|Issue No 48||31 March 2000|
Living Library - Part II
Second part of a talk given by Jim Andrighetti
- to the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History (Sydney Branch),
More on the rich labour history that is housed within the walls of Sydney's Mitchell Library.
In addition to the labour archives already mentioned are the extensive archives of various trade unions, professional associations and employer organisations. Further details about these holdings are located in my article. The earliest records are of a craft union, the Sydney Progressive Society of Carpenters and Joiners, established in 1853, and one of the original affiliates to the TLC. Included are minute books, 1851-4, 1871-80, and records of an early carpentry union during a strike in 1846.Minute books, 1870-1906, are held of the United Laborers' Protective Society (ULPS), the oldest labourers' union in NSW, established in 1861. In 1972 the Library acquired the records of the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths' Society of Australia, prior to the Society merging with the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Sheet Metal Workers' Union to form the Amalgamated Metal Workers' Union. The papers of trade unionists include those of George Waite, Secretary of ULPS and a member of the Sydney IWW; Frederick Hancock (Federated Ironworkers' Association); and Jim Healy (Waterside Workers' Federation).
Between 1987 and 1992 the Communist Party of Australia deposited its archives in two large consignments. Their accessibilty to researchers has facilitated the investigation of topics and issues previously under-sourced. Within a relatively short time, this research has translated into a shelf of papers, theses, articles, and books, chief among these being the first part of the Party's official history, The Reds by Stuart Macintyre, published in 1998.
Historians such as Barbara Curthoys and David McKnight have generously donated to the Library the spoils of their research trips to Russia, being the microfilmed holdings of communist archives relating to Australia. The fruits of Glasnost in the former Soviet Union include Comintern records on microfilm now available in the Sir William Dixson Original Materials Reading Room. In many cases, these records feature the only extant copies of periodicals of CPA-related and influenced organisations during the 1930s.
When the Berlin Wall came down, a direct consequence for the Mitchell Library was the arrival in 1995 of the papers of Professor Frederick Rose who died in 1991. He was an English anthropologist who conducted pioneering work on Aboriginal kinship and became a casualty of the Petrov Royal Commission. He left Australia in 1956 for an appointment at Humboldt University in the GDR, where he lived for the rest of his life returning only periodically to Australia. During those visits back to Sydney, he stayed at the Bronte home of his longtime friends and fellow comrades, Frank and Pat Graham; their papers were presented to the Library in 1989. From the early 1970s Rose had donated to the Library discrete collections of his researches. He was favourably disposed to the Library as the furture repository of his papers. The last years of the Honecker regime in East Germany were an anxious time for Rose, who anticipated difficulties in getting his papers released for despatch to Australia. A significant component of the papers is in German.
The cultural diversity of NSW is increasingly reflected in our collections. However, this was not always the case. In 1989 The Italians in NSW Project was established as a collaborative venture between the Library and various Italian community groups. It aims to collect, preserve and make available for research the documentary record of the Italian presence in NSW. The Project was conceived in an attempt to redress the balance in our holdings relating to Italians and their contribution to Australian society, in order to render the historical record a more representative one.
Collections range from the small and piecemeal to the voluminous and complex, typified by the personal papers of legendary Sydney radio broadcaster, Mamma Lena Gustin. Bilingual researchers would reap a harvest by consulting one particular series of Gustin's papers. In the late 1950s to early 1960s she wrote for the local Italian newspaper La Fiamma. One of her columns solicited from readers accounts of their arrival and adjustment to Australia. The unexpurgated original letters are intact with, in some cases, her edited versions for publication. Several thousand letters constitute a unique source, which can be analysed on a range of fronts, eg. gender, province/region of origin, and class. They also provide evidence of Italian expatriates who came from North Africa, although in insignificant numbers compared to the majority of their compatriots who originated from the Italian peninsular and islands. As long as such voices as the above correspondents remain muted and undiscovered, it is easy to see how an ethnic group can be marginalised from the recounting of Australian history.
The Library's acquisition of such Italian archives will be of interest to researchers working in wider areas of study, not just Italian migration. More representative local histories are just one example. A recent thematic history has utilised the papers of Franco Battistessa, the doyen of Italian journalists in Australia from his arrival in 1928 until his death half a century later. His papers were presented to the Library by his widow and son in 1991. Andrew Moore made use of Battistessa's papers for his book, The Right Road ?: A History of Right-Wing Politics in Australia (OUP, 1995). Battistessa was one of the leading Italian Fascists in Sydney between the wars. A longtime champion of migrants' rights, after the war he maintained close ties with the MSI, the ultra-conservative organisation in Italy. Moore's book draws Battistessa in from the fringes to the mainstream of Australian history, and is suggestive of the wider historical application of the Library's Italian collections.
The most significant Italian accession in the past couple of year has been the papers of an Italian Jewish refugee family in Australia during World War II. Their experiences contribute another chapter to a small literature on the diaspora of Italian Jews to Australia as a result of Mussolini's racial decrees. Italian Jews also played a seminal role in the formation of the wartime Italia Libera: Australian-Italian Anti-Fascist Movement (NSW State Committee), whose records were acquired by the Library in 1992 shortly after their discovery during the refurbishment of a house in Surry Hills. Italia Libera focused on two key issues: the release of anti-Fascists from internment camps, and the economic discrimination of anti-Fascists, conscripted by the Allied Works Council into the Civil Aliens Corp, who were subjected to lower rates of pay and worse conditions than Australians employed on similar work.
Since late 1993 our archival holdings have been catalogued into the PICMAN Database, available on the Library's web site at http://www.slnsw.gov.au/picman . Researchers are kept up to date about recent accessions, loaded usually within a short time of a collection's receipt into the Library. They are also privy to the detailed listing of collections from the small, in some cases one item such as a letter, or diary or illuminated address, to the large and complex with several series, all navigable at the click of a mouse. PICMAN's keyword searching facility is impressive, enhanced by the easy tracking of the keyword which appears in stand-out red against the normal black text. The keyword can be in any part or field of the record description, for example, in the title, or biographical note, contents description or even the Library of Congress topic heading. The Advanced search strategy enables you to further refine your search, say, by geographical area or by format such as manuscript or posters or photographs or sound recordings for the oral historians among you.
It seems an appropriate opportunity to highlight a few relevant collections that are described on PICMAN:
1. The papers of Eleanor Mary Hinder were deposited in several consignments in the Library between 1963 and 1975. Hinder broke new ground in industrial welfare in Sydney before she went abroad in the early 1920s to develop her expertise in this field, and to administer humanitarian and technical programmes in China and Southeast Asia. She was Chief of the Industrial and Social Division of Shanghai Municipal Council from 1933 to 1942, fleeing to Britain when the Japanese overran the city. She was prompted about the importance of preserving her papers at a talk in the early 1960s by one of the State Library's senior and distinguished staff, Jean Arnot. Jean, a longtime campaigner for equal pay for women and wage justice, had been speaking on the dearth of professional women's papers in the Mitchell Library. Her own papers were bequeathed to the Library.
2. Since 1995 several collections relating to the Dreadnought Scheme have been received. The Scheme allowed for unemployed British youth to make a fresh start in Australia. The first Dreadnought Boys arrived in 1911 and the last lot came out in 1930. On arrival in Sydney they were sent to government-run farms at Yanco, Cowra, Arrawatta, Glen Innes, Grafton and Wollongar. More than half of these migrants went to Scheyville near Pitt Town. At the farms agricultural skills were taught and after three months the boys were sent to any farms in the state requesting labour.
3. Among the papers of trade union officials are those of J. R. (Jack) Hughes, who was co-founder during the war of the left-wing State Labor Party (NSW), which officially amalgamated with the CPA in 1943.The papers of Cecil Thompson (Charlie) Oliver, longtime Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union (NSW Branch) and former President of the ALP (NSW Branch), were presented to the Library in 1998 by Olivers' personal secretrary, Necia Ann Holloway, a third-generation member of her family to work for the AWU.
4. The bete noir of communists and left-wing activists in Sydney from the mid-1940s to late 1970s was the Liberal Member for Manly, Douglas Darby. The papers of this parliamentary backbencher and staunch anti-Communist document his vigorous campaigning for the causes of Free China and the Captive Nations in the Communist Bloc. He was President of the Captive Nations Council of NSW from 1968 to 1978. Records of that organisation were transferred from the Estonian Archives in Australia at Surry Hills to the Library last year. During World War II Darby was founder of the British Orphans' Adoption Society, whose records are preserved with his papers. The Society was a voluntary organisation which pioneered the idea of evacuating British children and introduced the principle of legal adoption of migrant orphans.
5. A small consignment of her papers of Labor activist and feminist, Eileen Powell (1913-1977), was received last year and complements earlier holdings which came in 1978 with the papers of her husband, the long-time Sydney Morning Herald industrial roundsman Fred Coleman-Brown.
6. The papers of politician, barrister and anti-nuclear campaigner, Edward St John (1916-1994)
7. Anti-Apartheid movement records, largely presented by the Estate of Hazel Rose Jones, an inveterate activist on social justice and humanitarian issues from the early 1960s until her death in 1989. Apart from her personal papers, there are the records of the Southern Africa Defence Aid Fund in Australia (SADAF) and Friends of Africa.
8. The papers of Trotskyist, trade unionist and Leichhardt councillor, Nick Origlass (1908-1996)
9.The records of New Theatre (Sydney Branch)
10. A number consignments of the papers of Communist activists, Jack and Audrey Blake
11. The records of the Gay Trade Unionists' Group (NSW), 1974-1982
I'm currently working on the papers, including voluminous correspondence, of Roderick Shaw (1915-1992), artist, book designer, civil libertarian and ex-Communist. He was a partner in the distinguished printing and publishing firm of Edwards and Shaw from 1947 to 1983. In 1961 the firm challenged book censorship in this country when it undertook the Australian printing of The Trial of Lady Chatterly, a banned title. Shaw was a foundation member of the Studio for Realist Art, Artists for Peace and Artists against Nuclear War, and a lecturer in drawing and painting in the Wharfies Art Group.
Finally, the Library actively promotes the writing of Australian history from original sources through the annual Currey Memorial Fellowship Award, established by the Library Council of NSW in 1974. The 1998 recipient, and the oldest at 82, was Issy Wyner, one of Sydney's indomitable labour figures and political soul mate of Nick Origlass. Issy's entire working life revolved around the Ship Painters and Dockers' Union, first as a rank-and-file member then as its Secretary. In 1983 he published With Banner Unfurled, a history of the early years of the Balmain Labourers' Union, the direct antecedent of the Ship Painters and Dockers' Union. He is carrying out research for his history of the union from 1900 to 1930. The key sources he will be using are the union minutes which he had deposited in 1977.
[Jim Andrighetti is a manuscripts librarian in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. His professional interests include labour history and the documentary heritage of Italian Australians of NSW. He is a Parramatta Eels supporter nostalgic for the halcyon days of 'The Crow' and 'The Guru'.]
The first part of this paper can be found at
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