Svensen’s ‘story of the 1891 shearers strike’ is, in comparison to its predecessors, impressively-researched but it is vulnerable to critical examination. His strongest point is in locating the Fairbairn family, in particular the Toorak-pastoralist George Fairbairn, Jnr, at the centre of strategies bent on destroying the union-movement in ‘his’ industry from sometime in October, 1890. The evidence supports what is claimed about the Fairbairns being single-minded and ruthless in pursuit of their goal, and having the biggest fingers in the plot. The evidence supports the assertions that when the main group of union leaders were arrested on conspiracy charges, the presiding Judge Harding was partial, the charges were trumped-up and the trial procedures were weighted against the defendants. It’s also reasonable to describe Acting Premier Tozer as being in breach of his constitutional oaths to uphold the law and to administer it without prejudice. Svensen’s intention to be rigorous in his assessments and even-handed in his methodology is apparent but he has not scrutinised either side closely enough.
Nairn said of Watson as we have seen, above: ‘…To him, trade unionism exemplified mateship, and was pragmatic, powerful and versatile enough to sustain Labor by adaptation to democratic pressures and changing circumstances.’ This is a good description of what the story shows that unionism/mateship were not. Defeat in 1890 was not followed by ‘adaptation…to changing circumstances’ in any State and neither ‘mateship’ nor ‘trade unionism’ were ‘pragmatic, powerful and versatile enough’ to sustain much of anything. From the time the pastoralists made their first move, the Queensland unionists were on the back-foot and they don’t ever seemed to have comprehended a need for a level of planning and organisation which might wrest back the initiative…Wm Lane…
Negative editorials might be dismissed as lies or as inevitable propaganda, but they were never going to be defeated by claims of the moral high ground or by mock-heroism. The opposition’s tactics were never probed for weaknesses or even to better mount a defense. The Town and Country Journal in February pointed out exploitable differences of opinion amongst the authorities the strikers feared most after the army. While the pastoralists’ executive and the police magistrates wanted the armed shearers, especially ‘the western unionists’, disarmed immediately and with force if necessary, Inspector Ahearn and Sub-Inspector Durham, in charge of the police, stated ‘that they have no power to disarm the unionists, and unless the strikers engage in violence’ the police will be acting illegally if they did attempt a disarming. A monotone policy of non-action was imposed across all strike camps which only confused and demoralised the rank-and-file. As an industrial strategy it suited only the leadership who wanted continued power and influence. Nothing came of a mass meeting at Barcaldine which rescinded the ‘passive resistance’ policy:
Unionist shearers left Barcaldine ‘armed to the teeth’ to prevent the non-unionist shearers from performing their work, and it is reported that force will be used if necessary, in fact they do not seek to disguise the fact that unless the non-union men desist from work peacefully they will be fired upon.
The imposed weakness, spun into a virtue, gave the leadership a retrospective halo but nothing tangible at the time. Any advantage they might have derived from the shearers’ discipline was eroded by their arrest and removal from the field. The next level of chief was no better suited to fill the gap. The choice of the parliamentary path, apparently made separately in each State, was not a pragmatic adaptation, it was a capitulation to and an acceptance of the victor’s terms. Neither defeat, 1890 or 1891, was analysed then, as it needed to be, nor since. Rather weaknesses are still being papered over and made out to be strengths. Svensen in his only direct reference to the dynamic of the unionism/mateship correlation wrote:
Many (‘casual pastoral workers’, his collective noun) were Australian-born; many others came from England, Ireland and Scotland…Most observers agree on two of their characteristics. The first is the laconic, but mischievous sense of humour which they possessed. The second is their sense of ’mateship’, which was both a special bond of friendship between two workers, and a more general spirit of co-operation between all bush workers.
The strike camps and the Queensland Shearers Union (QSU) were particularly clear exemplars of failure to make decisions and a lack of adaptation. Their claim to success is that they ‘were highly disciplined and orderly.’ (p. 253) The men were racist, xenophobic, sexist and given to outbursts of rage. All of which has fed into the ocker Australian male view of what’s OK. At no point does ‘the story’ show either unionism or mateship as co-operative. Both were expressed in vain-glorious rhetoric, often destructive, emotional and unable to focus on the problems confronting them. The ‘casual pastoral workers’ constantly spouted about their weaponry which may as well have been so many sticks of celery, since they didn’t use them, either to make a stand or even to supply themselves with bush food when strike rations ran out, and other peoples’ live-stock was not immediately available. They spouted about ‘mateship’ and solidarity when neither was in evidence. Their only responses to the ‘strike breakers’ involved intimidation and lectures on unionism, aka ‘moral suasion’, neither of which requires a mischievous sense of humour or ‘a special bond of friendship.’ There was nothing unique about what little co-operation was shown, or the minimal degree of solidarity which was displayed.
In Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere, the unemployed were being urged and cajoled by O’Sullivan, Black and Hughes to overthrow the capitalist system, they were marching up and down with Fleming, Rosa and Andrews well before these ‘Great Strikes’ occurred. It is not conceivable that there was no awareness of a chain of supply from the city alleys to struck sheds. How were these lazy, thieving scum of the cities suddenly embraced as the answers to the pastoralists’ prayers? And the Chinese? Labour historians have refused to contemplate the mean streets as the seed-bed of ‘the movement’. Their static, materialist view has prevented them from appreciating the political dynamic of those factories of discontent, productive alike of socialists, strike breakers, and their bodyguards. Julian Stuart, one of the arrested conspirators in 1891, referred later to ‘hired fighting men’ from Sydney protecting ‘free labourers’ all the way to the shed door, ‘Jim Fogarty, pugilist’ in charge. In this case, Whiteley King, Secretary of the NSW Pastoralists Union, was credited with getting the support of gangs of ‘the fancy’, as they were known when they were being calumniated for their activities in Sydney and elsewhere. Is it likely that King obtained these ‘pugilists’ through the local Labor Bureau? No-one has yet researched the source of the unemployed or any connections they might have had with the contractors who delivered them, nor their motivations, the manner in which they were recruited and transported, what happened after their stint in the sheds, whether they returned the next season, how many if any became unionists, etc, etc.
Presumably, Svensen et al would argue that the city workers transplanted to the bush epitomised attitudes opposed to the unionist/mateship correlation, and were therefore the natural choice of employers and that given time the bush camps would have moulded them all into dinki-di mates. How is it then that the socialist agitators and their supporters not only came from the same ‘anti-mateship’ source, but remained in and around it? The only attempted explanation of this conundrum has been that the socialists and their democratic tendencies were absorbed from overseas, directly or through the writings of Bellamy, etc. There were no local theorisers and socialism, in all its variants, has to be theorised and taught, otherwise it doesn’t meet the definition, which, oh look, came from overseas. The bush-unionism-mateship was locally developed and needed no theorisers and the teaching was all organic, hand-to-mouth as it were, and therefore could be exalted as uniquely Australian and marketed by nationalists looking for a brand name and logo. Perhaps certain commentators, Vance Palmer, say, were trying to make something out of the loss of control of the ALP to the ASU? It would explain why the image of mateship, the bush worker experience and the policies of the ALP all embody an exclusive, hierarchical view of maleness.
English-born journalist,‘Billy’ Lane (1861-1917), brother to ‘Ernie’, lame with poor eyesight, was almost the direct opposite of ‘Chris’ Watson’s ‘tall…athletic appearance (etc)’, as presented by Nairn, and any claim he might have to the labour pantheon has had to be undermined. He made it easy by turning his back on Australia and ‘going bush’. Any chance of seeing ‘New Australia’ as a variation on the co-operative shearers’ camp at Alice River or the government-subsidised ‘rural settlements’ for unemployed families was lost then and been buried since under psycho-babble – the Paraguay failures were his fault, the women were not ‘mates’ or commune-members were not genuine bush-people. Svensen’s conclusion was typically untenable: ‘While Lane had little impact on the course or outcome of the (1891) strike, the struggle did breathe life into a daydream which had been fermenting in his brain for some time.’ (p.223) Ernie Lane believed the settlement was to be used as a jumping-off point for a global communist take-over. What is noticeable is the number of men involved in the Queensland conflict who went to South America and how many of them and other ‘movement’ people became disillusioned with Lane and ‘the movement’ more generally. Many didn’t return to Australia, others said very little if they did.
Where the criticisms and Wm Lane’s own rhetoric appear to coincide is in the notion of a white, male leader who believes he has been chosen to show the world how to live. He called the key philosophy ‘mateship’, which amounts in practice to ‘share and share alike’ and doesn’t have to be explained – ‘a man is either straight or he’s not’. These few words encompass the essence of what Andrews and Bellamy, etc, were advocating but because of the value-judgements enclosed – ‘sharing’ and ‘straight’ – application of them produced very different results, Lane’s version being one of the more bizarre. It is biblical and cultish but entirely predictable since it was a projection of his self. It has had many counterparts in the ‘socialist literature’ but in the non-socialist as well. There is nothing uniquely Australian, or uniquely ‘feather-brained’ about it. None of its aspects should diminish his place in labour history, but should encourage deeper self-investigation and examination of labour theory.
Lane’s newspaper The Boomerang, launched in 1887 in Brisbane, immediately put him ‘off-side’ with employers. He was influential in the formation of the Australian Labour Federation [ALF] in 1889 which replaced the Trades and Labor Council in Brisbane but his ‘big picture view’ had already expanded beyond the geographic and personal limitations of his new home: ‘As early as 1889 he had corresponded with a communal settlement in Mexico, Topolobampo, and he was familiar with the North American Utopian community, Icaria, founded by followers of Robert Owen.’ In 1890, when the ALF and other bodies financed The Worker he became its editor, on the same wage as other staff. His movements during the 1891 strike have never been mapped. His presence at some of the meetings central to ‘the movement’s’ evolution are well known, but as he wrote Working Man’s Paradise to raise funds for those jailed, ‘secret meetings’ were hatching his plan:
On 2 May 1891 the Worker announced that the New Australia Co-operative Settlement Association had dispatched an agent, Alf Walker, formerly business manager of the Boomerang, to seek in South America the suitable land which the association had been unable to obtain in Australia.
He is embedded in ‘the legend of the shearers’ strike’ –‘(Lane) plotted bloody uprising’ was a 2016 headline in a Brisbane paper. When on 27 September, 1890, The Australian Workman [AW] hit the streets the editor appeared sober, respectable and learned. However, Dr Oswald Keating was a fraudster travelling under numerous false names because of police interest and unhappy creditors elsewhere. In October he embroiled himself in a slanging match over migrant Italian laborers with political exile, Francesco Sceusa. Protest meetings in the Town Hall, deputations to the paper’s backers the Labor Defence Committee and the TLC, and Sceusa’s standing in the ASL meant that by the beginning of November Keating was ‘the former editor’. He died mysteriously in a Melbourne jail in 1891 after being arrested for the rape of a 12-year old at Taylor’s house in Sydney. The erudition in his editorials and the liklihood that he did not fit well with others in the Sydney press gang must cast doubt on the ‘official’ account of his fall from grace.
Taylor was already well into the alcoholic stupor which ended this part of his public journey. Helping him up, and down, in the offices of Truth, Willis (1858-1922), according to his ADB entry, was another ‘singularly handsome boy with engaging manners’. ‘Restless and dynamic’, he had been elected to represent the Bourke seat as a protectionist in 1889, and remained in and around Parliament until 1905 when he fled the country to escape charges of corruption:
A rowdy, hard-drinking gad-fly and a racing crony of WP Crick…(A) ready, fluent, forceful speaker he used parliament for his own ends (and) brought off many remunerative coups.
‘Paddy’ Crick has been characterised as a more serious parliamentarian but as equally corrupt and a heavy drinker, an addiction which eventually killed him, as it and syphilis did Taylor. Described as ‘a stocky man with curly hair’ he apparently moved and acted like a middle-weight fighter, especially when drunk. He, Willis and Norton were nominal protectionists. They stayed afloat longer than Taylor but achieved little more of movement value than he did. This clique of personable, political animals could feasibly have found a ‘murderous’ Brady at a bar, or in a fight crow. Perhaps they shared his radical aspirations enough to become involved in ‘mischief’ at the Quay. Except that Brady seems not to have turned to drink or gambling in his frustration and anger. His record suggests he threw himself into the arduous, hack work of politics and found companionship with women. The fourth activist, briefly associated with the birth-pangs of the Truth, AG Yewen, (1867-1923) does not appear to have been a drinker either. Characterised as ‘stern, uncompromising” and as “never known to smile”, he was more likely to have indulged in secret visits to the Quay than Brady, Crick, Taylor, Norton or Willis. No doubt paths crossed regularly, but not always at brothels, at the track or in cheap gin houses.
Shocked by Keating’s failure, in November 1890 the AW’s Board hired WG Higgs (1862-1951), more of a christian socialist, then working as a compositor. President of the first LEL Conference in February, 1891, he stood for Parliament in June and like Brady failed to get endorsed. He resigned a few months later, disgusted he said by the infighting between ‘the movement’ factions. He is another needing rescue from careless talk of ‘anarchists’, in his case a label bestowed by Manning Clarke via Table Talk on no evidence of either a real or debased kind. He seems to have emphasised co-operative ventures,rather than state-directed programs. His successor, Brady, was more of a doctrinaire state-socialist but took the need for gender-equality seriously. He was quite keen on female unionists, one, Creo Stanley in particular. They had met around August, 1890 and at Brady’s invitation, she became the first woman to chair an ASL meeting, 24 March, 1891, and the first female delegate seated in the TLC. He left his first wife to live with her at her mother’s house at this time.
In February, 1891, Bruce ‘Shoot’em Down’ Smith, Minister for Public Works and ‘Machine Gun McMillan’ were forced to retire from a Glebe constituency meeting when the audience refused to hear them. Neither had expected any trouble and had brought no ‘muscle’ with them, which was somewhat surprising. The AW thought the audience was entirely made up of ‘respectable electors’, the SMH described the disturbers of the peace as a small number of rowdies with lungs powerful enough to overwhelm the others. The papers agreed that neither Rosa, nor Crick, nor Horkins was able to calm the audience long enough for the MPs to speak even when it was explained that later resolutions would be moved against the Ministers. When Smith and McMillan had left, Lindsay was elected to chair the meeting and Healy and Higgs spoke to a completely quiet and orderly hall. Clearly, neither the AW nor the SMH accurately described the audience, who were sufficiently well-read to distinguish between those ‘friends of the people’ they wished to hear and those they did not. An extended SMH editorial a few days later brought the Queensland ‘difficulty’ and the Glebe meeting together, concluding:
If the (Queensland) Government had been unequal to the emergency and had hesitated to act, disastrous events would have followed…The difference between the union shearers …and the noisy mob at the Glebe meeting is one of degree, and if the colonies are to advance and not to retrograde, the electors must see that their liberties are not taken away from them by a so-called labour party aiming at the establishment of mob-rule.
Rosa had exhorted the crowd to cheer ‘the Australian Socialist Labor Party’ and was working with Brady and others to orient ‘the movement’ towards what he called ‘social democracy.’ After McNamara’s departure south in search of ‘social democrats’, February-March, 1891, and with Brady as its Secretary the ASL had introduced changes. Elocution and musical numbers preceded lectures, a library was started and a newly-styled ‘Central Executive Council’ sought government permission to run an art-union. Joseph Schellenberg, an ASL member since 1887, denounced what he saw as cowardice and opportunism in the actions of ASL ‘gentlemen calling themselves Socialists’. He was particularly incensed at their dismantling the unemployment campaign begun in April. He and Andrews had been enthusiastically received at a Domain protest meeting where they stood in for the announced ASL speakers, Healy, Rosa and others who funked it, he thought, because of threatened arrest by the authorities. Many in the crowd called for the singing of Andrews’ translation of the Marseillaise and set off for Parliament House behind the red flag, despite police warnings.
We can assume that Andrews was under constant surveillance, either where he was living or at the offices of the Australian Socialist League which he quickly found in Sydney after having walked from Melbourne. According to his own detailed story he arrived in Sydney close to the end of 1890. Rosa’s movements are less clear but he travelled north by train and, according to George Black, quickly established himself as the ASL’s ‘foremost advocate of revolutionary socialism’, among an expanding membership said to be learning about socialism from ‘a philosophical book on anarchism’. By April, 1891, Andrews had joined Whitthread and an unknown number of others, on Schellenberg’s flower and vegetable farm at Smithfield, an hour’s horse ride from the centre of Sydney. These formed the core of the ‘Communist-Anarchist Group of Central Cumberland’. McNamara stayed there in March and April of 1891, and Brady and Ernie Lane visited. Lane had joined the ASL as Brady became Secretary and by May 1891 they were sharing run-down rooms in Wooloomooloo, not far from the harbour and its wharves. Brady reluctantly admitted much later, after Lane’s memoirs had appeared, that the two had visited the Smithfield centre, probably soon after its establishment in April.
In a May letter to McNamara, Yewen working with Wm Lane on The (Bris) Worker, described Schellenberg as ‘our old friend and comrade’. McNamara had asked Will Andrade for help in finding ‘social democrats’ in Melbourne and a cheap boarding house, but Andrade was unable to help him having been forced by the depression to move his family to rural Windsor (Vic). McNamara had arranged for his mail to be forwarded to Smithfield, so perhaps he had intended to stay there but by May he was also in rural Victoria. Letters from the Cumberland group had by then appeared in the Sydney press as had an account of selective discrimination against them by the 1890 Maritime Strike Commission, which refused them a hearing preferring to treat their offer of advice as a hoax. Yewen’s letter passed on ‘best wishes’ on behalf of himself, [Henry] Lawson, and [Ralph] Baynham, both of whom Yewen knew from the ASL or The Boomerang. He didn’t mention AG Stephens who had also been at the paper after a stint as secretary of a Secular Society.
Yewen was not enthusiastic about the idea of an anarchist ‘operations centre’ which he had heard about from Schellenberg and to whom he wrote for more information. He thought collective living was impractical and ‘Quixotic’, and that Anarchism and Communism were as ‘substanceless superstitions as Christianity’. He considered Andrews too Utopian but liked the thought of direct action:
The use of physical force when intelligently applied I am in favour of, but that does not constitute Anarchism or lead us to its cloud lands.
He was not happy about the Queensland strike situation:
The Shearers’ strike is pretty tame now [and] if the supineness continues utter collapse must inevitably ensue: The ALF [Australian Labor Federation] is like the Socialist League, it sacrifices everything to numbers.
He disclosed that he advocated, not outright revolt, but depreciating ‘the value of the property of the enemy’ and this he said the bush workers had been doing until counselled out of it by union leaders. In Sydney in May, McMillan organised a horde, somewhere between 120 and 300, of what some called ‘committee-men’ and others described as a force of ‘healthy and strong footballers and about a dozen or so prize fighters’ to protect a pro-Federation address he had a mind to deliver. The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph placed a detachment of Permanent Artillery at Parliament House, and numerous police and plain clothes detectives in the crowd. The opposition, variously described as ‘socialists’, ‘rowdies’ and ‘the statue gang’ by editorial writers, heard only his opening sentence. For three hours, disorder and fighting were so general that it’s clear that audience members were also practised street fighters. The hero of the 1889 Carruthers’ meeting (above), Sandy Ross, was among the opposition, received a kicking from the pugs led by ‘Mick’ Dooley and was ejected with a number of others. A comparatively-independent reporter wrote:
…That trouble was anticipated there is no doubt, for all the available and reliable “talent” [push members] in the city had been engaged to biff out on their oyster shell-shaped ears, any leather-lunged electors who attempted to make any disapproving demonstration…
This reporter knew some of the protagonists well. Sandy Ross was ‘(a) conspicuous figure in the crowd’. His ‘instructions were to push hard and to plug often’, though it’s unclear who had given him his instructions. The reporter’s conclusion?
…There can be no reasonable doubt that Mr. McMillan’s friends invited the disturbance of Tuesday night by hiring a large body of roughs and fighting men to eject those manifesting any disapproval of him, and since their invitation was accepted they have themselves to thank for what took place. The lesson given by the freetraders has been well learnt by the anti-federationists and a section of the protection and labor party, and they are now vigorously and unfairly using the weapon which has been placed in their hands…
This reporter denounced the hypocrisy of the newspapers backing the two major factions and only complaining about their opponent’s use of hired thugs and never acknowledging their own. Estimates were being made that around 50 voters were ‘engaged in lawlessness’ out of 2000 in a single electorate like South Sydney. With an election due, Parkes’ party was attempting to deflect attention away from its own internal divisions and what was happening in Queensland with Federation legislation which in its Parksian-form would have favored the status-quo by entrenching the limited franchise. On the Monday following McMillan’s attempts, 18th May, the Speaker of the House, Edmund Barton, tried to convince an audience to listen to his line on Federation. There were no fights, since McMillan’s ‘muscle’ had proven counter-productive, but there was lots of organised noise. The SMH thought the speakers were heard, the Catholic Freeman’s Journal thought their efforts were useless against the tumult.
Parkes prorogued the NSW parliament at the beginning of June and sought to make Federation the central issue. His free trade government was on the nose, the Opposition-leader, Dibbs, promised a ‘labour’ oriented program if elected, including a reasonable dispute-arbitration court. The Labour Party was particularly riven by single-tax proposals. Dibb’s first campaign meeting on 5 June was undisturbed. McMillan suffered another ‘disgraceful, ruffianly exhibition’ on 9 June but again seemed satisfied with handing the text of his address to reporters without having been heard above the din in the hall. On the 12th Dan O’Connor, the Post Master General, was showered with eggs, flour bombs ‘and other soft objects’ at one meeting but was pelted with stones at another. On the same evening, McMillan ‘silenced the opposition’ in the audience by sprinkling it with members of what was called ‘the Freedom of Speech League.’ Parkes delivered his gems to generally enthusiastic crowds organised to fill the spaces early and to eject any unpleasant attendee who had managed to obtain entry.
Upheavals happening in Sydney’s ASL, including gambling, Rosa lecturing on Greek Civilisation and the Fall of Rome and unprofitable concerts eating up time and energy were well-known in ‘the movement.’ Yewen put all of these innovations down to the ‘collection of well-meaning incapables and boodlers’ in charge:
Socialism and its practical working out is becoming as foreign to the Australian Socialist League as gaity [sic] and joyousness is to our capitalistic, anti-social life.
Brady later recalled ‘months of angry discussion, quarrels, expulsions, secessions and over-heated debate’ which went on between what he called the ‘constructively socialistic group’ and the other ‘influenced by Communist or Anarchistic philosophy’. Newspaper reports show that in April, 1891, he spoke in the Sydney Domain with Watson and a host of others in support of the Queensland shearers. In June, with the election called, he was balloted 5th out of 12 for the West Sydney Branch of the LEL and failed to progress. He was not impressed by the manner in which he’d been beaten nor by what followed. In June, Higgs alleged that he, Hephers and Flowers had been offered substantial bribes by Protectionist operatives to stand aside. When asked, Dibbs scoffed at the suggestion, saying it was ‘an electoral dodge’. He thought the Labor Electoral League (LEL) was:
(a) gang of sweat-rag politicians, (an) aggregation of anarchists, hooligans and revolutionaries who have neither followers, funds or even loyalty.
After the election, he saw the 36 successful ‘labour men’ as both a threat and a stepping stone to power. He recognised that most were green in the ways of parliamentary business and engineered a vote which split them along factional lines. The positive excitement of sudden parliamentary success within ‘the movement’ changed to anger against their own. Parliamentary candidates who had missed out the first time around suddenly had stronger motivation for gaining control of a ‘labour’ launching pad. The 36 were especially vulnerable to the machinations of the ‘brothers’ behind the ASL renovations, but for those ‘outs’ to become ‘ins’ the less crowd-pleasing elements in the League had to be neutralised. So while Dibbs and Parkes competed to get the new MPs onside, Rosa and J.D. Fitzgerald, the authors of the motion to discontinue the unemployed agitation, prepared another to prevent anyone having any criminal record from speaking on an ASL platform, and a third to exclude anarchists from the League altogether.
Michael Healy, previously a prominent ASL member, was targeted by someone with access to his criminal record which found its way into the public pages. Joseph Coll, enthusiastic member of the Labor Defence Committee, the LEL, and of the Trades and Labor Council [TLC], tabled a motion in July that all ‘professed anarchists’ withdraw from the League. A large attendance of ASL members heard lengthy arguments but no vote was taken. At a second meeting, ‘the motion which has caused a good deal of interest in Labour circles’, was carried. Andrews, Whitthread, Schellenberg and others withdrew. Among those who didn’t leave were George Garton, long-time Sydney activist against Chinese immigration, who had written to the press advocating ‘rational, philosophic’ anarchism, and W.J. Sharpies, colleague of Andrews in Melbourne, and President of the NSW Boot Trade Union, who had espoused an individualistic anarchist view. There was also a man named Brown(e) later exposed as a government informer and the link to Brady’s bombs. Ernie Lane much later reminded Brady that ‘when ‘the rebel element’ of which you were the head, of the Socialist League were defeated under the leadership of the unspeakable SA Rosa and JD Fitzgerald, MLA, I abandoned the League in disgust.’ Rosa took over as ASL Secretary, and later insisted that Brady had made a strong speech supportive of the anarchists but this has not been confirmed. Brady later said he was no longer an ASL member, yet in another place he claimed he ‘was in the [ASL] chair when the first Parliamentary cleavage [in the Party] took place’. He claimed that he had pawned a gold watch to pay for his and Rosa’s failed pre-selection applications to the West Sydney electorate.
Yewen and Baynham came to Sydney in the latter half of the year and joined Petrie, Ernie Lane and Sceusa in a ‘secret conspiratorial group’ meeting at Rose Summerfield’s house. Lane later was mock heroic concerning their ‘somewhat indefinite plans regarding the most effectual means to adopt to shake the thrones of the mighty’. With experience in the Melbourne ASA, and a link between conspiratorial groups, Petrie had lost an already-damaged arm through a fight with a non-unionist in southern NSW. Another member of the ASA and Symes-supporter in Melbourne, Summerfield (1864-1922) had married in 1886 and moved to Sydney. Her husband died in 1890, leaving her with resources and the time to express her ‘impassioned mix of socialism, temperance and women’s rights.’ Sceusa (1851-1919)had organised for the Internationale in Sicily but, forced to leave, came to Sydney where he edited the Italo-Australiano (1884-5) and set up a short-lived Socialist Club. Trained as an engineer, he worked in the NSW Lands Department. In 1891 he established an Italian Workman’s Mutual Benefit Society which he said was just like an Odd Fellows lodge. He and his Italian fraternal brothers were responsible for the first ‘May Day’ celebration in Australia, in 1891, and crusaded against contracted Italian immigrants being sent to Queensland sugar farms.
Lane’s description of the group’s end is as vague as his reference to its intent: ‘Like many other desperate efforts … our scheming never fructified, and in the course of a short time became dissipated and vanished’. The deliberate lack of clarity hides the fact that the group did not simply break up, having achieved nothing. The secret courier service through Brady might have been disbanded but common sense insists that it went to another level, if only because the need was greater than before. Unless it was more a “Boy’s Own”, youthful aspiration than a serious reality, which is possible, it involved many more participants than Brady, and decisions about it would have been made higher up the movement’s chain of command. His appointment as editor of The Australian Workman on 5 September is proof he still had influential friends. Lawson, already well-known as the poet vilified by conservative Queensland MP Brentnall in July for having encouraged revolution, visited him in the AW offices in October. Lawson’s published response to the parliamentary attack was to laugh so loudly that ‘all the boarders came to see what I was laughing at’. The paper began serialising Kropotkin’s ‘Appeal to the Young’ and picked out local labor decentralisers like Peter McNaught for praise and on 2nd October it reported an anarchist gathering in a way which blurred the line between correspondent (Andrews?)and the editor:
[A] conference of anarchists was held on Tuesday night, 13th, at the group operating centre at Smithfield to take into consideration matters connected with the propaganda. It was resolved in view of the enlargement of operations to establish a distinct propagandist group apart from all other considerations.
There is no sense of any editorial opposition:
The Mildura (Vic) group forwarded the sum of 10/- towards the propaganda fund. Since the initiation of the movement about 5000 leaflets of various sorts, some of which have received considerable notice have been distributed. The local centre has been supplied with numerous selections of anarchist literature and a good deal of foreign sources is on the road. It was decided to hold a conference of those interested in the anarchist movement, whether connected with the group or not, every second Tuesday, commencing on the 27th inst., and also a special conference at an early date to provide for the fitting celebration of the 11th November.
There is even a sense of positive regard:
The meeting concluded with the singing of anarchist songs. We are given to understand that the anarchists are strengthening their numbers, in order, as our enthusiastic correspondent put it ‘to take active measures on a more extensive scale’.
This was too much for his factional enemies. The paper suddenly began repudiating anarchists as ‘fanatical and suicidal’. Noticeably, the change came after an ASL protest by letter and by a deputation to the AW Board. The directors were quizzed about editorial policy and informed that a Brady report of an ASL executive meeting had been untrue. Sinclair, who had spoken against the ASL anarchists in July, informed Brady that Rosa would be providing ASL reports in future. Truth in November revived Rosa’s 1889-1890 provocations and dubbed him a ‘revolutionary anarchist’. It followed up with a claim he was going to Melbourne to organise a ‘League of the Just’ of ‘lumpen proletariat’, the casually employed, the unemployed, the criminal ‘classes’, and the homeless. Barricades, looting of stores and seizure of mansions were, it said, in his plans. Brady had resigned rather than accept Rosa’s oversight and went across to Truth. The AW Board, free since August from TLC direction, brought in George Black as editor to begin in December. Black, a Dibbs-supporter and already a leading labor MP, was a friend of Rosa. He was keen to get an editorial chair to return fire against his enemies, especially Norton who was discussing Black’s personal affairs being aired in the courts.
At the ASL in November Lindsay brought new charges against Rosa, alleging his complicity in the betrayal of the Chicago anarchists and asserting he had used the SDF in Melbourne to get money. Lindsay lost the first round and was expelled. He then retracted, saying he was drunk at the time, and was re-admitted on a Holman motion that there had been too many expulsions lately. Lindsay then repeated the charges and was re-expelled when he was unable to produce any evidence. Rosa, who claimed Brady feared he was after the editorship of the Workman, said that he ‘was never an anarchist and never belonged to any anarchist organisation’:
In the next place Mr Brady was the paid Secretary of the Socialist League until domestic matters caused him to resign. He still retained his membership and became the champion and protagonist of the Anarchists in whose favour he writes doggerel, and on the night of their expulsion he made a special rhetorical effort on their behalf, but was defeated owing to the speeches of J.D. Fitzgerald and myself. Mr Edwin J. Brady and the other anarchists attribute the expulsion mainly to what I said against the wild, visionary and impracticable tactics of the Anarchists.
Rosa said he had been in Chicago for only half a day in 1886, that he ‘was never in any police force, public or private’, that he was ‘never at any time openly or secretly in relations with the anarchists in Chicago or elsewhere’, but that he ‘took a prominent part in attempting to organise the forcible release of the anarchists’. Believing in their innocence he, with others, attempted to organise an armed expedition to Chicago of 10,000 men in detachments of 500, moving to surround the jail on a specific date and freeing the prisoners. The scheme was not carried out because of its impracticality, the antipathy of native [ie, US-born] Americans and English-speaking immigrants to the condemned men, and lack of funds. He denied that he had changed his name since his English Social Democratic days, claimed that he had made speeches in California defending the anarchists and he showed his membership cards for the Knights of Labor and the Socialist Labor Party of America.
He said that if he ‘favoured any anarchism it was the communist kind. But the whole theory was unscientific and absolutely impracticable, as long as men were constituted and moulded as at present’. He said he was against physical force unless it was going to succeed! In the United States in 1886, he said, the anarchists other than Parsons only talked revolution. Parsons had organised a Society for Mutual Instruction which at April 1886 had 1,500 well-drilled men. Letters of support for Rosa from Dudley Flinn and Louis Gross of the Verein Vorwart both in Melbourne appeared in Truth. In the first of two letters/interviews in Truth Andrews said he thought Lindsay had made his accusations up.David Andrade wrote to confirm Andrew’s version. He reported that Andrews had written to him asking him to expose Rosa and Rosa had written asking him to expose Andrews. He, Andrade, said that he knew of no substantiating evidence for Lindsay’s claims, but since being a politician didn’t require honour why shouldn’t Rosa, whose motives he suspected more than Andrews at whose hands he had yet suffered more, aim for parliament.
The Rosa-smear campaign has led historians to exaggerate his importance, it has undermined the impact of work being done by other activists, and it has assisted in the losing of an ideological difference. The socialism celebrated by labour historians has been ‘state socialism’ because that has been their preference. But even the qualified term is capable of many interpretations which is why it was being strenuously debated. Activists expressed their preferences in their efforts, and to ignore the detail is to distort the struggle for dominance. Today’s intellectuals may believe that the agitators back then didn’t know their Marx from their elbow but they need a better grasp on their subjects than they appear to have before they make that sort of judgement.
Black, years later, described the persons who brought charges against Rosa as anarchists and revolutionists. They were ‘agin everything and everybody …Their charges were without foundation and when they were revived by Truth I went into the witness box … in [Rosa’s] favour which extracted an apology from Norton, [a damages award of £15], and an offer of employment for Rosa.’ Presumably this includes Norton. Losing only a farthing’s damages, in his view, ‘Norton plunged into a great booze-up…Truth was without an editor and the difficulties of its staff were aggravated by Norton’s practice of lurching round the office with a revolver.’ Management arrangements at Truth were deliberately opaque and fluid, but it was not the only major newspaper which had open editorial in-trays.
In the Workman Black wrote that Brady was the man ‘who preaches anarchy and writes anarchistic poems’ yet ‘inconsistently’ had taken his estranged wife to court for assault:
Up-to-the-knees in blood, barricade fighter, Brady, the individual who has travelled for 2 years on the alleged loss of a 30s billet having given evidence of his inability to run Workman is now giving strong testament of his capability to run it down.
In labelling all of his opponents – Norton, Brady and Andrews and all the others who were suspicious of Rosa – as ‘anarchist’ he exposes his poor judgement. Notably, however, he accused Brady of the same weakness Andrews was to highlight in 1897,that the loss of his ‘30s billet’ had been used to gain undeserved credit.
Rosa was a walking contradiction inviting investigation. He espoused both revolution and social democracy, he aroused suspicion among agitators by having no known job but always having money and he was always in vigorous competition with his labour ‘brothers’, other wannabe MPs. All of which resulted in his being attacked as an anarchist by the less radical and as a fraud by the more radical. In January, further charges were brought against him by Hickman for misappropriation of ASL funds. An enquiry absolved him of fraud but reported that the ASL books had not been kept properly. Rosa resigned, according to Truth because the ASL executive decided to move to cheaper surroundings and not pay any office bearers at all. Clearly the renovations had not worked.
Rosa moved to Melbourne and tried for a Victorian electorate. The southern metropolis was supposedly politically quiet at this time. Historians have written that those thrown idle by a collapsed economy simply moved north where they served as strikebreakers. Melbourne’s newspapers ignored months of protests and Australia’s first May Day celebration for political reasons, and historians have accepted the result without querying the cause. On 5 December, the following ‘Melbourne’ item appeared in Sydney:
The very latest here is the ‘Industrial Army’.
It put out an announcement on Thursday ‘Reading of the Articles of War Mobilisation of Troops’. As soon as the Army is sufficiently strong, Society on the Bellamy basis is to be established in Victoria. Then it will march north to the redemption of NSW and Queensland.
On Sunday afternoon they drew up in line of battle at Studley Park. They called to their ranks all workers irrespective of occupation.
They would organise men politically and industrially. They would have a labor sheet and a Labor Bureau, through which members could get employment free of charge. Next week they promise to have a march past, a first class band and a big banner.
Labour scholars have credited Rosa with this ‘Army’ which didn’t happen, and have failed to see the agitation which did. The above is one of only two press references to ‘The Industrial Army’. A meeting to establish it was reported in a country newspaper, the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, also in New South Wales. It said the meeting was held ‘in a room at the Temperance Hall’ in Melbourne where the chairman was ‘Mr CE Whelan’ for whom I have no other information. That brief report had no references to ‘marching north’ or ‘redemption’ or ‘a line of battle’ and the belligerent intent is not in the relevant Bellamy book, Looking Backward, either. That may, therefore, be a sign of someone’s misconception or another fraud. The name is from the book but it was also a play on ‘the Salvation Army’, then rousing crowds and controversy throughout Australia as General Booth sought support for his scheme to transport English poor to the colonies. Bellamy’s ideas had been debated nationally for over 12 months. Both his and ‘the Army’s’ projected schemes can be dismissed as utopian, and they were, but they were genuine schemes attractive to many battling families and political idealists.
Against a background of distress among the bush workers, the ‘swarming’ unemployed in all the principal cities and towns heard the press describe them as ‘the scum and offal of society’. They heard shearers’ delegate Toomey from Young (NSW) describe the situation in his district as close to revolution. Truth in March asked its readers to note: ‘how loudly and unanimously his [Toomey’s) daring words were applauded to the echo in that Parliament of Labor.’ Perhaps replacing Andrade who resigned after only a few meetings, Rosa served as Committee Member on the Reverend Tucker’s Village Settlement Scheme, an idea he had supported in Sydney at least once. David Andrade’s attempt to influence the 1892 April election, a two-page supplement in the C & WA covering land and money reform, and vegetarianism, and launching his Social Pioneering Company, made his attitudes to political Labor clear: ‘No political machinery can destroy the evils which the political machinery brought about’. Just fourteen months later he was in the bush at Sassafras (Victoria) clearing land for a lean-to shack before his family joined him. The story of that struggle, of unalloyed heroism, tragedy and governmental bastardry, ended for him in a long, slow decline and death in 1928.
Dibbs had won the NSW parliamentary numbers battle in October when the ‘labour’ bloc failed to support Parkes’ Coal Mines Regulation Bill and he, ostensibly a protectionist and sympathetic to labour, began his period of dictatorship.