Poetry: If I Were a Rich Man
Interview: League of Nations
Industrial: 20/20 Hindsight
Organising: On The Buses
Unions: National Focus
History: The Banner Room
International: The Slaughter Continues
Legal: A Legal Case For War?
Culture: Singing For The People
Review: The Hours
Poetry: I Wanna Bomb Saddam
Satire: Diuretic Makes Warne's Excuses Look Thin
The Locker Room
Re-considering The Accord
Strangers in the House
Nursing Home Concerns
The Banner Room
Lorna Morrison knows about the blood on the walls of the Trades Hall auditorium; the time a Right activist tipped a bucket, literally, on a factional adversary conversing on the street below; and the stabbing murder of an Apheda worker. But she didn't get to be secretary of the Trades and Industrial Hall and Literary Institute Association of Sydney, by telling tales out of school.
Even in the final days of her employment at Trades Hall, last week, she preferred to talk about the decency of men, from the Left and Right, who had treated her as a workmate and equal.
Morrison's departure, 54 years after her first working day in Goulburn St, heralds the end of an era. After years of procrastination, the building she ran for decades, is going the way of most its neighbours - upmarket.
As association secretary for the past 30 years, Morrison has effectively been landlord to an increasingly diverse bunch who called Trades Hall home.
The big union amalgamations of the past 15 years saw most of the reconstituted bodies seek accommodation elsewhere. When Morrison handed in her keys there were only three unions in residence. They had been joined by an assortment of community groups, barristers, solicitors, architects, artists, graphic designers and a lone author, no doubt attracted by the cheap rent and location.
Trades Hall, as it stands, is a rabbit warren and something of a throwback to the days when Sir Henry Copeland convinced fellow legislators that their own building would remove from "working men" the temptation inherent in holding their meetings in "public houses".
The building is also an institution, a landmark recognised by Sydneysiders of all political hues and, very likely, none at all.
Morrison knows and loves every room on its four floors and the strange mezzanine levels that have sprung up between them.
But she has a passion for one above the rest. Room 27 is the Banner Room where relics of a bygone era - political and artistic - have been restored for the benefit of future generations.
These banners, and there are dozens of them, are undeniably of the British tradition. Many are over a hundred years old and most, by today's dimensions, are monstrosities.
They fall basically into two camps - banners, which saw service on the back of horse drawn carts, then trucks, and what Morrison calls 'bannerettes", smaller cloth pieces that could be carried by a single worker.
The big ones - the show stoppers - are intricately painted on canvas or, occassionally, silk. Interestingly, they are double sided, the front mural, generally telling of affinity with the organisation and the reverse, pride in the job.
The majority were crafted in Australia, although one Federated Mining Employees number carries the brand name Tuttles of London.
A local name that appears time and again is Edgar Whitbread, artist and banner maker. Another is Althous and Geiger, a firm not unknown to those who catch buses along Parramatta Rd today.
The best part of 30 years ago, Morrison struck up a relationship with Whitbread's then elderly daughter.
"She could have dated some of these banners which would have been a big help," Morrison recalls. "But you could tell if she gave the dates away she felt it would pinpoint her own age and she never did."
Most of the big banners were rescued, in a state of disrepair, from the Trades Hall basement where they had fallen from favour with the decline of the old-style labour procession.
One of the building's caretakers remembers them being black, with dust and dirt, before Morrison set about restoring them. Crucial was a Bicentennial grant that not only underwrote extensive refurbishment but allowed the Trades Hall Association to refit Room 27 so it was properly equipped to hang and handle them.
Even so, because of their age, the banners are hung, then stored, on three month rotation.
Competition is strong but those of the NSW Locomotive Engine Drivers Firemen and Cleaners Association (part of today's Public Transport Union), Seamen's Union (MUA) and the Bridge and Wharf Carpenters (CFMEU) are among her personal favourites.
The artwork and, indeed, the organisations themselves, speak of another time. You wouldn't find too many Coal Lumpers, Cigar Makers, Brushmakers, or Gramophone Record Makers around these days.
The Felt Hatters sound like something Lewis Carroll might have joined, while Morrison reckons the Hospital Asylum Employees would have been an interesting bunch.
Many are more than history to this woman. Shop Assistants bring to mind Ernie O'Dea, Plumbers George Holden, Wicker Workers Ernie Hewson, Hairdressers and Wigmakers Ernie Nitzsche.
"There were a lot of Ernies around in those days," she laughs.
The Millers banner brings back vivid memories of Dot Chalker, one of the first female union secretaries to work out of the building.
Morrison herself discovered the "bannerettes" on a trip to the basement "many long years ago". Looking for something, she can't remember what, she came across a large wooden crate and there, inside, were dozens of them, complete with tassles.
"Someone had lovingly stored them away with a sheet of tissue between each one. I have no idea how long they had been sitting there," she says.
The Banner Museum is must-see for anyone with an interest in history. Up until now, school and union groups have gone through by appointment, and those appointments were made with Morrison, the holder of the keys.
She was remarkably composed when she talked to Workers Online about Trades Hall and the people and banners within. In fact, organising a farewell drink in the conveniently located Trades Hall Inn appeared close to the top of her priority list.
In truth, she is looking forward to spending more time with her husband, children and grand children and, she doubts she will miss the daily train trips to and from Fairfield.
Whatever the architectural merits of the new-look Trades Hall, Morrison retires confident that the battle to protect her banners, and the stories they tell, has been fought and won.
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