Category Archives: History


Sir Joseph Banks and the Question of Hemp Book Launch

Drew Hutton, Green historian and activist, will launch Sir Joseph Banks and the Question of Hemp by Dr John Jiggens at Avid Reader, Boundary Street, West End, on Tuesday April 24 at 6pm. Sir Joseph Banks and the Question of … Continue reading


Queensland: a state of mind

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[Editor’s Note: After the once-in-a-generation result in the 2012 Queensland state elections, it is timely to reprint Queensland: a state of mind by Humphrey McQueen. The Labor Party in Queensland was destroyed by the split with the catholics in the … Continue reading


Union Action to Save the Reef now Illegal

In light of the current alarm about dredging and dumping in the Reef, it is worth recalling how it was saved by union action which is now illegal under Fair Work Australia.   Coral battleground 1970 After tenders to drill … Continue reading


Whose side are you on?

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The mundane decline of labour history by Humphrey McQueen Fifty-one years ago, a grouping of communists and ex-communists in Canberra set up a Society for the Study of Labour History and prepared a journal, Labour History. One spur had been … Continue reading


We Built This Country – Builders’ Labourers and their Unions

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Humphrey McQueen read this inspiring poem below at the launch of the book: “Our liberties had not been won by mining magnates or stock-exchange jobbers, but by genuine men of the working-class movement who had died on the gallows and … Continue reading


Trifecta at 608 Brunswick Street

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‘608 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley’ — a story about a share house in Brisbane in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Ian Curr “No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke, “There are many here among us … Continue reading


Vale Bob Gould

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Version in the Marxist Archive (Andy Blunden) In 1991 Bob Gould sold me his last copy of Ernie Lane’s Dawn to Dusk – Reminiscences of a Rebel. This was the one published by Clarrie Beckingham in 1939. Bob recommended that … Continue reading


Questionnaire on political issues in Australia

Multi-guess questions on political issues. The main issues covered in this questionnaire are the Environment, the Economy, and Social Justice. This is aboriginal land — True/False? The Australian newspaper has been waging a campaign to stop the re-election of the … Continue reading


Review of Publishing Policy at Workers BushTelegraph

This is a request for advice from readers and contributors. Since adopting a publising policy last November, WBT has attracted a greater number and variety of comments. I am not sure why this is. Nevertheless, to create some sense of … Continue reading


1967/1977 street marches in Queensland — reasons for revolt?

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“Here is a historically important film, recently rediscovered, that few people will ever have seen, and  that commemorates an event that a lot of you will remember. The bulk of it is about what happened in Roma Street on a … Continue reading


Israel — a fruitless lie

Jaffa oranges are the world-wide variety of citrus grown in many countries. Its origin however wsa in the Jaffa precinct of historic Palestine. I understand the point of complaining that Jaffa Grapefruit are being sold by Coles Australia under the … Continue reading


Eureka 2010: Stations of the Southern Cross

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Stations of the Southern Cross – 156th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion On one level the Eureka stockade was a dispute over mining licences at Ballarat gold diggings in 1854. However when we look at the people that made up … Continue reading

Rejection of the Communist Party Dissolution Act at the Referendum on 22 September 1951

Rejection of the Communist Party Dissolution Act at the Referendum on 22 September 1951

Following an informal discussion in Brisbane on Sunday 31 October, I offered to provide some background materials for activities around the 60th anniversary of the victory. I attach a timeline gong back to the Imperialist war of 1914-18 which will be of most use to activists and to educators. Also attached is an article I published on the 50th anniversary, and which can inform a wider public. While I am more than happy to advise on how to adapt these documents, activists are free to do so without permission.

The article and the timeline can be distributed or posted as deemed useful.

The outline shows that there was nothing new in the attempt to ban the Party. Like previous laws, the 1950 Act aimed to cut the heads off working-class struggle. The difference was the Cold War, and specifically the hunt for Soviet spies through what became known as ‘the case’.

The grounds for commemorating the defeat of the Act include:

> To expose the class basis of bourgeois democracy in which the state organises capital and disorganises labour;

> To enrich our Red-Arm understanding of Australian history in opposition to the bourgeois-liberal version in the national history syllabus;

> To examine how a campaign of organising in workplaces and in communities could succeed; we can draw parallels with the spread of the WorkChoices Campaign, and contrasts with its undermining even before the 2007 elections. The result is that workers are confronted by WorkChoicesLite in FairWork Australia, the ABCC and the undermining of OH&S by the Killard regime;

> To connect the repressive nature of the 1950-51 Act to the provisions of the ABCC and to anti-terrorism regime;

> To move all struggles beyond the domain of parliamentary cretinism into direct involvement by working people.

Humphrey McQueen

10 November 2010

September 22 deserves to be celebrated along with the centenary of Federation. On that day in 1951, defeat of the referendum to ban the Australian Communist Party confirmed that Australia’s temper would remain democratic. Had the vote gone the other way, the presumption of innocence would have been impaired and a star chamber installed.

Labor leader Ben Chifley said the Communist Party Dissolution bill “opens the door to the liar, the perjurer and the pimp to make charges and damn men’s reputations and to do so in secret without having either to substantiate or prove any charges they might make”.

As leader of the opposition, Robert Gordon Menzies had resisted a ban until disclosure of a Soviet espionage ring in wartime Canberra caused the United States in mid-1948 to cease sharing classified documents with Australia. This embargo struck at Britain’s nuclear program which needed both US secrets and Australian test sites. Communism, Menzies declared early in 1949, was “high treason”.

After taking office in December, the Liberal-Country Party coalition set out to dissolve the Party and its affiliated organisations, confiscate its properties and deny communists Commonwealth employment or office in most unions.

The Act had first to identify communists. Documented membership would not catch the most wanted. Hence, the government proposed to “declare” people to be communists on the basis of evidence provided by its security service.

September 22 deserves to be celebrated along with the centenary of Federation. On that day in 1951, defeat of the referendum to ban the Australian Communist Party confirmed that Australia’s temper would remain democratic. Had the vote gone the other way, the presumption of innocence would have been impaired and a star chamber installed.

The Act defined a “communist” as anyone who “supports or advocates the objectives, policies, teaching, principles or practices of communism, as expounded by Marx or Lenin”. Menzies’ reiteration that “No Parliament can convert a power over Communists into a power over non-Communists” would have been more convincing had the Act been confined to membership. Instead, “declaration” based on beliefs seemed to “open windows onto men’s souls”.

The slipperiest slide was in the industrial arena. The public’s prime objection to Communists was their causing strikes. Thus, every industrial action was labeled Communist.

Menzies had to break the Communist power in trade unions without provoking the labour movement into fearing that banning the Communists would also remove the right to strike. In a gesture to moderates, the Act outlawed communist control of employer bodies.

After the Labor-controlled Senate finally allowed the bill to pass on 17 October 1950, two Communist-led unions briefed deputy Labor leader Dr H. V. Evatt for a challenge in the High Court.

On 9 March 1951, the judges – four of whom were Menzies appointees – ruled six to one that, although the regulations sought may be valid under the Defence Power, the Cold War did not meet that criterion. In peace time, laws could prohibit only “specific acts”.

When Menzies sought to amend the Constitution by referendum, his lawyers warned against the “dangers of being simple”. It was not enough to ask: “Are you in favour of banning the Commos?”. The government also needed the constitutional authority to amend its invalidated Act. The arcaneness of the 300-word amendment fed suspicions that a “Yes” vote would let the a cabal “declare” anyone it did not like.

Menzies gave credence to that concern by allowing himself to be goaded, while the worse for drink, into hinting that two Labor parliamentarians could easily become “declared” persons.

Newly elected as Federal Labor Leader, Evatt raised the spectre of Belsen-style camps across Australia, an accusation which Menzies characterised as “wicked”. The Commonwealth War Book, meanwhile, prepared to concentrate over 1000 communist leaders in camps on the outbreak of the world war that Menzies warned was less than three years away. The Solicitor-General expected a round-up as soon as the High Court validated the Dissolution Act.

Evatt buttressed his legal and liberal arguments with attacks on the government’s failure to “put value back into the pound”. On September 22, the “No” case attracted 50.48 percent, up from 20 percent seven weeks earlier. The press rekindled speculation that Menzies would resign to lick his wounds on the High Court. ASIO kept working on ‘the case’ and got its next attempt with the Petrov Royal Commission into Espionage of 1954-55.

As a poll of the whole people, the 1951 vote was more democratic than those leading to Federation. The outcome was in line with the rejection of the 1916 and 1917 plebiscites to impose conscription for military service overseas.

Further Reading

Leicester Webb, Communism & Democracy in Australia, a survey of the 1951 referendum, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1954, a well-judged small-l liberal account.

L J Louis, Menzies’ Cold War, a reinterpretation, Red Rag Publications, Carlton North, 2001, a Marxist analysis.

1951 timeline

This timeline is offered as a backdrop to activities proposed around the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the Communist Party Dissolution Act, specifically its rejection at a referendum on 22 September 1951. The outline shows that there was nothing new in the notion of banning the Party. Like previous laws, the 1950 Act aimed to cut the heads off working-class struggle. The difference was the Cold War, and specifically the hunt for Soviet spies through what became known as ‘the case’.


1914 War Precautions Act.

Commonwealth solicitor-general R R Garran recalled in his Prosper the Commonwealth

that the Regulations

were mostly expressed widely to make sure that nothing necessary was omitted, and the result soon was that John Citizen was hardly able to lift a finger without coming under the penumbra of some technical offence.

War Precautions Repeal Act of 1920 kept most of its provisions. In 1929, its provisions were used to convict the secretary of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council of encouraging ‘something in the nature of a strike’.

1916 and 1917 Unlawful Associations Acts aimed at the Industrial Workers of the World.

1920 Crimes Act sedition clauses gave the state powers to ban organisations.

1926 Crimes Act amendments:

The most important provision was sec. 17, which introduced Part IIA into the principal Act. Sections 30A to 30H of that Part declare revolutionary and seditious associations to be unlawful, with incidental provisions as to giving or soliciting contributions for unlawful associations, publications, forfeiture of property and proof of membership. (Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and the Law, 1901-1929)

The changes were aimed at the Communist leadership of the Seamen’s Union. They were driven by Attorney-General John Latham, Chief Justice during the 1951 case to ban the Party, and the only judge to accept the validity of the Act.

1932 Amendments to Crimes Act

empowered the Attorney-General to obtain a declaration of the High Court that a body of persons incorporated or unincorporated constituted an unlawful association under the existing provisions of the Act because it advocated sedition or violent revolution; incidental provisions facilitated proof and in particular enabled the Attorney-General to compel persons and organisations to answer questions and disclose documents in order to prepare his case; executive members of the associations at the date of a declaration were deprived of the right to vote in federal elections for seven years, and members not born in Australia made liable to deportation by order of the Attorney-General. (Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and the Law, 1929-1949)

The Act extended ‘sedition’ to cover ‘promoting feelings of hostility between different classes of His Majesty’s subject so as to endanger the peace, order of good government of the Commonwealth’.

The Party opposed the phoney war effort.

24 May 1940 Communist publications banned

15 June 1940 National Security Regulations provided for the dissolution of subversive associations.

22 June 1941 Nazis invade the USSR.

1942 Opinion Poll gave 44 percent support for the ban.

18 December 1942 bans lifted.

Cold War

5 March 1946 Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech.

12 April 1946 Country Party leader Fadden calls for ban.

1947 UKUSA intelligence sharing agreement.

1947 Venona transcripts reveal passage in Australia of wartime documents to Soviets.

May 1948 US cuts off information to UK on grounds of those leaks.

April 1948 Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party endorses ban on the Party and its front organisations, except on the trade unions that Communists control.

July 1948 Chifley in London to discuss defence, intelligence and weapons testing here.

Fadden exposes the disruption to intelligence flows.

3 September 1948 Australian Secretary of Department of Defence, Shedden, puts ban on the CP top of his agenda.

1948-9 Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation is established to investigate ‘the case’, and to appease the US in order to get intelligence flowing again to the UK. Ferreting out the spies becomes ‘the case’.

mid-October 1948 Menzies in Washington where he is ‘indoctrinated’, that is, told that Venona revealed the existence of spies in Canberra.


19 January Menzies announces his change of mind. His support for a ban follows what he has heard in Washington, and was not just to shore up his leadership of the Liberal Party.

April Victorian Communist official Cecil Sharpley defects to the Herald, which publishes his allegations about ballot-rigging in trade unions.

Royal Commission into Communism set up in Victoria.

Party General Secretary Sharkey is gaoled for three years after saying that ‘Australian workers would welcome Soviet forces pursuing aggressors’.

June-August Communist-led coal strike; Chifley sent troops to mine the coal.

10 December Menzies becomes prime minister. The coalition wins majority in House of Representatives but not in the Senate.


March Menzies uses Crimes Act to end waterfront strike in Brisbane.

??? April Victorian Royal Commissioner tables a mild Report.

27 April Menzies introduces Bill which defined a Communist as

a person who supports or advocates the objectives, policies, teachings, principles or practices of communism, as expounded by Marx and Lenin.

16 May second reading passed on the voices.

May-June Opinion Polls indicate only 13 percent oppose the ban.

Minister for Labour, Harold Holt, explains to a correspondent:

Our bill to outlaw Communism was only part of our programme of legislation in this fight. While making a frontal attack in that way, we also provided legislation to attack the Communists on both flanks. They can now be challenged from within their union citadels by means of officially conducted secret ballots.

June Commonwealth War Book included ‘Operation Alien’ to put up to 1,100 Communists behind barbed wire.

June opinion poll indicates that 56 percent want onus-of-proof to stay with the government.

Menzies responds: ‘We should be compelled to disclose the identity of our agents and put them in the witness box. It would be the end of the Security Service’.

Labor leader Chifley says of the Bill:

It opens the door for the liar, the perjurer and the pimp to make charges n damn men’s reputations and to do so in secret without having either to substantiate or prove any charges they might make.

25 June Open conflict in Korea. Australian forces involved from 29 June.

August Menzies warns that Australians must prepare for a world war in three years.

17 October ALP Federal Executive instructs Labor Caucus to change its position.

19 October Bill passes the Senate.

19 October Ten communist-led unions challenge the Act’s constitutional validity in High Court:

  1. Waterside Workers’ Federation
  2. Australian Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation
  3. Australian Railways Union
  4. Building Workers’ Industrial Union
  5. Amalgamated Engineering Union
  6. Seamen’s Union of Australia
  7. Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia
  8. Sheet Metal Workers’ Union
  9. Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia
  10. Federated Ship Painters and Dockers’ Union

The Waterside Workers and Iron Workers briefed deputy Labor leader Evatt.

14 November High Court case opens


February 1951 Radford-Collins Agreement on naval surveillance in the Pacific.

9 March High Court judgement, six to one against, 83 Commonwealth Law Reports 1-285.

The decision was not about civil liberties, which have almost no place in the Constitution. The majority rejected the Act because its provisions denied the High Court’s role as the arbiter between Commonwealth and State powers. The next Chief Justice, Owen Dixon, saw certain provisions as an attack on the Federal principle.

March Conscription re-introduced for 18-year old males under National Service Act.

28 April Double-dissolution election over refusal of Labor majority in Senate to pass Banking Bills.

Menzies Coalition returned with 50.33 percent of the vote, with a loss of five seats.

13 June Labor leader Chifley dies.

Dr H V Evatt elected leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

Opinion Poll

July 80 percent in favour

August 73 percent in favour of the ban

15 September 57 percent in favour

1 September ANZUS Treaty signed.

8 September Peace Treaty with Japan.

22 September Referendum to alter Constitution defeated by 50.48 percent. Queensland recorded the lowest ‘NO’ vote at 44.57 percent.


December 1951 and February 1952 and May 1957 Opinion Polls show 64 percent support for a ban.

April 1954 Petrov defects, and ‘the case’ opens a new front.

1991 The Communist Party of Australia self-dissolves.

Among the Unions: ALP affiliation – an affliction?

The wiles of Labour politicians – the futility of fearful and reactionary Labour leaders have been revealed in this record, and the lessons I and others so bitterly learned should preclude any further waste of time and enthusiasm in vainly endeavouring to make figs blossom and fruit on barren trees.
Ernie Lane in Dawn to Dusk

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Crisis over public assets sale

Recent events – the sale of Queensland Rail and the Port of Brisbane — have brought on a crisis in the Labour movement. Dedicated unionists who have worked inside the ALP for years are talking about choosing to remain in the tent or ‘burning it down’. The ETU state secretary, Peter Simpson,  has questioned his union’s affiliation with the Labor party and has considered ‘putting forward working class people as standalone candidates in selected seats at the next state election’.

The ALP leadership thumbed its nose at Peter Simpson by threatening to expel him from the party that he joined in 1993 when Keating set about locking unions into enterprise bargaining. Keating played the old game of bailing Australia out of recession by eroding wages and conditions for workers. In the national interest, of course.

As one worker put it – ‘there is no point in pissing in the tent if you are going to burn it down.’

Ian Curr
Nov 2010


Queensland Journal of Labour History

I recommend this Labour History Journal to union members, organisers and delegates. It is published by the Brisbane Labour History Association. The latest edition No 11 has some excellent articles, film and book reviews and eulogy.

Jeff Rickertt has written about the early socialist movement here in Queensland. His short history could well be about our current troubles with capital. Jeff is a working class historian with detailed knowledge of our socialist beginnings in Queensland.

Humphrey McQueen has an excellent article about the history of the Builders Labourers Federation. Humphrey points out that during the Vietnam moratorium years in the early 1970s, unions excluded students from the Labour Day march partly because engineering students worked as scab labour in Mt Isa.

However it was building workers who allowed workers and students of the Democratic Rights movement into the Labour Day marches of the late 1970s. Trades Labour Council (TLC) Labour Day committee had refused us entry. At its peak in 1978, the Democratic Rights movement, made up mainly of ‘right to march’ and ‘anti-uranium’ activists, outnumbered the union contingent. Red flags flew in Queen Street!

In the mid 1970s there were solidarity groups such as the Chilean, Palestinian and Central American contingents in the Labour Day march. Many of the Chileans were metal workers employed by Queensland Rail. This solidarity was shown initially to the Palestinians and then it became practice for solidarity groups to be allowed at the end of the march. In 1978 the TLC refused to allow a union delegate from Chile to speak on the main platform. The platform was later stormed by women when the then National President of the ALP, Tom Burns, said that the problem with Labor women was that ‘they would not come forward’. The federal leader of the parliamentary Labor party, Bill Hayden, said that the democratic rights contingent was a bunch of ‘johnny-come-lately’s’.

We had enough long-time friends in the Labor Party to prove that was a lie. But slowly they were hounded and betrayed till there were few left when the Goss led ALP won government on the back of our movement. Now they sell off what workers have built over two centuries – ports, roads, rail have now gone to private corporate capitalists.

Janis Bailey reviews a number of books including Radical Sydney. This book completes the trifecta of Radical City books following on Radical Melbourne and our own Radical Brisbane which was produce some years ago and edited by Carole Ferrier and Ray Evans.

In the journal there is a beautiful tribute to Bob Walker by his son, Graeme. Vale Bob.

Details of the BLHA are shown below.
They have an AGM coming up at 3pm Saturday 4 December 2010 at the LHMU building 27 Peel Street South Brisbane.

In solidarity
Ian Curr

Then, like a swollen river that has broken bank and wall,
The human flood came pouring with the red flags over all,
And kindled eyes all blazing bright with revolution’s heat,
And flashing swords reflecting rigid faces in the street.

Faces in the Street — Henry Lawson

Queensland Rail — in the Public Debt

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Even England, the home of the 1980s Thatcherite ideas on public policy has come to realise the folly of many of those policies. There is of course a fundamental inconsistency in the financial arguments for the sale of these assets. … Continue reading


The town that was murdered

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Introduction The capitalists are murdering towns, suburbs, farms, rivers and seas. They are killing people in wars and through environmental destruction. Against all criteria governments’ state of the environment reports declare that the natural world is losing in the war … Continue reading

The Best Hated Man in Australia

‘In life, as in the manner of death, Brookfield made personal sacrifice the measure of his political commitment. Morally and physically fearless, his probity withstood parliament.  Paul Adams has given us a biography as thoroughly gripping as it is thoroughly researched. Inspiration floods from its pages’ — Humphrey McQueen

I attended the Canberra launch of ‘The Best Hated Man in Australia – The Life and Death of Percy Brookfield’ 1875 – 192 by Paul Robert Adams.

Brookfield was an inspiring left labour NSW MP a conviction politician.

The Best Hated Man in Australia — The Life and Death of Percy Brookfield 1875 – 1921’ by Paul Robert Adams

Speech by Humphrey McQueen at launch of Paul Robert Adams’s ‘The best hated man in Australia’, The Life and Death of Percy Brookfield 1875-1921 (Puncher & Wattmann), held at the Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University on 25 August 2010.

Humphrey McQueen speaks at launch

The best hated man in Australia’ What a title! What an ambition! Certainly not one to cross the mind of candidates promoting themselves for public office these days. The contestants in the recent reality electoral show reminded me of the line in Arthur Miller’s The death of a salesman, where the protagonist explains that one of his co-workers was ‘liked, but he wasn’t well liked’. We are left to presume that he had not absorbed Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people.

‘Hated’, of course, is a relative term – hated by whom? In Brookfield’s case, it was by the most hateful and hate-filled elements in the country – the Empire patriots and grinders of the faces of the poor, abetted by Labor rats such as Billie Hughes, whom Brookfield went to gaol for identifying as ‘a viper, traitor and skunk’. Of course, to Brookfield’s own community at Broken Hill, and throughout the working class, Brookie was among the best loved.

Unwelcome is the only way to describe my feelings when the Brookfield typescript arrived for me to pen a few words for the back cover. I had just plunged into the final rewrite of my history of the BLF and was not answering the phone. But I held Percy in high regard and respected the person who asked me on behalf of the author whom I met for the first time this afternoon. Well, I thought, I don’t have to even glance at the first page to concoct an endorsement. Plenty of reviews are written that way and the authors are often better served than if their books had been studied with care. But curiosity got the better of me and I began to read only to find myself gripped and inspired. Since then I have done as much as I can to promote Paul’s book.

The politics of doing so became clearer when the elections ended in what of the press gallery in its collective ignorance dubbed the first hung parliament since 1940. Making that claim was possible because the journalists lacked all sense of the context and the dynamics at work seventy years ago. They saw two stray bits of information and, by rubbing them together, thought that they had achieved an insight into history when all they had done was to expose their subservience to the lobotomized mentality that Marx and Engels called parliamentary cretinism. Parliamentary cretinism is not a statement about the intellectual capacity of the representatives beyond observing that they suffer from the delusion that their deliberations determine social reality. During his five years in parliament, Brookfield displayed not one iota of that malaise.

It also goes without saying that the Canberra hacks had never heard of Brookfield or that he did held the balance of power in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly after the 1920 poll. At the time, the Labor caucus was as desperate for office as Killard & Co. Premier John Storey was a labor man, unlike the current crew, and perhaps felt at ease with conceding improvements in the health and safety of Broken Hill miners and appointing a Royal Commission to facilitate the release of the IWW Twelve, convicted of arson. Today, Killard is preparing to diminish protection for workers through her ‘harmonisation’ of OH&S laws across the economy, and continues to back the anti-terror regime that merits investigation by a Peoples Commission.

Of the many differences between 1920 and 2010, none is greater than that of the political cultures. That Brookfield is unknown to many on the Left is one sign of our times. Similarly, the fact that miners in the Hunter Valley have not destroyed the RTA sign that points to a ‘Rothbury Riot Memorial’ – which by rights should read ‘Police Riot Memorial – is another’. The willingness of Dr Evatt to take up the case against banning the Communist Party in 1950, when he had only 12 percent support in the polls, before winning 51 percent to defeat the Act at the Referendum in September 1951, is so remote from the focus group agenda as to make one’s head spin.

The duty of Labour History Societies is to make these stories public knowledge. We do not exist to advance careers in academe or to amuse antiquarians. The hospitality shown by Maggie and the Butlin Archives in providing the venue to launch Paul’s book is a measure of why the battle to save the union records housed here was worth fighting and winning. Kim Sattler’s hopes for a Museum of Labour in Canberra expresses the conviction that there is story to be told and one which is fading.

Useful as Paul’s book, the Archives and a Museum are in keeping the flame alive, they are as nothing against the avalanche of capitalist propaganda in the commercial mass media, whether as advertising, reality games or mayhem as entertainment, while the ‘News’ is not so much biased as vacuous. Brookfield earned an elegy from Mary Gilmore but where are the novels, the theatre pieces, feature films, documentaries and television series built around the struggles at Broken Hill? Their absence is partly a question of class power and partly one of cultural imperialism. Swedes or Italians have done better. Now, Paul’s book gives a chance to sell the screen rights.

The difference that a popular proletarian culture makes is obvious as you walk around Broken Hill. Reading Dale’s Industrial History gave me a taste. In 1972, one of my students did his research project on the 1919-20 lockout to help him understand why his grandparents still kept a larder full of tinned food – just in case, they always told him. A visit there in 2008 enriched this understanding. The Barrier Daily Truth, which is still owned by the unions, published extracts from a speech by Fidel on the world economic crisis and a feature exposing limitations on the right to remain silence proposed for the Queensland criminal code – an assault on civil liberties about which few of my Brisbane friends had heard. Most of the parks are named for union officials. The Social Democratic Club flourishes – though the distance between its politics and current marketing is apparent in the Lonely Planet Guide which writes of the Social and Democratic Club. And then there is the monument to Brookfield. Think for but a second what a difference to our polity a nation-wide culture with these qualities would made.

A visit to the cemetery to pay respects to the great man brings us to the manner of Brookfield’s death. Was he assassinated? Paul makes it clear that that was highly unlikely. Above all, Brookfield went after the gunman to prevent his killing women and children on the railway platform. As Mary Gilmore put it, ‘Brookfield died for his people’. What we can be certain about is that the people who hated him are more than capable of any crime. How many thousands of miners died so that BHP could prosper, although we must never forget that killing is not murder when done for profit. Far greater proofs of the evil capacities of Brookfield’s enemies are in the millions slaughtered in the sordid trade war that he opposed. By late 1917, the leaders of Western Civilisation had drawn up a ledger showing the birthrates of both sides. The bookkeepers of mass murder calculated that if they could keep the war going till 1921 the British and their allies would win because they would overwhelm the German side. Plotting the assassination of one troublesome unionist would have been child’s play to these monsters. The 1948 bashing of Communist parliamentarian Fred Paterson by the Queensland police is a further reminder to watch your back.

In honouring Brookfield, we are honouring his type. No doubt he was special, the more so because the times demanded it of someone who had passed his first thirty-five in obscurity, coming to prominence with the victory for the 44-hour week during 1916. We all know his like. Labour history is full of them. For instance, a Mr Simpson came from the navvies on the railline to the Murray in 1860 to tell the crooked contractor that the men would not negotiate. In 1897, the leader of thePerth labourers in the strike for ten shillings a day was Bill Mellor, who in Melbourne and Sydney had led teams to evict bailiffs and repossess sewing-machines from their repossessors. After he fell to his death in June, his comrades back East recalled that he had been the sworn foe to the tricksters and trimmers, and politicians, who would make the labour movement subservient to their own selfishness and ambitions. He was a giant in the socialist fight; and, though we full recognise that no individual is indispensable to the movement, he was one whose loss we could ill afford. He was faithful, brave, and true I the fight. He was a man. And now he is dead.

This could have been in the obituary for Brookie, and the multitude of nameless others needed to raise the flag of stars.

Invaluable as the remembrance of Brookfield is to the movement in 2010, we have to find comparable figures to appeal to the sixty percent of union members who are women. The cultural shift required in labour thinking to match that statistic has hardly begun.

This afternoon, the honour is to Percy, who had no thought of self, certainly no expectation of retiring to a seat on the board of the Macquarie Bank. Honour also to Paul Adams for completing the story in words and images. As I launch The best hated man in Australia, your job is to keep it afloat, the sail it into bookshops and libraries so that its message can inspire even more thousands than he did in death as well as in life.

Book review by Chris White

During our tweedledum-dee election I read the biography of Percy Brookfield – a conviction left labour politician.

Historian Dr Paul Robert Adams takes us through Brookfield’s exciting story – the events when a radical unionist becomes a politician and keeps and fights for left principles, ’the greatest champion that the people ever had.’

Not many unionists today know of him. I was in Adelaide having a cup of tea with 90 year old AWU union militant Jim Doyle. He of course had not only studied this labour legend, but at one time his task was to look after the gravesite.

Nobody elected into the NSW Parliament today is like ‘Jack’ Brookfield MP from Broken Hill.  At his funeral 15,000 marched and sang ‘The Red Flag’.

Brookfield’s militant stand and his unrelenting political radicalism is revealing and refreshing.

He was notorious for his combative criticisms of ruling class employers and politicians. Today’s unionists and ALP MPs are just far too timid.

The media and right-wing politicians attacked him for his stances, such as, ‘not to fight for the British flag as long as they were making profits out of the war’.

He was hailed as the most extreme anti-politician ever to be elected.

He delivered reforms for workers. He became politically more popular nationally with radical speeches at mass meetings.

Adams takes us through Brookfield’s story starting as a key organiser in the great strikes on working conditions and shorter hours for underground mining in Broken Hill. ‘If you want the 44 hour week, TAKE IT.’

We are engaged in the struggles to prevent and then compensate for the industrial diseases and campaigned tirelessly winning Occupational Health and Safety and Workers Compensation reforms.

Before, during WW1 and the years that followed saw radical labour movement battles and unprecedented political turmoil.

Brookfield supported the 1917 NSW General Strike. We are taken through the 1919 Great Miners Strike/Lockout.

Brookfield was a supporter of the OBU, One Big Union.

He on principle campaigned successfully over many years to free the ‘IWW Twelve’ from their trumped up police convictions to burn down Sydney. He supported many left activists persecuted by the government’s ‘anti-terrorist’ laws of those days.

Governments prosecuted him.  He was jailed for his principled anti-war speeches against the viper – PM Hughes.

His powerful leadership against conscription contributed to the success of the NO referendums.

A socialist not a communist, he learnt about and supported the new Bolshevik revolution and their supporters.

He always spoke the truth as he saw it. ‘Ironically, while he was an extremist, he was able to put his opinions in a way that drew people to him rather than driving them away.’

Adams recounts the left labour movement struggles with the colorful leaders like Brookfield and their battles with right-wing enemies, the NSW ALP. In Parliament Brookfield was tenacious and outspoken for his left causes.

Brookfield later joined the split from the NSW Right ALP to form the Industrial Socialist Labor Party and was reelected and held the balance of power in the NSW hung parliament.

The reader knows in advance that Brookfield was then fatally shot at Riverton in South Australia.

Was his shooting an assassination? Adams takes us through the events.

Although these are different times, our unstable capitalist contradictions and the environmental crisis invite militant left convictions and organising.

Left activists struggling against powerful corporations, right-wing forces and their political representatives are invigorated by this history.

I agree with Humphrey McQueen’s comments and other reviews.

‘In life, as in the manner of death, Brookfield made personal sacrifice the measure of his political commitment. Morally and physically fearless, his probity withstood parliament.  Paul Adams has given us a biography as thoroughly gripping as it is thoroughly researched. Inspiration floods from its pages’.

Please inform bookshops and libraries and union resources.

Dr Paul Robert Adams was born in Broken Hill. He holds a PhD from The University of Sydney and currently teaches media at The University of New England.

(Puncher & Wattmann 2010) httw://

Chris White, former Secretary UTLC of SA, posts on his blog

The Best Hated Man in Australia.docx


Book Launch of Joanne Watson’s ‘Palm Island through a long lens’ Joanne Watson’s ‘Palm Island through a long lens’ “My people don’t need no introduction, we are the people you label with white dysfunction, our beauty, our pride you just … Continue reading


Every year my friends gather on New Years eve and try to predict what will happen in the coming year. We place these predictions in a book and then in the following new year’s eve we read them to compare … Continue reading

A ‘two-state solution’ to the Israel-Palestine conflict?


Map of Palestine.   Labels show 2009 borders. (click to magnify – makes for a very good topographical map)

The following is a report of an ALP/Union Forum titled A two state solution to the Israel Palestine conflict held at Qld parliament on Remembrance Day, 11th November 2009.

The forum was well attended by about 100 people from unions and by ALP members and people from the community.

There were current and former ALP MLAs and councillors and union officials present. The forum was sponsored by various unions including the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU), Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), Communications Electrical Plumbing Union, Qld Branch (CEPU) and the Plumbers Union.

There were several community and other groups and associations represented including the Qld Palestinian Association (QPA), Just Peace, Justice for Palestine. Members of the National Union of Students and people from the Jewish community and the Foreign Affairs editor of the Courier Mail were also present.

This report was prepared from notes written by the author at the forum. I made a written request well in advance of the forum to record it (on film) but this was refused on the basis that it was a private meeting of ALP and Union members.

I noticed that the foreign editor of the Courier Mail was present and took notes (but not as many as I did). I have tried to faithfully document what was said at the forum. I take responsibility for errors, omissions or misunderstandings. I ask that anyone who has evidence of error to please let me know and I will try to correct them.

The forum discussion was on the following set issues:

• What do we mean by a two state solution?

• How best to achieve it and what are the obstacles?

• What are the consequences if a two state solution fails? Continue reading


by Ian Curr “Job and me and Jesus sittin’ Underneath the Indooroopilly bridge Watchin’ that blazin’ sun go down Behind the tall tree’d mountain ridge The land’s our heritage and spirit Here the rightful culture’s Black and we sittin’ here … Continue reading

Australia’s ‘Construction Stasi’

by Humphrey McQueen

Dare Australia’s Labor government gaol Adelaide builders’ labourer, Ark Tribe?

Tribe’s crime is that he refuses to attend a secret hearing of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). His failure to appear renders him liable to six months in prison or a fine of $22,000. Similar penalties apply if he turns up but refuses to answer, or if he answers but then tells anyone what the questions were. The power to coerce testimony also applies to passers-by whom the ABCC felt might provide evidence of wrong-doing by unionists, as happened to a Melbourne university lecturer subpoenaed in 2007. Continue reading

Book Review: The Lemon Tree

Khairi's House at al-RamlaThe Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan is narrative non-fiction, meaning it tells a personal narrative of the people affected by the occupation of Palestine and does it in the context of the history of this unresolved conflict.

I found the stories in the book to be both deeply moving and hard to read because of the sadness and struggle faced by the Palestinian people involved.

It was moving also because of a Jewish person who reached out to the people her country had dispossessed. Central to the story are the lives of Basir Khairi and Dalia Eshkenazi which intersect at a house in al Ramla from which the Khairi’s were forced out during al Nakba, ‘the catastrophe’, in 1948. Tolan describes it thus:

“By the morning of May 19 (1948), al-Ramla’s fighters had pushed back the Irgun. The Jewish militia would count thirty men dead and twenty missing. ‘The people are in very low spirits’, read an Israeli intelligence report issued a few days later, ‘due to heavy losses and lack of success’.”

“The city’s defenders had prevailed. It appeared to be an unambiguous victory for the ex-mufti’s forces, the bare foot brigade, the civilian volunteer fighters of al-Ramla. Ahmad, however had had enough. It was too dangerous to let Zakia and the children stay in the city. Despite Sheik Mustafa’s pleas that no one should abandon al-Ramla, Ahmad would take no more chances. He hired two cars to take the family east, through the hills of Palestine to Ramallah. That trip in itself would be dangerous, Ahmad knew; though Ramallah was only twenty miles away, the roads were bad and pockets of fighting were erupting in unpredictable places. But staying would be more risky than leaving. In Ramallah it was relatively calm. The family could remain there until fighting subsided. (at p101).”

“Yet a month later after the loss of one of the town’s leaders the situation had become grave and the remaining family were expelled:

The morning of the July 14 was cloudless and extremely hot. It was the middle of July, the seventh day of Ramadan. Thousands of people had already been expelled from al-Ramla by bus and truck. Some like Bashir and his siblings, had left well before Jewish soldiers arrived taking temporary refuge in Ramallah. Others in the Khairi clan had remained in al-Ramla. ”

“Firdaws and her cousins, aunts, and uncles sat waiting at al-Ramla’s bus terminal. There were perhaps thirty-five in all, the khairis and their relatives, the Tajis. Sheikh Mustafa was among them.”

“With them they carried few suitcases, bundles of clothes and gold strapped to their bodies. Firdaws, the Girl Guide, had also packed her uniform and brought along her knife and her whistle. They had planned for a short trip, in miles and in days; they were certain they would be coming back soon, when the Arab armies recaptured al-Ramla.” (pages 113-114).


I quote these accounts here because it has often been claimed on the Zionist side that Palestinians left their villages voluntarily. The story of the expulsion is not restricted to al‑Ramla, it occurred across Palestine hence the name al Nakba (the catastrophe). I do not think the current situation in Palestine can be understood without intimate knowledge of what happened in 1948.

For example, in 1948 there was a Christian village not far from al-Ramla called Lydda, the Israelis now call it Lod.  Its people  were expelled by Zionist militia in brutal fashion. I won’t go into to details here; you can read them in The Lemon Tree. What is significant is that one of the people who was expelled from Lydda was George Habash who later became a leader of the Palestinian resistance. Such was his experience in 1948 that Habash would never accept a ‘two state solution’ because it meant that the people of his village (and those of other villages) would never be able to return. Similarly Bashir Khairi has never been able to go back to his house even though, in partnership with Dalia Eshkenazi, he has made his family home (depicted) an open house to help educate Arab and Jewish children.

The irony of Christian villages being routed by the Zionists is that it is often been claimed by Christians in the West, from the Crusades  down through history to the Iraq War (2004-2009), that such acts are justified in order to protect and save the holy land.  Yet in Iraq today it is Christians who have been persecuted and expelled as a direct result of the US invasion in 2003.

Rejection of this justification of occupation can be found throughout the history of the Palestinian resistance. It can be found today in Gaza where militants continue to fire rockets at Israeli towns which were formerly their own, Palestinian villages.

Take Sderot [spelt variously as Siderot and Sederot] an Isareli settlement just outside the Gaza strip and the subject of many media reports of rocketing.

The reports never say that Sderot is an Israeli settlement established in 1951 after the catastrophe (al-Nakba) on the Palestinian village of Najd, historic lands that date back many centuries.

The Lemon Tree speaks of many such villages, Al Ramla became Ramle in Israeli hands, Lydda became Lod, and so on.

Yitzhak Rabin, the Noble Prize winner, wrote in his diary soon after Lydda’s and Ramla’s occupation:

“After attacking Lydda [later called Lod] Ben-Gurion would repeat the question: What is to be done with the population?, waving his hand in a gesture which said: Drive them out!. ‘Driving out’ is a term with a harsh ring… Psychologically, this was on of the most difficult actions we undertook.” (Soldier Of Peace, p. 140-141).”

A list and videos of the towns ethnically cleansed during al-Nakba can be found at Palestine Remembered.

The other story
The Eshkenazis’, Bulgarian Jews who had fled Europe in 1948, were placed there under the Zionist resettlement program and their baby daughter, Dalia, grew up there wondering whose house she was living in. So the Khairis became stateless as a result of the setting up of the Jewish state of Israel. In an attempt to resolve the conflict Dalia and Bashir agreed to set up an Open House for young arab children in the Khairi family home that had been occupied by the Eshkenazis since 1948.

The book intertwines the personal lives of these protagonists within the larger history of the struggle of the Palestinian and Jewish people. The book is fully referenced with endnotes, bibliography, and interviews at the back.

This is a book for people who wish to understand the struggle and particularly the importance to the Palestinian people of ‘the right to return’ to their villages – something yet to be offered by the United Nations, by the international courts, the political process inside Israel, Oslo, Camp David and the many other half hearted attempts – but increasingly is demanded by the people themselves, a cry that is only recently starting to be heard by the broader community.
Details: The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan Transworld Publishers 558 pp 2007 maps ISBN 9780552155144

Availability of the book
I had some trouble getting hold of this book. It is supposed to be available from a range of bookstores like QBD and Dymocks. However they do not stock the book.

I overcame this by ordering it from my local bookshop, The Avid Reader at West End Brisbane. Their price was also cheaper than Dymocks.

Public Libraries
The book like a number of others should be available in libraries (Brisbane City Council, Shire, State, Uni, Schools) but currently is not. These libraries abound with books on the holy land but are lacking in such important narratives as this one.

As one librarian put it ‘we know the stories of the conquerors but not of the conquered’. Her claim was that few such stories are written in English as mostly would be in Arabic. A claim that libraries can no longer rely upon to justify their purchasing bias.

A list of public libraries can be found at but only the Sunshine Coast library (QSCL) has a copy of the book.

Public Library Services at Cannon Hill have ordered a meagre two copies.

I have put in a request for the state library to acquire the book. I think that others should do likewise in their local libraries and seek out information about this important history.

Ian Curr
February 2009

All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 by Walid Khalidi (Editor)

A map of Najd (Sderot) can be found at Palestine Remembered at

Darwin, Lincoln and the survival of the slave-masters

By Humphrey McQueen
12 February 2009

February 12 is the bicentenary of the births of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Their personal convictions towards slavery were pretty much the same. The name of the former is entangled with Social Darwinism as a doctrine about survival of the fittest. This distortion of ‘fitness’ sustains a pseudo-scientific basis to justify the naturalness for the division of human society into masters and slaves, whether chattel-slaves of the plantation South or wage-slaves of the capitalist factories. By contrast, the conventional ignorance about Lincoln is of the Great Emancipator.

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