This paper will examine the Harco ‘stay-put’ as an example of workers’ control in one factory. It is a study of democracy from below where rank-and-file workers attempted to run things at a small metal-shop on Sydney’s urban fringe.
by Humphrey McQueen
And in a charge of bubbles we go about,
Veering in towards drama and Cape Howe;
Eyried in mist we feel the brush of doubt
As stars congeal, the air thickens. There are warnings now.
Francis Webb, Disaster Bay (c.1970).
Whoever it was who reached what we now call Australia some 50,000 or so years ago they were not ‘discovering’ this continent in the sense employed with the re-expansion of Europe when the word gains several of its current connotations. More is involved in deciding whether it is appropriate to speak of ‘discovery’ than a gap of 50,000 years. Incompatible ways of living fall between a primary communalism and an emerging capitalism, one local in its satisfactions, as Lt James Cook assumed, the other global in the appetites he served.
by Drew Cottle
The Brisbane Line was a hotly contested idea during World War 2 which envisioned that the northern half of Australia might be abandoned in the event of an invasion by the Japanese.
Historian Drew Cottle takes a fresh look behind the controversy in this interesting article, originally published in the Journal of Australian Studies, January 2001.
It is reposted here with the kind permission of the author.
Cottle, Drew – The Brisbane line _ An episode in capital history
Tetchy relations between business and the Liberal Party are far from new
by Norman Abjorensen
A non-Labor government in Canberra might ordinarily expect solid support from business — even if only because it is self-interestedly preferable to the alternative, with its presumed tilt towards the unions. But it’s not quite as simple as that. History tells us that the Liberals’ relationship with the big end of town can be far from cosy.
referendum – 20 years on
republic’ by Humphrey McQueen
November 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the
unsuccessful referendum on whether Australia should become a republic. Strange
that such an important issue should have lain dormant for so long.
To mark the occasion we present Humphrey McQueen’s article ‘A
socialist’s republic’ which originally appeared in ‘Republics of Ideas’ a
collection of essays edited by Brad Buckley and John Conomos in 2001. The
article is republished here with their kind permission.
The republic referendum was soundly defeated with the ACT
the only jurisdiction voting in favour. Yet at the time, public opinion polls
showed a majority of Australians supported a republic. So why did the
referendum fail? Many would argue that the Yes campaign, headed by Malcolm
Turnbull, foolishly split the Yes vote by insisting that Australia’s head of
state should be chosen by Parliament rather than by direct election. This was a
very divisive issue with memories of the Whitlam dismissal still fresh in the
minds of many voters.
In his article Humphrey McQueen suggests that republicans would continue to vote No as long as the elected president retained the power to dismiss an elected government – which is precisely what the Turnbull-led Yes campaign wanted.
Link to the article here.
by John Merritt
This month (May 2019) marks the 50th anniversary
of the gaoling of Victorian Tramways Union leader Clarrie O’Shea (1905-1988).
O’ Shea was gaoled in 1969 by the notorious Sir John Kerr
for refusing to hand over the union’s financial records.
His imprisonment sparked a massive strike wave across the
country and effectively neutralised the punitive ‘penal powers’ which were then
used to suppress union militancy.
This article, first published in Sept 2007 by the Canberra
Historical Journal, draws on the author’s personal interviews with Clarrie in
1981. It mainly deals with Clarrie’s life rather than the political
circumstances surrounding his imprisonment.
The events of 1969 are still relevant for today’s workers
whose unions are similarly hamstrung by a raft of anti-union laws.
Click here to read the article. It is reproduced with the kind permission of John Merritt and the Canberra & District Historical Society. John Merritt is a former ASSLH Branch President.
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 bears directly on our very latest Prime Minister. Continue reading
(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. Continue reading
(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. Continue reading
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 of our past. Continue reading
Originally published in Workers Online 2003: http://workers.labor.net.au/features/200313/c_historicalfeature_moore.html
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. Continue reading
Our ‘right’ to strike has never been handed down from on high. Never will it be. Our right to strike is a precious gift which we win and hold for each other by putting it into practice. Continue reading
Chifley versus the banks
The big banks won the last great war against government interference, 70 years ago.
Originally published in The Canberra Times 6 June 2017
The predictable howls of outrage from the big banks about the $6.2 billion levy imposed on them in the federal budget are unlikely to arouse any sympathy from the electorate, nor will the move do the government any foreseeable harm. But resistance will continue regardless – and the banks have a long history of winning. Continue reading
The forgotten fascists – Menzies’ chosen people
For the 75th anniversary of the start of the Menzies radio addresses, Howard and his gang are in the business of promoting ’the greatest speech ever made in this country’. The fact that ‘The Forgotten People’ was not a speech but one of a series of wireless broadcasts is the least of their lies. Their Big Lie will be to conceal what their hero had dared to say. Continue reading
FRESH BOER WAR ATROCITY
The Boer War memorial along Canberra’s Anzac Parade includes statues of four horsemen to represent an Australian patrol on the Veldt. What truth demands is a Boer War memorial with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to recall the 25,000 Boer women and children and at least 15,000 black Africans who died in British concentration camps. Continue reading
by Humphrey McQueen
26 January – or thereabouts
Vox Pop illustrates that the most enthusiastic celebrants of Australia Day do not always know what happened on 26 January 1788 in Sydney Cove. Continue reading
by Humphrey McQueen
A revival of interest in the dismissal of the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975 is focusing on who advised the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. The role of the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick, has been known almost from the start. Knowledge of a second counselor has been there for many years, with the near certainty that he was also a member of the High Court, and later Chief Justice, Sir Anthony Mason. Continue reading
First published in The Canberra Times’ Public Sector Informant December 2015
Troy Bramston and Paul Kelly’s new book, The dismissal: in the Queen’s name, refers to a private seminar arranged for then governor-general Sir John Kerr at the Australian National University in September 1975.
FIGHTING LABOR’S CUTS:
The NSW Social Security strike, May–June 1988
Eris Harrison and Dave Main, 1989
Since the mid-1970s, Australian workers have been on the defensive. There have been minor actions (for instance over wages in 1981), but they have been heavily outweighed by spectacular defeats, like the dismembering of the BLF and by the passivity and lack of confidence of workers in the face of major cuts to wages and conditions orchestrated by the Hawke government.