Interview: Life After Keating
Industrial: That Friday Feeling
Bad Boss: Begging to Work
Organising: Project Pilbara
Unions: Off the Rails
International: Brazil Turns Left
Environment: Brown Wash
History Special: Learning from the Past
Corporate: Will the Bullying Backfire?
Technology: Danger Lurks For The Passive
History: In Labour’s Image
Politics: Without Power Or Glory
History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Culture: Blood Stains the Wattle
Satire: Iraq Pre-empts Pre-emptive Strike
Poetry: The Executive Pay Cut
Review: Time Out
Month In Review
The Locker Room
Why The User Should Pay
More Bali Feed Back
Clean Election Laws Now!
And Now, Some Fan Mail!
In Labour’s Image
Darling St Balmain may now be jammed with coffee drinkers and fine dining establishments, but a different way of walking the road highlights the labour heritage.
The Active Service Brigade held meetings at "Unity Square (corner of Beattie St) in the 1890s, the Socialist Labour Party met at the corner of National St in the 1920s, the old Pioneer Hall at Nelson St was used by the Communist Party, the Labour League, daily speaker classes went on and the ALP Federal Council met there in 1931. The list goes on down the street.
You can find this sort of information with which you can plan your walking tours of Sydney and a tour of NSW labour heritage sites in "Places, Protests and Memorabilia: the Labour Heritage Register of NSW" by Terry Irving and Lucy Taksa.
The Register "aims to elicit an active engagement with heritage as a living, historically based aspect of public life. Live it by walking it after reading this guide, have it with you as you travel so that when you arrive in Maitland you can easily race the places of significance to workers then and now. Its not just meeting sites, but also factories, pubs, houses and marketplaces. If your own town or a site you know about isn't there then you can let the authors know so that the register becomes a living entity in itself, and can develop to a comprehensive coverage of NSW as a labour site.
As Jack Mundey pointed out at the launch, the union movement in Australia has one of the proudest histories of any union movement in the world, but too little is preserved, recorded or celebrated on the street. There are plenty of books and articles from out active historians and industrial relations people, but no record (until now) of the places themselves that have been part of the shaping of the labour movement.
The register also includes a database of collections of historical material held by people and some institutions in NSW with the aim and hope that these collections can one day form the core of a labour heritage museum in Sydney, a central site where people can learn about labour's past and its present and future directions. Terry Irving commented at the launch in 1996 of the project that developed into this printed register that it is part of "bringing labour history to the public mind" and promoting walking and looking with the labour history of streets and localities in mind is a great way to do this. The emphasis of your walk and touring using the Register would necessarily be in the Hunter Valley, the Illawarra, Broken Hill, Central Sydney and some suburbs however, a reason to burrow through your local archives and see what your locality could add.
Bob Gould, handed all those who went to the launch of the Register in the Trades Hall Banner Room his critique. Apart from debates about the philosophical and methodological approaches to such a register, Bob 's comments can serve to expand the Register. It can be part of a broad labour project that all those in the movement can be thankful to Terry Irving and Lucy Taksa for getting starting.
The Banner Room itself holds the material that has been the most significant recovery of heritage material. The banners are wonderful examples of workers displaying their skills but as the authors note, they are removed from any sort of context and access is difficult.
So what is labour heritage?
The authors see it as "the part played by working people in making our communities, building our labour movement and establishing a democratic and fair society....It is as diverse as working people themselves; it reflects the lives of women, men, young people and adults, the indigenous people, the immigrants from many countries, as well as those born in Australia."
The diversity of people, event and place is seen on the first page of the labour precincts - towns section where we see listed a co-operative butcher shop in Abermain, a Masonic Hall in Armidale, Dugan's Shakespeare Hotel in Bourke. Within particularly well known labour towns we an also see the variety of places registered. In Broken Hill we have the Trades Hall, but also a newspaper office, a printery, the cemetery and a Memorial Rose Garden.
Why is a sense of place important? Michael Pearson and Sharon Sullivan in "Looking After Heritage Places" argue that a "sense of place" - an identity - is something all communities need, and indeed it can be argued... that a principle cause of alienation, crime and dysfunction is the loss of this sense of identity." These points are behind the reasons why the idea of a labour precinct is used in the Register as an organizing method and an object of studies to come. Peter Sams referred to a need to re-establish the notion of a labour precinct around Trades Hall. There are plenty of sites of significance around the Sussex St, Dixon St, Goulburn St area.
A precinct is more than "simply a place where working people live and labour.... Where there are residential and employment features of a precinct, it is a political space. It provides spatial identity for the labour movement, both as a subject for its own political efforts and as an object of its opponents' efforts. It is formed therefore as much by its own internal processes that mobilize the movement in and through this political space as by its interactions with the local and central state in response to the need to represent and protect the movement's working-class citizens, wherever they work or dwell."
Many localities are seeking to preserve their industrial heritage but the labour heritage must be distinguished from this gazing at particular sentimental sites. These efforts do help with established a labour heritage however, as people realise that certain environments are in peril, and the people have made these environments, they are not rock formations, but built places where people have interacted for particular purposes.
Heritage is "inherently political" as Raphael Samuel has pointed out.
As Irving and Taksa conclude, "This Register represents a first tentative step towards identifying our State's labour heritage. ...It provides a source for historical research and a basis for celebrating the labour movement's founding role in our society's history and the lives of ordinary working people. ...We hope the project simply marks the beginning of other activities, which will recognize the importance of labour heritage." The Labour Heritage Register is necessary to "ensure that a collective memory of labour traditions is retained and passed down to our children...[and] continue that tradition of active and critical citizenship."
Places, Protests and Memorabilia: the Labour Heritage Register of New South Wales by Terry Irving and Lucy Taksa. Published by the Industrial Relations Research Centre, University of NSW (UNSW Studies in Australian Industrial relations no. 43) 2002
Available from the IRRC at the University of NSW Sydney 2052
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