Infamous Victory, Ben Chifley’s Battle for Coal: a reply

To ABC Television

re Infamous Victory, Ben Chifley’s Battle for Coal

when-history-repeats-itself TV programme ABC1 6/11/08 8.30pm

The ABC and Bob Ellis are obviously intrigued by the story of the 1949 Coal Strike – revisiting it once more with Chifley and the two Ross brothers as the main protagonists – First came, ” The True Believers” and now “Infamous Victory, Ben Chifley’s Battle for Coal” 6/11/08. With this second attempt / rehash I would have expected more thorough research.

Why are you still perpetuating the Myth that the Communists were responsible for the strike. This latest epic was advertised as Docodrama. There was plenty of drama, but very little doco – Note – documentary means a factual account. Not a complete fabrication of history.

I do not know how well the Chifley and Mine owners side of the story was researched, but, as Edgar Ross’s daughter, I do know that those on the other side of the dispute were never interviewed.

There was no discussion with Edgar Ross or any of his family. There were no interviews with any of the people who had worked with him around this period. I believe also that there were no discussions with the Miners leaders, or the Communists who were involved at that time. To claim documentary status without exploring all the available facts, and interviewing all those involved, is not only incompetent, and biased, but also grossly misleading.

I grew up listening to my parents discussions around the dining table – frequently about the mining industry – of the poor pay and working conditions of the miners, and of the terrible accidents that occurred in this dangerous industry. My maternal grandfather was crushed in a mine fall, barely surviving the multiple fractures he received. Health and Safety issues did not seem to be a top priority. To this day I cannot bring myself to enter a mine, even as a tourist.

At the time of the Miners Strike, I was a fifteen year old GIRL, (not the little boy I was portrayed as in the “True Believers”) and I can clearly remember discussions of how the workers awards and conditions were being threatened. I well remember Edgars concern that the Union was not heeding the Communists advice to continue negotiations through arbitration. They were worried about the possible damage that could be done to the union and workers should the strike go ahead. In a last ditch attempt to prevent the strike my father went to the secretary of the Joint Coal Board to try and work out a back door deal. He was informed that “Chif is determined to pull you on”.

The decision to strike was taken by the Miners leaders with the overwhelming support of the membership. This decision having been made the Communists, other unions and organisations rallied in support of them. The N.S.W. Labor Council condemned the strike while reaffirming support for the mineworker’s claims. The executive of the Labor Party in NSW followed suit.

To infer that a struggle for a thirty hour week could lead to a Socialist revolution is ludicrous in the extreme, It shows a total lack of knowledge of that period of history, a pre-requisite, I would have thought, for any serious documentary making. Remember, as stated in your ‘docodrama’, the people of this Country had only recently rejected, by referendum, the Nationalisation of its banks.

Edgar Ross was not an official of the Miners Union, but was employed by them for over thirty years as the editor of their paper the Common Cause. As a measure of their respect he was also their representative on the NSW Labor Council. A highly respected journalist he was also regarded as a brilliant orator. He was a member of the Australian Journalists Association and upon retirement was awarded an Honorary Life Membership. It has been stated that Edgar could have walked into a lucrative career at any time in his life – I was aware of several such offers, however he was too committed to his Socialist ideals, and spent his lifetime supporting the rights and conditions of working people.

The Myth/ Lie that the Union Executive were told that all the miners demands would be met, and then withheld that information from the members, is nothing short of libellous. You are lucky that the main protagonists are no longer alive.

It has always been difficult to get at the truth. I have enormous respect for the handful of courageous journalists who do so. For the rest, we the public, need to be forever vigilant, sceptical of all that we are fed by the media – especially that which purports to be history – always questioning – always challenging.

Yours faithfully

Fleur Ellis

Copy to Mr Bob Ellis

Film Australia – Making History

Sydney Morning Herald


Workers BushTelegraph supports the above letter by Edgar Ross’s daughter to ABC.

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