Bob Gould, 2006

The DSP and the death of the Tree of Knowledge

Source: Green Left Weekly discussion list, October 6, 2006
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

I’ve just noticed NSW Socialist Alliance convenor Duroyan Fertl’s post,without comment, of a media report celebrating the death of the Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine. In the absence of comment and taking into account his identification of himself as the Socialist Alliance honcho, he seems to be celebrating the death of the tree as a kind of allegory for what he considers the death of Laborism in Queensland.

What a dopey view that is. The Tree of Knowledge was poisoned, presumably by some reactionary. Its historical significance was that it was the place where a multitude of leftist, socialist and workers’ agitations took place during a long period of bitterly fought class struggles in western Queensland, which culminated in the founding of the Labor Party.

The reactionary tree poisoner seems to have had a similar point of view to Fertl. He obviously thought that by poisoning the tree he could bury the tradition. Happily, seedlings and clones from the tree had already been taken and are being grown in botanical gardens, so even in a botanical sense the tree probably lives on.

This is hardly the moment for crowing about the death of Laborism in Queensland. It has more of a grip on the masses than ever before, unfortunately for socialist sectarians who keep hoping for its death.

Queensland is also the site of vigorous resistance to Howard’s Work Choices anti-union laws, and this resistance includes the unions, the ranks of the labour movement and the Greens, and even the Queensland Labor government.

The agitations that took place at the Tree of Knowlege in the 1890s live on in Queensland. Incidentally, the Sydney Labour History Society is considering holding a seminar in the near future about the 1890s strikes in Queensland and the founding of the Labor Party.

Dave Riley and the Tree of Knowledge

October 6, 2006

Alan Bradley, whose reasonably rational contributions in recent times are a breath of fresh air on the Green Left discussion list, takes me for task for placing what he says is an unreasonable construction on Duroyan Fertl’s post about the death of the Tree of Knowledge.

On the basis of the general line of the DSP on these matters, I think my interpretation is reasonable. Alan Bradley’s point isn’t helped at all by Dave Riley’s latest comment.

He does a search on Wikipedia and comes up with four demands of the shearers at the start of the dispute, one of which was the exclusion of Chinese labour, as if that was the last word on the explosive class struggles in western Queensland in the 1890s, and the foundation of the Labor Party.

Riley throws in an incoherent anecdote about Bob Hawke visiting Barcaldine and tosses in that the tree had been maintained in recent times by prison labour, as if that was somehow relevant.

Riley’s curious contribution underlines the DSP leadership’s attitude to the complex and sometimes contradictory character of past Australian class struggles, which included a certain amount of racism.

Like a lot of people these days, Riley seems to rely on Wikipedia as the last word. He should read a book occasionally. I’d recommend Stewart Svendsen’s two books on the Queensland strikes, and particularly The Shearers’ War, which describes the recurrent strikes of the bush workers, the semi-military shearers’ camps at Barcaldine and other places, and the brutal crushing of the shearers by ruthless use of the military and legal power of the ruling class.

A large number of the strike’s leaders were framed up by a notoriously reactionary judge and collectively served many years in prison for their participation in the dispute. On release from jail a number of them remained active in the labour movement and one of them ended up a Labor MP in Western Australia.

Riley’s obvious contempt for the class struggles of the shearers in western Queensland in the 1890s is itself beneath contempt, but it certainly reflects the outlook of the current DSP leadership, of which Riley is a part. In the light of Riley’s contribution I don’t think my interpretation of Fertl’s post is unreasonable.