Dawn To Dusk, E. H. Lane 1939
The bitter conflict between the unions and the organised employees, now fully awakened to the serious danger threatening their hitherto unchallenged supremacy, continued to rage throughout Australia. Strike followed strike in which the real meaning of the class war became revealed for all who had eyes to see in all its stark reality. We of the rebel army, hoping against hope, with many defeats and disappointments, dimly foresaw the ultimate triumph of the workers and incessantly toiled in what proved to be a hopeless task to instil into the minds and hearts of the workers that revolutionary determination that alone can dethrone King Midas.
Unemployed and strike demonstrations were often held at the Queen’s Statue between Macquarie Street and Hyde Park, and attempts to march on Parliament House were invariably repulsed by strong bodies of police. In these melees many exciting incidents arose in which the revolutionary banners of the demonstrators were the centre of fierce fights for possession or capture.
Sadly beginning to realise that there was no possibility of a widespread working-class revolt, fretting impatiently and alas! impotently, at the brutal dominance of the capitalist, their press and Parliament, our thoughts turned to secret conspiratorial action. A small group was formed with somewhat indefinite plans regarding the most effectual means to adopt to shake the thrones of the mighty.
The group included an escapee from Italy, Sousa, who held a high position as draughtsman in the New South Wales Land Department. After he had fled from Italy as a “dangerous” revolutionary, Sousa was elected one of the workers’ representatives to the Italian Parliament. Another enthusiastic member of the group, was Mrs. Rose Summerfield a young widow who had achieved some fame as a radical writer and Freethought lecturer, Ralph Baynham, a revolutionary anarchist, Larry Petrie, organiser for the Australian Workers’ Union and myself.
We generally met at Mrs. Summerfield’s home at Waverley and endeavoured to evolve means to counter the growing ascendancy of employerdom. But, alas for the fond hopes we cherished. Like many other desperate efforts world of radicalism, our scheming and never fructified, and in the course of a short time became dissipated and vanished.
I had at this time secured a job. in a grocery store, working hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (one night off at 6 p.m.). Saturday until 11.30 p.m., £1 week and found! These were the general conditions of shopworkers in the 80’s and 90’s, in fact, in many cases, the hours were even longer. There was no union, no protection for the unfortunate shop assistants from the rapacity and exploitation of the employers, while an indifferent public callously abetted the imposition of slavish hours. Not only in Sydney but in Brisbane, Melbourne and all the towns in the Commonwealth, similar conditions prevailed. On Sundays, bathing in the baths at Coogee, Bondi or Manly was my greatest recreation, as surfing was then unthought of in Australia.
Although the Australian Workers’ Union was powerful organisation in the pastoral areas of various States in 1891, there was not any branch in Sydney. So W. G. Spence, one of the founders of the A.W.U. and its general president, decided to open a Sydney branch. An office was taken in Castlereagh Street between the Protestant Hall and McNamara’s bookshop opposite the City Fire Brigade Station. He appointed Larry Petrie secretary-organiser, and Mrs. Summerfield woman organiser. The office, a long, narrow frontage, was partitioned into four parts, Larry and I sleeping on stretchers in the back division.
The appointment of Petrie as organiser for the A.W.U. always seems to me one of the most humorous incidents in the history of that organisation. The A.W.U. of the nineties was a very different union to that it has degenerated into to-day, but it was not revolutionary, and shaped its policy on orthodox political and industrial lines. I have known many rebels – but Petrie was in the super-class. Boasting of French ancestry on his father’s side, Larry had a supreme contempt for the stolid British worker, who – according to him – was born, lived, and died a slave, while the French – the Parisian workers – shocked a startled world with the Paris Commune, and blazed the trail of human freedom. So Petrie, in the Domain, on street corners, and all the time, passionately called on the Sydney workers to take up arms, revolt and man the barricades. He had only one arm, having lost the other through fighting a big “scab” in one of the shearing sheds. On the slightest – or no – provocation, Petrie with flashing eyes and bristling black moustache, would sing “The Marseillaise” then the workers’ one revolutionary song. When he came to the chorus, “To arms, to arms!” he wildly waved his arm, to the delight of the cynical crowd. The police regarded Petrie as a joke and good naturedly allowed him to give expression to his revolutionary outpourings. They misjudged him badly, as later events showed. This wild rebel was appointed A.W.U. organiser in Sydney! Shades of Jack Bailey, Grayndler, Blakeley and all the other respectable revolutionary A.W.U. officials!
W. G. Spence I got to know very well and retain a deep respect for his many good qualities. Not a revolutionary, Spence had a steadfastness of purpose, a tenacity that resulted in a life work on behalf of the toilers when hard pioneering had to be unselfishly done. Of a placid temperament, Spence steered the ship of A.W.U. through many a stormy sea and it was one of life’s tragedies that, as an honest, if mistaken conscriptionist, he was driven from the Labour movement he had done so much to build.
Spence always carried an umbrella, evidently prepared for all emergencies, and in the A.W.U. office in Sydney used to smilingly listen to Petrie fulminating against the whole capitalist system and vowing vengeance on all and sundry. But Spence never to my knowledge rebuked Larry or attempted to stifle his revolutionary proclivities.
With a great deal of similar interests in common, Petrie and I became great mates. He was a lovable character and generous to an unbelievable extent. He had, of course, a great admiration for my brother Will, and I well remember an argument between them on the merits and demerits of the French and English. Will, like all rebels in those days, had a high, opinion of the French, on account of the Paris Commune, as the leaders of the world revolutionary movement, but he got rather fed up of Petrie’s continued adulation of the French as against the British workers. “Oh, you make me tired!” said Will, “You are for ever-lastingly praising the French workers, but what have they done after all more than any other workers? They are still as great slaves as the British and seem just as likely to remain so. Anyway, if you believe so much in revolution, why don’t you put it into practice and not talk so much about it, and go down George Street and build a little barricade of your own?”
Larry was furious. He exclaimed, “I will – I, will! Within a year I will be in gaol!” And he was, too.
In pursuance of our revolutionary aspirations and ideals, Petrie and I invested in a multigraph and in the quietness of our “bedroom” in the A.W.U. office, wrote and multigraphed leaflets and appeals to the workers, generally strikers, to take their courage in their hands and storm the capitalist strongholds. With a naive faith in the power of such appeals, at the dead of night and in the early morning we sallied forth to paste these calls to arms on the Post Office and buildings of all kinds and in the Domain. Probably it was all wasted labour, or perhaps some of the seed fell on responsive soil. Who knows? Yet the dawn we saw back in the early 90’s has not broken – but there are surely signs.
“Mine eyes hath seen the glory of the coming of the Lord –
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword,
For Truth is marching on!
I have seen him mid the watchfires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded him an altar mid the evening dews and dumps,
I have read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,
For Truth is marching on!
I have read His righteous sentence writ in rows of burnished steel,
As ye deal with my contemners, so with ye my grace shall deal!
Let the hero born of woman crush the serpent with his heel,
For Truth is marchin’ on!
He hath sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat,
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment seat,
Oh! Be swift my soul to meet Him – be jubilant, my feet!
For Truth is marching on!
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me,
As He died to make men holy, let us die to set men free,
For Truth is marching on!”
These inspiring lines (Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) was a great favourite of my brother Will, and obviously it deeply appealed to me. Looking back I see that this and other similar poems were the common talk wherever a few choice spirits met and earnestly discussed the dramatic events that were pressing us on all sides. These songs of the mighty masters had the power both to inspire and bring solace to our oft-times weary souls. In the present days of working-class enlightenment, and a proud hierarchy of Labour leaders which has led Labour out of the wilderness into a hell of nothingness, poems and sentiments of any kind are apparently taboo, and most certainly are never spoken of or regarded as one of the precious birthrights of the age long oppressed. But in the days “when the world was wide” – when the foundational principles of the working-class movement were its Alpha and Omega, the songs of revolt served to inspire and comfort. Before the lust for individual power and privilege had corrupted the official Labour movement, there was an unfailing place for such poems in the hearts of the workers.
One of the closest associates of my brother Will and I was Arthur Rae, who, with his quaint humour – and unfailing philosophy often lifted the more sombre outlook from our horizon. One night we were discussing “The Workingman’s Paradise,” which had just been published. The incident of Nellie walking with Ned the shearer through Hyde Park at midnight and explaining what Socialism stood for was criticised by Rae. They (Nellie and Ned) passed a dissolute prostitute asleep on a seat. Nellie stooped and kissed her saying, “That is Socialism.” “Ah! Will,” said Rae, “You didn’t complete the picture. When the prostitute woke up she wouldn’t know that she had been kissed by a girl. Nellie should have left half a crown in her hand – that would have been practical Socialism!”
During the early 90’s, during the strikes and their bitter aftermath of suffering and humiliation, a revolutionary situation undoubtedly existed in Australia. All things seemed possible, and it is little wonder that the thoughts of those in the vanguard turned towards revolutionary methods. My brother Will as one who had borne the brunt of the desperate battle that had swept through Queensland in particular, was caught in this wave of revolt. He planned to get into direct communication with the French Communists in Paris with the intention of forming a militant international organisation. Other plans of a revolutionary character were also advanced and discussed amongst a chosen few. I was very close to Will, in his complete confidence. It was agreed that I should get a job as a seaman on one of the Orient boats, pursuant with getting into personal touch with the Communists in Paris, also with regard to other plans. I left my job in the grocery to await an opportunity of shipping on the boat. However, difficulties arose and this intended line of action did not eventuate. Always searching for a policy that would bring into being the Socialist State, my brother then devoted his genius and enthusiasm to the founding of a Communist colony. The “New Australia” campaign became the centre point of a fierce controversy throughout Australia. Condemned with scorn by the capitalist press, many workers questioned the wisdom of the enterprise.
Will would say: “It is easy enough to talk Communism but let those who believe it to be the only right way of living go and practice it and thus prove to the world that Communism is a practicable system of society.” So, like a modern Peter the Hermit, Will travelled the length and breadth of the land preaching the gospel of Communism and enrolling recruits for the New Australia colony in Paraguay.
It was not merely an isolated Communist settlement in the depths of a Paraguayan forest that Will was visioning, but something far more ambitious and far-reaching. Talking to me of what the future might hold, he foresaw New Australia within 30 years from its establishment, a powerful Communist State, with a disciplined army of many thousands of Communists. “The world, then,” he exclaimed, “will be ripe for Communism. The workers in all lands will be ready to revolt and only awaiting the match that will set ablaze the crumbling world of capitalism. What is there to prevent us – Communists who are living proof of our Communist faith – coming forth and starting the world revolution that must inevitably come. We will write the future history of humanity on the rocks of the Andes!”
A soul and mind-gripping dream! – but, alas, like countless other dreams, doomed to be smashed to atoms. Nevertheless who dare say that such dreamers and dreams are not the very savor of life – that without their visions the people would never emerge from the, slough of exploitation and degradation.
Many years later, in 1922, after Will Lane was dead, a delegate from Soviet Russia, Herscovici, visited Brisbane in order to establish a section of the Workers’ International Relief Organisation which he had formed in Germany, France and other countries. I became very intimate with him and he was intensely interested in the “New Australia” and “Cosme” colonies. His knowledge of Australian working-class history was amazing and gave one an indication of how the Soviet Government closely studies the development of the Labour movement in all countries. I said to Herscovici one day: “I suppose ‘Cosme’ was a failure?” His face lit up and he replied: “No, it was not a failure; it is such so-called failures that has made our success in Russia possible.”
Talking of my brother Will, I remarked that Will’s life was a tragedy and that he had lived 30. or 40 years before his time. I said, “Do you know who Will was like? He was like Lenin.” Herscovici smiled and nodded, and pulled out a bulky pocket book, an extract from Will’s writings, side by side with a part of Lenin’s “Revolution and the State,” written in 1918, and across the gulf of 30 years the same imperishable Communist doctrine – indeed, Communist policy was voiced by the two men who had done so much to bring hope, light and happiness to the hearts of millions.
The sailing of the Royal Tar with the first contingent for New Australia from Sydney in 1895 marked a definite change in my life. I had decided to go to Paraguay, and there live the Communist life I dreamed of. Not having the necessary £60 to go, I had to remain and battle along. About this time Larry Petrie, who had been caravaning out west with a tinsmithing outfit with two mates, returned to Sydney and stayed with me. There was a strike on the coasting steamers and the ship owners had succeeded in manning some of the vessels with scabs. Larry considered that scabs were the lowest things in the world and vowed he would travel on one of the scab boats and blow it and the scabs up. Deaf to all reasoning, Larry duly boarded the Aramac, bound for Brisbane, and, sure enough, when off Cape Moreton, an explosion occurred which did a considerable amount of damage. Petrie was arrested and eventually committed for trial, charged with attempted murder. When I heard of Petrie’s fate with Arthur Rae and one or two other friends, we raised some money for his defence. Marshall Lyle, who had defended Deeming, was a fellow member with Petrie of an anarchist club in Melbourne. I wrote to Lyle and asked him to instruct the defence of Petrie in Brisbane. He readily consented, stating that he knew Larry “wouldn’t hurt a fly!”
The police undoubtedly had a sound case against Petrie, but they lacked evidence as to where he obtained the explosives. So they got a man in Sydney, who had an unenviable goal and social record, to go to Brisbane and give evidence that Petrie had first tried to buy the explosive from him and later broke into a quarry tool house and stole it. Quite accidentally, Arthur Rae was informed of this man’s departure for Brisbane. Larry was lodged in Boggo Road Gaol. We reserved his defence getting together the proofs of this police frame-up. Not daring to face the public exposure of these police methods of getting perjured evidence, although there was enough bona fide evidence to hang Petrie, Byrne, the Attorney-General filed a no True Bill and Petrie was discharged.
I never saw him again, having left Sydney when he returned. He managed to get across to Paraguay and joined “Cosme” colony. As an anarchist it was obviously impossible for Petrie to submit to even such a democratic body as a committee elected by the colonists, and eventually he left and obtained a job on the Paraguayan railways. Shortly afterwards he was killed in an accident at work.
Leaving Sydney with three others we prospected for gold in the ranges on the Upper Clarence River district, but with only small success. From there I walked to Ipswich, where my brother Frank was living.
On the release of the 12 1891 union prisoners, who had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in connection with the shearers’ strike, a big welcome demonstration was arranged by the unions. It was held in the old Centennial Hall, then the largest public hall in Brisbane. I was present, and it was there I met Mabel Gray and Florrie Collings. Very shortly afterwards I married the former, and a life-long attachment with mutual ideals and interests has been the happy result.
After some months off-siding for a hawker in the Clermont district I returned to Brisbane (1894) and obtained work in a store at West End. There was not any Socialist organization in Queensland at this period. The departure of Will Lane had apparently resulted in a slump in Socialist propaganda work, and there was an apathy which was in marked contrast to the previous fever of action and thought. At the suggestion of a Sydney comrade, Beasley, who stayed with us while on a business visit to Brisbane, I decided to attempt to form a Socialist League. I approached John Bond, Labour candidate, with H. Turley, for South Brisbane, who agreed to assist. He brought along two young men, E. Holliday and R. S. Ross, who became enthusiastic members of the new organisation. We devoted most of our energies to arranging street corner meetings and were always on the watch for any socialist speakers who might visit Brisbane. A defunct Socialist League had left a large supply of Social Democratic Federation pamphlets, which were handed on to the new League.
W. A. Holman, later Premier of New South Wales, came to Brisbane on a short visit and stayed with us. I arranged a meeting to hear him lecture at the Old Trades Hall. About 40 were present and Holman gave a brilliant lecture on Socialism. At this time he was not in Parliament, and was having a struggle to make ends meet. The development of Holman and his subsequent political history are well known.
After he betrayed the workers I never associated with Holman, but when he became the darling of the jingoes during the war and addressed an overflowing meeting of reactionaries at the Exhibition Building, Brisbane, I went to hear him. I wondered if he remembered his first meeting in Brisbane and contrasted it with this later triumph (?). He was a better and a happier man in his youth with his ideals unsullied and unsmirched soul than in later years when he degenerated into a political hack on sale to the highest bidder.
Ted Holliday, “Bob” Ross, and I were the most active members of the Socialist League. Like the Three Musketeers we were inseparable, and with youthful enthusiasm did our utmost to keep alive and promulgate the communist theory and ideals that had been preached so blazingly by my brother Will.
The Queensland Labour Party was a very different party to what it developed into as years passed. Many of the Labour political and industrial representatives had received their baptism of fire in the fierce and bitter conflicts that had raged in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They were largely imbued with the Socialist viewpoint which had been so vividly hammered into the workers of Queensland by Will. But the emasculating influence of political life and ambitions which had arisen in reaction to the heavy defeats of the workers on the industrial field, even then was beginning to sap the foundations of the revolutionary working class movement. Very quickly after the departure of Will for New Australia, organised Labour made a very definite move to the right, and it needs no perspicacity to note that it has, with small variation, been going rightwards ever since.
Thus the Socialist propaganda of the Socialist League did not appeal to those officials and workers representatives who were following the easier road of orthodox progress as a movement worth working for, and it was left to a few of the rank and file to carry on this essential work of any virile working-class movement.
An early member of the League was J. Collings, Senior, father of the Senator, J. S. Collings, and a man who until he died devoted his life to the Labour Movement. Prior to the entry of Socialism into the economic and social realm, the school Freethought, today known as rationalism, I claimed the support of Mr. Collings with many later joined the Labour Movement.
Wallace Nelson was the high priest of the Freethought organisation in Brisbane and lectured every Sunday evening at the Theatre Royal. A man of remarkable versatility, Nelson lectured on every subject imaginable and with a broad Scotch accent and a wealth of humour attracted most of the radicals to his meetings. Andy Dawson, leader of the Queensland Labour Party, lived next door to Nelson at West End. I lived a few doors away and was often an interested listener to wordy arguments between Dawson and Nelson who were great friends.
As a strong individualist, the Labour Party with its definite Socialist basis was strongly criticised by Nelson, and an interesting political development arose which, however, never attained any success and gradually faded away. An attempt was made to form a third political party, midway between the old Tory party and the Labour party. A weekly paper, “The Chronicle,” was published, edited by R. Cruicshank. Sir Charles Lilley, Nelson and Ryot Maughan were the principal sponsors of this effort to solve the political situation but it failed to attract either the workers or the liberal section of employers or intellectuals and died unregretted and unsung. Nelson and Ryot Maughan eventually saw the light and became Labour members of Parliament.
In the meantime the New Australia settlement in Paraguay had met disaster. My brother Will found it impossible to continue as chairman and left with 40 or 50 others to form a new colony wherein it was hoped that the Communism which was the sole motive for New Australia, would find expression and permanent success. Of course, the capitalist press of Australia hailed with glee this breakdown of New Australia as a tragic proof that Communism was a mad impossibility and that capitalism alone could supply the needs of mankind.
Prior to the split in New Australia, one of Will Lane’s “straight, tall, western men,” George Whelan (he was over six feet in height) had been sent back to Queensland to organise members for New Australia. When the split came, George became stranded in Brisbane with only one desire – to get back to Paraguay to the New Colony “Cosme” Will and his adherents had started. George stayed with us and was a very fine character. Wallace Nelson lectured one Sunday night on “New Australia” and in the course of his lecture showed a partiality for the New Australians as against Will Lane. The revolting members against Will Lane on New Australia were known as the “rebels.” Whelan was at this lecture and was furious at Nelson’s humourous and irresponsible review of the situation. After the lecture the usual crowd assembled outside on the footpath to discuss the lecture. Whelan waited for Nelson to appear, then in most forcible language told Nelson what he (Whelan) thought of the lecture. It was the first and only occasion on which I have seen Nelson talked down. Most voluble, with a loud voice and dramatic gestures, Nelson always held the floor against all comers until he met Whelan. Towering over Nelson, who was about five feet in height, Whelan poured the vials of his contempt and wrath down Nelson’s throat before an astounded audience of Nelson’s disciples. He made several attempts to reply to Whelan but failed miserably. At last, exasperated beyond endurance, Nelson shouted “Well, if there were many more like you in New Australia I would have been a rebel, too!” and then he fled.
Whelan got over to “Cosme” only to leave. A communist with extreme opinions regarding a communist colony having any trading or connection with the outside capitalist world, Whelan found that even on “Cosme” certain concessions had to be made, such as the purchase of clothing and other necessaries which the colony wanted. Whelan’s communism could not be reconciled to this policy and he returned to Australia and I have never heard of him again. What a tragic figure – one, alas, of many who with the noblest ideals find only disillusionment in their life-long search for their El Dorado, which, unhappily, exists only in their fevered dreams.
During many years activity in the political Labour Movement I had some interesting and exciting experiences. I recall one such in connection with a parliamentary by-election for South Brisbane in 1899. Harry Turley, in after years a Labour Senator and President of the Senate was the Labour candidate. At that time I was working at the Fiveways, Woolloongabba, as a shop assistant for the firm of J. & T. Heaslop, dyed in the wool Tories and bitterly anti-Labour. After working there for twelve months I took a week’s holiday, at my own expense, of course. Mrs. Lane and I visited a friend at Manly and I returned on the Friday before polling day to scrutineer for Turley at the central polling booth in Stanley Street, where Birt’s Cold Stores now are.
In those days all the campaign and polling work for Labour candidates was given freely – a real labour of love. It would have been a deep insult to offer any of the Labour workers one penny for their services. What a damning contrast to the position existing in Queensland Labour in politics today when practically every service or task is and has to be paid for.
The voting was extremely close, the total vote polled in Brisbane resulted in a tie. Notwithstanding the strong protests of the Labour Committee, the Tory Government had opened a polling booth for the South Brisbane election at Rockhampton, confidently anticipating an anti-labour vote from a few South Brisbane electors there.
When the Brisbane tie voting was announced, the Tory candidate, Jones, was overwhelmed with congratulation by his friends, which included my employers. We had to wait half an hour for a telegram with the Rockhampton vote. The Returning Officer opened it to the amazement and grief of the anti-Labourites – the voting was Turley 5 and Jones 2, thus electing Turley.
There was an excited crowd of some thousands surging round the polling booth and when Turley got in the street he was raised by enthusiastic workers and an attempt made to carry him in triumph to, the Municipal Market allotment just down the street. To his great credit Turley, who was a big powerful man, fiercely fought against this mob worship, his clothes being torn in the struggle. When at last he was able to address the crowd he told them that he strongly resented this hero worship, or being carried on men’s shoulders. He pointed out that if ,he ever did anything that those same people disagreed with they would just as enthusiastically hound him down to the gutter.
When I returned to work the following Monday morning, I was handed a brief note which contained the “order of the sack” – instant dismissal! No reason given. In this manner were Labour Party workers treated in the early days, but these and other penalties incurred were cheerfully borne because the Labour Party then was at least honest and gave promise of a creditable future.
I left Brisbane for nearly 12 months to work as “offsider” to a shearer’s cook, Fred Bilby, who had been on “Cosme” and was returning there where his wife and family still lived. There was a difficulty in getting a suitable secretary for the Socialist League when I left Brisbane, and within a few months it had disappeared. My experience and observations clearly show that the existence of any radical organisation which had to rely on the voluntary work of its adherents depends on securing a good secretary. The work entailed in such organisations demands close, constant, and enthusiastic attention. If this is not given then it is only a short time before the organisation becomes effete and useless or disappears altogether. Such was the fate of the Socialist League and all efforts to resuscitate it, which I and old Mr. Collings tried on my return to Brisbane, failed.
The discovery of Omar Khayyam by Bob Ross and myself still remains a landmark in my memory We were naturally enraptured with the beauty and philosophy of the Rubayiat and wanted to spread the good tidings. Not having the money to buy copies of Omar, I got it from the School of Arts Library, and Bob, who was comping and editing “The Queensland Sportsman,” a paper published by his brother A. G. Ross, set up and printed about 30 copies. We were thus enabled to supply unfinancial lovers of poetry with that crown of glory of the Persian tentmaker.
In the Argentine, a decade later, I met a kindred spirit who had been at Johannesburg when Omar Khayyam was first given to the public. He also felt that others should share his joy – and having the money – he purchased a dozen copies of the Rubayiat to give to his friends.
After the lapse of 40 years old Omar still has the power to thrill me and I find consolation and beauty in his and Edward Fitzgerald’s garland of gems.
A unique personality I met about this time was Chris. Cassimir, a half-caste Mauritian, his mother a Mauritian, father French. With a University education, Cassimir in Melbourne had conducted a private school for a living. A Marxian student, he became a revolutionary Socialist, and with true revolutionary zeal spoke on the Yarra bank and in the public streets. The sequel was obvious. His pupils were indignantly withdrawn from his “pernicious” influence and Cassimar was “up against it.” Someone sent him to me and he became a part of our household. He had many of the coloured races’ characteristics with the fire and gift of expression of the French. When speaking, or rather expounding, revolutionary principles at our home, he would say, “Mrs. Lane, do you mind if I stand on a chair? I can speak so much better when I have room to talk.” We would laughingly agree, and it was a sight for the gods to see and hear Cassimir throwing his thunderbolts at the capitalist system and prophesying the early triumph of the workers.
The International Congress was to meet at Paris the following year, and Cassimir used to often say, “Ah, comrade, if you and I could only go to that congress, wouldn’t it be glorious!” I agreed with him, but we never went. Cassimir, despite his education, did not hesitate when he could not find any work in Brisbane to go to the fish market, buy fish and sell it in a basket from door to door. The Australian referenda campaign and the question of Federation was on and Cassimir, who was against the Federal Constitution, was engaged by the anti-Federalists to speak in Brisbane. Returning to Sydney, he became a part producer of a municipal Socialist paper and then later I heard he went to New Zealand.
One day the then editor of the “Queensland Worker,” Frank Kenna, who had some fame as a poet, said he wanted to see me. He told me that a Clermont man, Sam Tanser, had sent along an article, “Socialism, Communism, and Anarchy,” with £5, which he wanted to be handed over to any Socialist propaganda organisation that might be in existence, after paying the costs of a reprint of his article. Kenna said he knew I was interested in Socialist propaganda, and suggested that we convene a meeting at the Trades Hall to form a Socialist organisation. I agreed and a meeting was convened. About 35 attended, including Albert Hinchcliffe, secretary of the Australian Labour Federation, and manager of the “Worker,” and Charlie Seymour, secretary of the Seamen’s Union.
The need for a Socialist organisation was fully recognised, and it was decided to call it the Social Democratic Vanguard, with a subscription of 2/6 per annum. As no one would take the position of secretary, I accepted that office, although there were others present, Hinchcliffe, Seymour and others who had the time and facilities for the job. Kenna and I drafted a manifesto, setting forth the objects of the Vanguard and we got widespread publicity through the “Worker” and other Queensland Labour papers. The response to our appeal for support and cooperation to carry on undiluted Socialist propaganda was most encouraging. From all parts of Queensland correspondence and subscriptions, not infrequently donations of 5/-, 10/- and £1 arrived, enabling the Vanguard to accomplish much desired work. The experience gained through the old Socialist League was invaluable. Concentrating on the free distribution of Socialist literature, principally pamphlets obtained through various sources, supplemented occasionally by original productions of members, we scattered broadcast the Socialist Doctrine. One of our earliest efforts in this direction was a booklet by Bob Ross, “Let There Be Light,” a fine basic resume of reason for and work of the Vanguard. With enthusiastic members all over the State, who acted as distributors in their districts of Vanguard literature, the seed thus sown must have borne good fruit and materially assisted to lay the foundation of a militant Labour movement. which, despite the wiles of the politician and opportunist, has to this day kept the banner of genuine working-class economics and ideals unsmirched and unconquerable.
Kenna quickly tired of his Socialist activities, sought the easier path of politics, and was elected Labour Member for Bowen. He went even further on the downward track and ratted on the Labour party before he died.
But a prime example of abandonment of principle, so characteristic unhappily of many erstwhile stalwarts, was found in Sam Tanser Clermont, the man who indirectly was responsible for the birth of the Vanguard. He visited Brisbane and was duly enrolled as one of its most valued members. Twenty-five years later there appeared in the columns of the Brisbane “Courier, a column letter from Sam Tanser Clermont, denouncing in the most approved Tory manner Socialism and everything appertaining to Labour, with a corresponding adulation of capitalism as the supreme benefit to the masses! Truly the vagaries and inconsistencies of man are astounding and often incapable of understanding.
There have been many Socialist and working class organisations in Australia covering a long period of years, and the Vanguard can justly claim to have held pride of place in the ranks of these spearheads of working class progress. We had a virile group in Brisbane which, with undeviating purpose, devoted its enthusiasm’ to Vanguard Work. The active members of this group included Dr. I. J. Jensen, J. Dooley (destined or doomed to become Labour Premier of New South Wales), H. E. Boot (editor of the “Worker”), J. Collings, senior (his irrepressible son, “Joe,” came in later), and others who, in later years, became lost or forgotten. But the outstanding workers were Bob Ross, Ted Holliday, Hugo Kunze, Tom (T.L.) Jones, Andy Anderson, and myself, and we were bound together in a comradeship that retained its savour until death intervened and broke the magic circle.
Ted Holliday, a brilliant shorthand clerk with a unique gift of wit, humour and sarcasm, was a tower of strength with a lion’s courage and a love for the battle against reaction and prejudice. Rather below the average height, Mrs. Lane dubbed him “half-Holliday” and Ted keenly appreciated the joke. A few years later, prior to an intended visit to England, he decided to undergo a minor operation in Brisbane. He was literally cut to pieces, butchered by ignorant, experimenting medicos, and was dead in a few hours.
Bob Ross is well known to the Labour movement of Australia and New Zealand, as journalist, writer, speaker, and agitator. In the Vanguard days Ross gave indication of the outstanding figure he was to become. Then, as always, a tireless worker, the amount of work he devoted to the Vanguard was astonishing. One of the most loveable characters, “Bob” joyously found full vent for his comradely qualities and passion for Socialism in the Vanguard.
Mary and Jennie Lloyd, Lottie Crooks who later married Andy Anderson, Mrs. J. Collings Senior, Mrs. Lane and other women, were active members and gave splendid service to the social side of the organisation.
Born in Saxony, from whence he had fled on account of his illegal Socialist activities, Hugo Kunze was one of the immortals with regard to his devotion to the working class and his fidelity to the highest ideals of the movement. He undertook the onerous duty of dispatching all the literature and it was indeed a labour of love.
Tom Jones, as a lover of literature, took charge of a book depot the Vanguard started, and under his guidance the foundations of a most valuable adjunct to any Socialist organisation were laid. Tom, with Holliday, Ross, Kunze and I were inseparable, and found mutual interests and delights apart from the Vanguard.
Andy Anderson was the greatest Marxist amongst us. With an unshakable materialist outlook, Andy was always reliable and never side-tracked by sophistication of any description. After a lapse of 40 years Andy is one of the very few unscarred by the bludgeons of life and still an active Communist.
Perhaps the most unique personage in the Vanguard melange was Robert Beattie, better ;known as “Adam Tramp.” With anarchial beliefs Adam became attached to the Vanguard and acted as caretaker at the rooms which we had at the back of premises in Queen Street, close to Allan and Stark’s. Adam was a wanderer typical of the worker who had no illusions about life and its sordidness under capitalist society. Although he hated writing, Adam had a literary gift insofar as he wrote many sketches of his varied experience with a philosophic outlook that was as original as it was intriguing. His contributions under the nom-de-plume of “Adam Tramp” were for a long time an attractive feature of the Queensland “Worker.” After Adam had been in the Vanguard some time I remembered having met him somewhere before. It was in Sydney, when he accompanied J. Andrews and I one night pasting up revolutionary slogans on buildings in the city.
At this period the “Clarion,” Robert Blatchford’s paper, came to Brisbane. To us Vanguard enthusiasts it was a delight and had considerable effect on our propaganda efforts. In imitation of the “Clarion” we conducted a full page “Round Table” in the Queensland “Worker” once a month. It comprised short sketches, poems, and various other forms of socialist thought contributed by Vanguard members. It was an attractive feature and was typical of the all-round excellence and variety of the Vanguard.
It was also our ambition to raise enough money to equip a van stocked with literature to tour the country. Good progress was made with the project and over £200 was raised by various means. H. Boote, an artist of exceptional gifts, donated a beautiful picture which we raffled. Unhappily after the Vanguard had fallen away from grace, and came under the generalship of “Joe” Collings, a satellite of the Labour Party, the van project was put in the lumber room.
One of the most effective methods we used to propagate Vanguard activities and ideals was the publication in the various Labour newspapers throughout Queensland of regular Vanguard articles. One was published every week in the Queensland “Worker.” The supplying of these articles entailed considerable work and responsibility, but with an earnest and brainy group the Vanguard columns were kept going. The principal writers were Ross, Holliday, Adam Tramp, Tom Jones, Dr. Jensen, Joe Collings, Kunze, and myself.
The Vanguard and its association, its fine comradeship and selflessness remains one of the happiest memories of my life. I feel gratified to have been associated so closely with such a band of comrades, and am certain that the propaganda work of the Vanguard was not wasted, that it supplied a great need and brought light and comfort to many heartsore workers.
When my brother John came to Brisbane in 1902 on his Cosme organisation tour, the Vanguard arranged his lectures. He found real comrades and Communists in the Vanguard, and he said that the Vanguard was nearer to Cosme than any other part of the world he had visited.
When the history of the Labour movement is written, and a clear view is seen of the road along which the workers have travelled, the pioneering and unselfish work carried on by the members of the Queensland Democratic Vanguard will be gratefully recognised and full appreciation accorded to those who, without hope or thought of reward, blazed the Socialist track.
As secretary of the Vanguard, I was, by correspondence, in direct touch with most of the rebels scattered throughout Queensland. From Victoria, New South Wales and Westralia also, support and enquiries came from kindred spirits. Within the Vanguard was thus created that close comradeship – that natural understanding and common purpose which is the essential need of all working class organisations. The Vanguard was permeated with this bond which bound its members into a communism of fellowship which was the inspiration of its intense propaganda.
The Vanguard is to-day only a memory, not even known by many of those who are the leaders (?) of the Queensland official Labour Movement. And where are those who, in the late 90’s of the last century, so optimistically formed the vanguard of militant labour – of Communism? Many have fallen by the wayside, disappointed at the slow progress made, disillusioned and betrayed by selfish time-servers. Others have died and few remain faithful to the Vanguard ideals until the end.
But I feel that the pioneering work of the Social Democratic Vanguard has not been in vain – that it materially helped to inculcate into the minds of the workers of Queensland these everlasting truths that, despite reactionary Tory and recalcitrant Labourite alike, will yet triumph over all obstacles.
The history of the Vanguard is a tragic one. Sacrificed on the bloody altar of political expediency under the destructive leadership and influence of “Joe” Collings, now Labour Senator, the Vanguard degenerated into a political mutual admiration society, eventually to sink in the slough of complete bankruptcy, financially and morally. The ranks of the Vanguard, in Brisbane, were seriously depleted when almost simultaneously I went to Cosme, Bob Ross to Broken Hill, Ted Holliday, Adam Tramp and a few other stalwarts leaving Brisbane and the Vanguard for various reasons. This gave Joe Collings a standing and opportunity for dominance which otherwise he would not have attained. On my departure Andy Anderson was appointed secretary. When the Kidston-Morgan coalition was agreed to, although the Vanguard was not a political organisation, Collings, with his flair for questionable things, moved a motion in support of the coalition.
A Socialist propaganda organisation supporting a Liberal-Labour political party. Comment on such an outrageous anomaly is unnecessary! Yet. Joe succeeded in getting the Vanguard to endorse this policy which eventually destroyed it. Anderson, Hugo Kunze, and others, honest members, thereupon resigned and the Vanguard was practically left to the tender mercies of the political coterie whose high priest was Joe Collings. This flamboyant individual has taken a leading part in a number of reactionary working class movements, commencing with his apostasy at the boot strike in 1894 when, as secretary to the Boot Manufacturers Association, he shepherded scabs from the Southern States on the Brisbane wharf. But it is questionable if any of his working class activities have been more discreditable than his betrayal of the Vanguard to a time-serving and power-seeking Labour Party. Yet with such a record, Joe Collings attained the high (?) position of leader of the Labour Party in the Senate!
At long last I embarked on what I believed was the last phase of my life – Cosme. It seemed to me to be a fitting climax to any passionate faith in Communism and the practicability of a Communist Society to displace Capitalism. I had been in an unique position to be fully aware of the dramatic events that had led up to the split in New Australia and the inner life of Cosme colony. I was living in Sydney during the gathering together of the New Australians who sailed in the “Royal Tar” and thus became personally friendly with them. In the later developments of New Australia and Cosme, a number of those who had sailed in the “Royal Tar” for Paraguay, for various reasons returned temporarily or permanently to Queensland. They all seemed to drift to our home in Brisbane and, of course, recounted their experiences. One such returned Cosme-ite, Peter Pindar, was particularly interesting and enlightening with regard to the inside life on Cosme. Of a cynical trend of mind, also a single Taxer, not a Communist, Peter’s Cosme experiences did not tend to make him very enthusiastic about the Communist life. I dubbed his outlook as P. Pindar’s philosophy, viz., always look for the selfish motive in every human action, even the apparently most unselfish.
Night after night, month after month, Pindar retailed to Mrs. Lane and myself, with cynical insight into the weaknesses of poor human nature, all the happenings and “peculiarities” of Cosme. His brother Jack, with Peter’s greatest friend, Joe Sims, had been expelled from Cosme at the instigation of Will Lane for breaking the constitution of Cosme, or rather its Communist intent. But it was not on account of his brother’s expulsion, that Peter had also left Cosme, but because of the expulsion of Sims. “If,” said Peter, “Joe Sims is not good enough to live on Cosme, then I certainly am not.”
Before I left Australia to go to Cosme my brother, Will, had left, a broken-hearted, disillusioned man.
Peter used to say “I will never help you to go to Cosme, but I will give you the money to return to Australia, as I know you won’t stay.” But it was all useless. I was determined to go to Cosme, more than confident that it would fulfil all my fondest dreams and aspirations. But Pindar was right after all.
On our way over to South America, my wife and I, we had three children at this time, we went via Auckland and stayed two weeks with Will, who was then editor of the “Auckland Herald.” When I had last seen him, he was on the “Royal Tar,” sailing through Sydney Heads. With what glorious hopes he and I were then thrilled with regarding the speedy establishment of a powerful Communist colony, shedding an imperishable shaft of light across a despairing world. And now that fond dream had been shattered, and Will, who had staked all his genius and love of the workers to that great adventure, was a broken man. The memories I recalled at Auckland were indeed poignant, while Will and I never discussed Cosme, although I was going there. Surely it was one of the most ironical and cruel jests of Fate that this cup of bitterness should be given me to drink. Without any surcease of the heartache – the insuppressible cry of why should this agony be thrust upon us – I still had faith in the future of Cosme as a land mark and guiding post to Communism.
My wife told me afterwards that Annie Lane, Will’s wife, wanted to know what was the matter with me. “One would think,” she said, “that Ernie was going to a funeral instead of to the place he has been dreaming of for years.” But it was the torturous memory of the past when I had known Will in his days of faith and enthusiasm, setting a continent ablaze with his message of Communist faith and the predominant rights of the workers over their exploiters. And now, just a writer of beautiful prose and sweet nothings!
When Mrs. Will Lane came to the wharf to see us set forth to South America, she said “I won’t say goodbye. You will come back again.” I never imagined that this was a true prophecy. Mrs. Lane and I returned to Queensland but we never saw Will and his wife again.
Arriving in Buenos Ayres we were met by Jack Pindar and his wife whom we had known so well in Queensland prior to their departure for Cosme. Jack was in charge of a sawmill about thirty miles from Buenos Ayres and again it seemed the irony of fate that the man who had been expelled from Cosme by Will Lane, who had now also left, would be welcoming the brother on his way to Cosme. Life, however, is full of such ironies and many strange and sometimes scurvy tricks are played on us helpless mortals through life.
On our arrival at Cosme we soon settled down to the new life. My wife, a natural Communist who had lived Communism all her life, long before – and after – Cosme, encountered no difficulties, and on the score of Communism neither of us found any heartburnings or disappointments in adapting ourselves to the new environment. From that point of view, neither of us have any regrets regarding our life on Cosme, and it was not because of Cosme’s Communism that we ultimately left, but because of the lack of Communistic beliefs and practice of the majority of Cosme-ites.
One of the recent arrivals on Cosme, whom we had left in Brisbane, was Adam Tramp. He had worked his passage to Valparaiso and walked over the Andes to Cosme. He had not been accepted as a member because it was obviously impossible for him as a confirmed anarchist to submit to any form of government of compulsion, even a committee elected by the full vote of a communist community.
However, Adam, who was well known to Cosme-ites by reputation as a good rebel against capitalist society, was warmly welcomed, and for a considerable time was content to enjoy the freedom of life and thought denied to him in a capitalist world. He entered fully into the social life and was adored by the kiddies. But the virus of his anarchist beliefs soon began to jaundice his views of Cosme. He fretted at the control exercised by any governing body and openly expressed his contempt for the constitution which he said “ought to be thrown on the rubbish heap.” Typical of his primitive outlook, he decided to make a boat, take it to the river and depart – back to the conditions of slavery he so bitterly hated. Instead of arranging to have a proper boat made of sawn timber at the colony sawmill, which was quite a matter of common occurrence at Cosme, Adam got a huge log taken to the back of his hut and there in his spare time commenced to cut and burn it out into a canoe! It was never completed, and probably remains to this day, a tragic memorial to the futility of anarchial philosophy.
Adam departed cursing Cosme, got a job as night-watchman protecting the capitalists’ property at the railway town, Supacay. He eventually drifted back to Australia and some years later those of us who knew and esteemed Adam were shocked to hear that he had cut his throat in Westralia.
The career and fate of Adam Tramp raises the whole question of the place of the anarchist in the Communist State. The experiences in Cosme of anarchists, of which Adam was only one example, clearly indicated that there is no abiding resting place for undeviating anarchists in Communist society where discipline and order are inevitable and imperative. The philosophy of anarchism attracts the idealists and rightly claims as its devotees some of the most courageous and self-sacrificing men and women. History records such figures as Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Peter Kropotkin, and many other anarchists who gladly gave their all in the service of the working class. But in a Communist Society, fighting for its very existence against all the powerful forces of reaction, the anarchist rebel is a menace of the most dangerous character. The Soviet Government with its grim realism fully realised this position and had to fight and suppress the anarchists in Russia to save the Revolution from internal destruction.
The Cosme position was similar, though on a much smaller and somewhat different scale. There were one or two anarchists who, unlike Adam Tramp, did not leave Cosme, but remained to bitterly sow the seeds of discontent in the minds of new-comers, who, if they had been allowed to settle down without this anarchial propaganda being implemented into them, would have made good colonists. One of the causes of the failure of Cosme was the presence and agitation of the anarchial element. Soviet Russia did not make the fatal mistake of tolerating the promulgation of anarchy, and events have proved the wisdom of their policy, drastic and regrettable as it undoubtedly was.
It is difficult to clearly explain many things in relation to Cosme which are necessary for a full comprehension of the position that prevailed there. Some probably expect that I shall recount a detailed history of Cosme and why it failed. This record of my experiences is not and could not possibly be a history of Cosme and all its manifold activities and peculiarities. I was not there long enough to competently write such a history, which deserves a place to itself. I can only say that despite the bitterness of disillusionment and apparent failure, Cosme retains both for Mrs. Lane and myself very many cherished memories and we do not regret our Cosme and South American experiences.
With all its faults and failures Cosme gave and brought to its members precious things that are not with us or any one else here, nor ever can be until the Communist state is established. “Women and Children first!” That was axiomatic on Cosme, an integral part of the daily life, a sacred trust and principle that to my knowledge was never questioned even by the most disgruntled. This primary care for the women and children, the sick and helpless, which was an endearing tie to Cosme, finds similar expression in Soviet Russia alone of all the countries. It is only possible under Communism, and on Cosme it brought right home to even the most unthinking, something of what the world might be once it was relieved of the incubus of a callous profit-making system.
The development of Cosme-ites in singing, drama, and other phases of social cultural life was remarkable and showed how, removed from the restrictions and struggle for existence which are inseparable in capitalist society, the latent talent possessed by the common people can bud and blossom like the rose.
Many other phases of life on Cosme appealed to all of us who, hating the hypocrisies and tyrannies of the old world, desired a fuller and more humane way of living. We found in Cosme and Communism, balm for scabs and wounds – promise for a new, happier world.
These reflections and notes on Cosme do not in any way cover the why and wherefore, the many varying causes that contributed to the failure of Cosme as a Communist colony. They only touch the fringe of Cosme history which requires a separate volume. Lloyd Ross in his book, William Lane and the Australian Labour Movement supplies a record which gives a fuller and more truthful account of Cosme, its high ideals, heroism and tragedy, than any other publication.
But no reference to Cosme would be complete without recognition of the work that John Lane so ungrudgingly gave for the ten years of its existence. After Will left in 1896, John accepted the responsible position of chairman in addition to his duties as school teacher, storekeeper, editor, printer and publisher of the “Cosme Monthly Journal.” In 1901 he was sent as an organiser to Australia and paid his passage with the collections from his meetings. With amazing fortitude, he toured Eastern Australia on a bike, with a magic lantern. Lloyd Ross states; “This journey of John Lane’s during a drought would produce a heroic tale of endurance and inspiration. John had not the magnetic personality of Will, but he had more lasting qualities and a quiet determination that enabled him to remain, throughout his life, true to his Communist faith. His tolerance of the mistakes of others made it possible for him to ignore most of the petty foibles that frequently annoyed Will. But even John gave up in the end.”
Today (1938) John is still in the Vanguard of Communist and revolutionary thought and has kept pace with the ever rapidly changing tempo and march of world events.
With regard to my own reactions to the Cosme position, in 1904, when John, Will Bennet, and I, with our wives, decided to leave Cosme, I cannot add anything of value, after a lapse of 34 years, to what I then wrote in a letter to my dear old mate Bob Ross. In that letter I said inter alia: “John and myself are leaving Cosme. Why? Briefly, the non-Communism of the members, the departure of them from the spirit of the communism of the place, and the intention of members to run the colony on purely material lines – dropping the ethics of Cosme entirely. Well, neither John nor I came to Cosme to make a living or to live our lives under false colours, consequently, the only honourable course for us, or any likeminded, to pursue, was to leave. There are indeed two other courses possible, viz., to stop and fight for our Communism and the ideals of Cosme, or stay and abide by the altered conditions. The latter is obviously impossible for us. The former suicidal. The colony is too small in numbers to successfully weather such difficulties as internal strife would arouse, and even if successful, we know that no good would result. There are roughly three parties in Cosme, viz., the Communist element, (2) co-operators, non-Communist (3) A middle one, no definite Communistic ideals, simply led – willingly when the selfish side of human nature is appealed to, unwillingly when ethical precepts are the guiding lights. As long as John and others, to use a vulgarism, kept them – the middle party – up to scratch, Communism on the surface, was adhered to, or at least, tolerated. But John, rightly, I think, resolved to let them pursue their own line of action – result veiled and open departure from the written communistic idea. There is no departure from the written constitution of Cosme, probably because at present any other system of labour sharing is impossible here, but the whole trend is towards pure co-operation on wholly material lines. The dropping of the “Monthly” then even “The Quarterly” is a fair example of the general feeling here. You know, Bob, what great ideas I and John, too, had regarding the propaganda that was to emanate from Cosme, and now a cursed “Annual” repudiating the very principles that brought me here and that made John and others cheerfully devote the best years of their life to. This matter of Cosme literature alone would, I think, have eventually decided me to leave. John’s departure will be a great blow to Cosme, as apart from his identification with Cosme, there is no one to take his place here in a dozen different ways. John is one of the most doggedly persistent of men, indeed his greatest characteristic, and he acknowledges defeat! This speaks more than volumes. None outside, few even in Cosme, will ever know what he has given to Cosme, cheerfully, time, enthusiasm, all that is the best of man; nothing was too great for him to sacrifice, not even his own family duties. John is not given to heroics, but he told me that his decision to abandon Cosme had wrung his heart strings. Neither of us have lost our firm belief in Communism as the one righteous life for every human being to live, rather our experience here strengthens our desire for, and belief in, the all-embodying vigourousness, practicability, and humanity of Communism. What we do recognise, however, is only that Cosme has failed to attract true Communists, who alone can make Communism possible. I am afraid, Bob, that the time is not yet, and we shall never see our dreams of a just and human society realised.”
My Cosme experience was a bitter-sweet one which I did not regret but which was often agonising. Though disillusioned in many respects with regard to the operations of Communism, my Communist faith remained unshaken, even unperturbed. Indeed, this close-up view of Communism brought into realisation those principles and aspects of Communism which, amid the sordid selfishness of the capitalist world, are unseen, or unheeded. But at the time, it was a heart-breaking wrench to leave the land of our dreams and hopes, to face once again the horrors and uncertainties of the outside world. When we were repassing through the boundary gate on our way by bullock carretta (Paraguayan waggon) to the railway station 20 miles away it was indeed with sad hearts, and Dorothy, our girl, six years of age, cried bitterly, saying, “I don’t want to leave home!” This cry found a responsive echo in the hearts of Mrs. Lane and myself, but tragically, Cosme to us, could be a home no longer and we had perforce to abandon the dream of years – shattered and dissipated.
Thus ended one of the most vital phases of my life which carried with it many, many precious yet poignant memories, of Will, of youthful dreams and enthusiasms that deserved a brighter fate.
“But ah! to think that spring should vanish with the rose –
That youth’s sweet scented manuscript should close!
The nightingale that in the branches sang
Ah! Whence and whither flown again! Who knows?”
With head “bloody but unbowed” I thanked, and still thank, whatever gods there be that Cosme, with all its shattering delusions, did not crush my faith or sap the source of my beliefs in working class ultimate supremacy. That I still retained, the ideals of my youth – still determined that when in the years to come the opportunity again came I would once more be in the fight with undimmed vision and undeterred activity. Life, apart from the eternal fight of the robbed masses against their robbers, to me would have been desolate and meaningless indeed, and gladly I record that I have been spared that tragic fate.
On leaving Cosme, John, leaving his wife and four children in the Argentine, Mrs. Lane working as a housekeeper in an American house near Buenos Ayres, worked his passage to Bombay on a cattle boat, thence to Brisbane, where he re-entered the service of the Educational Department as a teacher. I had written to Jack Pindar, who was engineer at a sawmill on one of the islands forming the delta of the Parana River near Buenos Ayres, and he got me a job at the mill. Mrs. Lane and all of us lived with the Pindars, who were real friends in need. The work was hard and poorly paid, so some months later, through the good offices of an old Cosmeite, Bert Bottril, who was now timekeeper at the La Plata meat works, I secured a job at these works as wool room clerk.
These meat works, since absorbed in the Swift monopoly, were situated at Puerto La Plata, six miles from La Plata, the capital of Buenos Ayres Province. Later I was transferred to charge of the butchers’ shop where I remained until I left to return to Brisbane.
In the Argentine I soon found that the line of demarcation between the rank and file of the workers and the employers was most definitely defined. There was an impassable gulf separating the peons, as the workers are so aptly termed in that country, from their exploiters, and their henchmen, managers, foremen, clerks, and all other understrappers which brought the class war into high relief. There was no camouflage or peurile talk of an identity of interests or collaboration of classes. The class war incessantly raged, naked and unashamed. Bitter strikes were of common occurrence with no quarter from either side. Although poorly organised, the peons in times of strike, showed a unity and solidarity that forced one to contrast it with the petty sectionalism so often too evident amongst the workers in Australia, Britain, and other more advanced countries. In strikes, the scabs had a most unhappy time, and had to work and live under police and military protection.
While at the meatworks, I saw an illuminating example of how the revolting workers (peons) were treated and defeated by their exploiters.
The nine-hour day, six days a week, was in operation at La Plata works. The peons, about 1,000 employed, struck for an eight-hour day. The company refused absolutely to make any concession and decided for all time not to again employ the strikers. As strikes were no kid glove affairs, it would have been impossible to recruit local scabs. So the works were closed until the arrival direct from Southern Europe of emigrants to take the place of the strikers. The dock and works had an iron fence right round the whole premises, and with armed mounted police on guard, the ignorant and helpless strikebreakers were landed from the vessel straight into the works, where they were fed and accommodated, removed from all possible persuasion, or force by the strikers. These unfortunate tools of capitalist exploitation were recruited from the slum proletariat of Italy, Spain, Greece, and other Southern European countries and were typical of their type. Speaking a dozen different languages, clad in a conglomeration of rags and outlandish costumes, the conditions they lived under at the works were probably the best they had ever enjoyed. Plenty of food and warm shelter plus a wage that seemed a goldmine to those starvlings they were willing, ignorant slaves to their allotted place, in the scheme to crush revolting workers. Of course, the strike was broken, and the former employees ruthlessly victimised. The manager of the works at that time was Mr. Manning, who had previously been manager of the Q.M.E. works at Pinkenba, Brisbane.
The Britishers and Australians who occupy managerial or other higher positions in the Argentine are generally a most objectionable type, whose sole god is money with all its accompanying snobbery, and who scorn the peons or any who are outside the vicious circle which surrounds them.
An interesting sidelight into the ofttimes unexpected vagaries of the human mind occurred in my experience, while at the meat works. Naturally, it was the custom in a foreign community for the English speaking section to exchange and lend books. The cashier, a Mr. Ferguson, born in the Argentine of Scotch parentage and an intimate member of the superior (?) caste I have described, borrowed from me a couple of Henry Lawson’s books. These were part of a number presented to me by the S. D. Vanguard in Brisbane on my departure to Cosme. When Ferguson returned me Lawson’s books he said that he never enjoyed any books better as he could tell that Lawson had lived the life he had written of. Pleasantly surprised at this deep appreciation of Lawson coming from such a source, I thought I would lend him my brother Will’s book “The Workingman’s Paradise,” a revolutionary story dealing with the big shearers’ strike in Australia. Will wrote it under the pen name of “John Miller.” So I lent it to Ferguson, remarking that while he would not agree with its philosophy he would appreciate its record of a phase of Australian life.
Two days later he returned it to me and to my amazement, said, “It is the greatest book I have ever read. Do you know what is the finest passage in the book? You remember the police court scene where the magistrate is questioning a witness? The magistrate insisted that the witness was mates to a man he had travelled with, eaten with, and worked with. The witness said, ‘Yes, that is so, but we weren’t mates. Mates is them that has but one puss (purse)!’
Ferguson knew nothing about Socialism or the Labour Movement. All his training, environment, prejudices were opposed to anything of a radical or working class nature, yet with unhesitating insight he proclaimed the very fundamental truth of extreme Communism. When I told him my brother had written the book he was pleased and interested. Unhappily, after a short illness, Ferguson died a few months later.
Mrs. Lane and I found very few congenial friends at La Plata, but there was one exception, Mr. R. Gibson. After some months I discovered to my delight that he was a lover of Shelley, Omar Khayyam and chess. So until we left the works, every Saturday evening Gibson came to tea and spent the evening playing chess and talking. He was one of the finest characters. I have had the good fortune to meet. Most unselfish and a natural Communist. Our kiddies adored him. Born in the North of Ireland, he had gone to Johannesburg where he was working in a good position prior to the Boer War. When the war broke out he joined one of the mounted South African corps raised to fight the Boers.
All his sympathies were with the Boers, but he said there were only two choices to anyone in South Africa at that time, to fight with either the Boers or the British. Gibson said he had lacked the courage to entail the deadly risk attached to a Britisher fighting for the Boers. He said his father in Belfast had never forgiven him. He, Gibson, thinking that he might be killed in the war, made a will leaving some shares and property he had to his father and sister. The letter was returned to him unopened! He said he now never wrote to anyone, nor could we induce him to keep in touch with us when we returned to Australia, so we have never heard of him since.
On landing in London on our way back to Brisbane, by a strange chance we had rooms at Bromley, Kent, just outside London, two doors from the house Peter Kropotkin lived in. Kropotkin to me, Bob Ross, Ted Holliday and T. L. Jones, in the old Vanguard days, had been a veritable beacon of light, an inspiration and a glory that had captured our imaginations. His revolutionary activities, sacrifice of his wealth and caste in the service of the people, his writings, had endeared him to us. In those far off days, revolutionaries and writers of the Kropotkin type were scarce, and consequently were more deeply appreciated than to-day when there is an embarassment of riches in this direction.
So it was with eager anticipation that one evening Mrs. Lane and I introduced ourselves to Kropotkin, his wife and daughter. We had a few hours’ intensely interesting talk. Kropotkin – the man who had defied and scorned czardom and all its evil works! Who, in his “Memoirs of a Revolutionist” depicted in fascinating manner the trials, escapades and glory of the revolutionary, with his flowing white beard, was indeed a splash of vivid colour in one’s experiences.
Although of course I knew that Kropotkin was an anarchist, I was surprised at his extreme anarchist outlook on the revolutionary movement. He upbraided us for leaving Cosme, affirming that it was only through the establishment of Communist colonies throughout the world that capitalist society could be supplanted by the Socialist State. His belief in the power and possibilities of such Communistic colonies, especially in view of the break down of Cosme and other similar ventures was pathetic in its simplicity. One listened amazed to hear Kropotkin, with his super brain, enthusiasm, and revolutionary ardour, placing his entire faith in the triumph of Communism on the feeble and futile foundation of isolated and ignored settlements.
How out of touch he was, even at this period of 1907, with the Russian revolutionary movement, was apparent to me when I asked him if he was attending a conference of Russian revolutionaries then sitting in London at which Lenin was present. Kropotkin replied with a very definite no, and his manner made me not pursue the matter further. He had an intense detestation of State Socialism as exemplified in Germany and said it would have to be destroyed before any real Socialism or Communism could be built. Events proved that his prophesy was fairly correct, although “German” Socialism failed from other reasons than those outlined by Kropotkin.
One of the tragedies of the revolutionary movement is that anarchists such as Kropotkin can find no place in the Communist State. This is the fault of anarchism – not of Communism. The Cosme experience of anarchists such as Petrie and Adam Tramp, who had devoted their lives to the working class, indicate the irreconcilability of the two theories. Marx had the same fight with the anarchists though in a different manner, as had to be fought three quarters of a century later, and that divergence of thought however regrettable, had to be faced and fought whoever may go down in the struggle. Kropotkin, when I met him, was a daily visitor to the British Museum, compiling his monumental “History of the French Revolution.” Many histories of that epochal period of the world’s progress have been written, but Kropotkin’s challenges comparison as a faithful and illuminating record of the worker’s part therein. It was indeed pitiable that the man who wrote such a history with his burning sympathy and understanding of the French worker’s ideals, should through perverse adherence to anarchial dogma, be inescapably precluded from participating in the Russian revolution.
On our return to Brisbane I found that there had been a noticeable break in the ranks of the Social Democratic Vanguard, both in personnel and activities. The old comradeship and enthusiasm which had made the Vanguard such a living force in the promulgation of Socialist thoughts and principles had vanished. The organisation had degenerated into a decadent mutual admiration political club of which “Joe” Collings was secretary and misguiding influence. I believed that the Vanguard could be revived and its original pioneering work be continued if I took up the secretaryship. I agreed to accept this position and had typed a hundred copies of a letter to be despatched to old Vanguard members in all parts of the State. H. Boote, editor of the “Worker” and one of the old Vanguard members, advised me not to proceed. He said that if I did I would be met with correspondence from all quarters insistently demanding explanation of neglect and non-acknowledgment of correspondence and orders for books. Boote stated that as editor of the “Worker” he had received a number of complaints and anxious enquiries as to what had happened to the Vanguard and the secretary. In the face of this discreditable position, I declined to take up the secretaryship. Within a few weeks the affairs of the Vanguard were wound up, with an unpaid debt for books, unhonoured and unregretted.
I secured a job at Foggitt Jones’ and settled down to make a fresh start in the hurly burly of working class agitation. Many changes had taken place during my absence from Australia. ‘There was evident a slackening in the activities of the movement in Queensland along the straight Communist lines that had been so inspiringly laid down by Will Lane. True, some of the leaders of the workers’ industrial and political movement still retained a somewhat faltering faith in the earlier ideals. But the glare of political action – and advancement – with its material advantages, was rapidly thrusting into the background the more strenuous and less remunerative policy that had prevailed in the 90’s. Also a new generation had arisen who were far removed from the intensity and turmoil of a decade past. They had been untouched by the magnetic fire of Will’s genius and Communist teachings, and readily pursued the easier pathway of orthodox Labourism.
It was then that I became associated with the Amalgamated Workers’ Association which later in 1913 amalgamated with the Australian Workers Union, the present A.W.U. The Amalgamated Workers’ Association comprised workers engaged in the sugar industry, mining, general bush work, and later extended its membership to include other classes of casual work also mechanics and tradesmen working in the north and out back. Arbitration Courts had not yet appeared on the industrial horizon to seduce the workers and sap the very foundations of militant class-conscious unionism. The strength of unionism was conditioned then, as now, by the determination of unionists to force their demands irrespective of the restrictions of an arbitrary tribunal. The A.W.A. in many a hard fought battle had established a reputation for militancy second to none, and was popularly known as the “fighting A.W.A.”
Naturally I was attracted to such an organisation and confident that here was a wide field for the propagation of virile working-class policy based on an uncompromising recognition of the class war. W. McCormack (since to be Premier of Queensland) was General Secretary, and E. G. Theodore, recently elected Labour member for Chillagoe, Vice-President. The head office of the union was at Chillagoe. A branch was formed at Brisbane largely through the efforts of W. R. (Jack) Crampton, later Alderman in the Brisbane City Council.
There had been many changes in the personnel and outlook of the unions in Brisbane during my absence in South America, and many of the prominent men now active in the movement were previously unknown to me. Crampton was organiser for the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union, (Queensland Branch), Jack Gilday being secretary. As a speaker and organiser, Crampton was outstanding and with a sound knowledge of economics, was an invaluable propagandist. The A.M.I.E.U., in common with the A.W.A., was a militant union, and, largely due to the unceasing work carried on by “Jack” Crampton, became one of the bulwarks of progressive unionism in this State. The solid working class character of the A.W.A. appealed to Crampton, as therein he found receptive field for his revolutionary fervour and flair for Socialist propaganda. At all and any opportunity, Crampton would propound the gospel of Socialism and industrial unionism. I well remember a smoko of the Meat Industry Union held in the old Centennial Hall, Adelaide Street. There was an attendance of several hundred members and, of course, the beer flowed freely. In a short time, although the crowd were quite orderly for such a function, falling bottles, glasses, laughter and talk created a miniature bedlam. There was the usual toast list, and Crampton, undeterred by the row or the indifference and inattention of his audience, delivered a long impassioned speech on the wrongs of the workers and the way of redemption. It was typical of the man in those far off days, and recalls vividly to my mind the fine missionary work on the industrial – field that Crampton unquestionably has done in his younger days. When the big sugar strike took place in 1909, Crampton was “borrowed” from the A.M.I.E.U. by the A.W.A. to take charge of the Mackay district, the centre of the fight, of the strike. This strike proved an historical one. Scabs were brought by steamer from the southern States, and a state of bitter warfare existed, resulting eventually in a victory for the union.
I was elected chairman of the Brisbane branch of the A.W.A., W. Bertram, then secretary of the Storemen and Packers Union, having resigned. Moir was then a militant and with Crampton and myself, we were successful in getting firmly established a live branch of the A.W.A. with a large membership throughout the metropolitan area.
The Meat Industry Employees’ Union and the A.W.A. consistently pursued a militant policy in the never-ending struggle for the betterment of working conditions. With the possible exception of the Waterside Workers and Seamen’s Unions, other Queensland unions evidenced a growing sectionalism and indifference to the welfare of union activities in any wider sphere than a narrow sectionalism. The enthusiasm for virile working class action which had been such a driving force during the stirring eighties and early nineties of the last century, had become a sadly diminished factor.
In New South Wales a bitter fight was being waged at Broken Hill resulting in the arrest and trial of Tom Mann and several other “agitators” on various charges of sedition. The venue of the trial was shifted to Albury where the notorious union-hating Judge Pring gave full vent to his spleen and class hatred of the workers. Mann and several others were fortunate enough to be acquitted but bound over, but Walter Stokes and John May were sentenced to two and three years imprisonment respectively.
Another stormy petrel of the Australian Labour Movement, Harry Holland, at the invitation of the Broken Hill Socialist group arrived there in February, 1910, and did some very fine work.
I knew Holland well and his revolutionary activities, particularly in Sydney where he edited and printed the “Socialist Review.” Australia has had many good rebels who have devoted their lives to the working class, but no man ever sacrificed more than Holland. For years, with a spirit of determination which all the bludgeonings of fate could not suppress or silence, unheeding all consequences, he never faltered in his fiery crusade, not only against the capitalist class and system, but with no less fervour against Labour politicians and union officials who in their pursuit of place and power sabotaged and betrayed the workers. Holland thus aroused the bitterest hostility and persecution of all Labour reactionaries throughout Australia who have ever regarded him as their greatest menace.
It is therefore not surprising to note that to these degenerates at Broken Hill, Holland was a very unwelcome visitor. George Dale in the “Industrial History of Broken Hill” says: “The moderates on the official combined committee took strong exception to his coming and repeatedly refused him the right to speak from the official platform. The matter was daily discussed, but each time the result was the same – a majority against Holland. However, Holland did splendid service on the street corners and at other places. When he held a street meeting the crowd soon left the official mob without an audience. This did not last long, as the refusal to allow Holland to speak from the Trades Hall was well known to the police, and his speeches being usually founded upon fundamentals, the police soon swooped down upon this brilliant little orator and charged him with seditious utterances. He was arrested, committed and taken to Albury where at the conclusion of the other trials he was sentenced by Judge Pring to two years in the Albury Goal.”
Holland conducted his own defence and put up a good case against overwhelming odds, against a judge full of venom, who had put every possible obstacle in Holland’s way, also a jury made up of graziers, farmers and big business men.
Here is the statement which led to Holland’s arrest: “He advised the workers to in future put the concentrated force of dynamite into their industrial organisations.” The police cut out all the words except dynamite and attempted to connect them with the blowing up of an ice-cart which took place some time before Holland reached Broken Hill.
Release committees were formed in various centres throughout the Commonwealth with the principal object of obtaining the release of the Broken Hill prisoners. I took the position of secretary of such a committee formed in Brisbane and arranged a series of open air meetings at the Fiveways, Annerley Road, Market (now King George) Square, and other centres.
We received practically no assistance from A. Hinchcliffe and other officials who were in a position to effectively do this work, and upon me rested the responsibility of securing speakers for the meetings. The response from the workers of Brisbane was not encouraging, but depressing. The prejudice against Holland because he had dared to criticise the holy Australian Labour Party was astounding – and pathetic. Some unionists actually refused to sign the petition to release workers suffering vicious strike sentences because they detested Holland.
The apathy of Brisbane workers was deplorable as the following glaringly shows. A well advertised meeting was held at the old Foresters’ Hall, Brunswick Street. The speakers included Dave Bowman, leader of the Labour Party, Lennon, later acting Governor, and other well-known Labour leaders. It was a fine night, and outside of the speakers and committee there was an audience of one dozen.
The movement here still lacks many essentials of a bona fide working class, but it certainly has advanced from the soulless apathy prevailing in those days.
Soon afterwards the Broken Hill prisoners were released, Holland a few months after the others. In his case the release was a political move, as the Premier of New South Wales, having to face a general election, thought Holland’s release would curry favour with a certain section of the workers.
Holland continued his revolutionary activities in the face of unceasing persecution, prosecution and hardship of every description. Broken in health and finances, many years later he went to New Zealand and became leader of the N.Z. Parliamentary Party. It was a queer and unexpected change of life for such a man as Holland. But for many weary years he had bravely carried on without flinching, a heart breaking fight. Who, shall condemn him or speak harshly because he sought a comparative haven of rest – a less strenuous part in the working class fight? A beautiful memorial has been erected by the workers of New Zealand to the memory of Harry Holland and the workers of Australia may well remember his faithful service to the cause he loved and join with the New Zealand workers in their tribute to their dead leader.
I was happy to renew my old close friendship with Harry Holland at the 1921 and 1922 All Australian Trade Union Congresses in Melbourne, where he represented the New Zealand workers. We saw a lot of each other and I found that although under strangely altered circumstances, Holland still retained the ideals – even some of the fire – of his stormy younger days.
Another instance of the reactionary character of the unions in Brisbane at this time was in connection with a visit to Brisbane of Peter Bowling, revolutionary agitator, who had just served several years in gaol as the result of an industrial upheaval in Newcastle. Peter was a rough diamond in many ways, and was feared and detested by all the respectable unionists and politicians, leaders and rank and file alike.
There was a strong antagonism to Bowling in Brisbane, and it was extremely doubtful what would happen after his arrival. None of the unions or their officials would sponsor a public meeting to hear Bowling, but “Charlie” Seymour, ex-secretary of the Seamen’s Union, later editor of the Queensland “Worker,” close friend of Will Lane and a solid industrialist, Jack Crampton and I went ahead. We engaged the Centennial Hall and a big crowd rolled up. We could not induce any union officials to come on the platform, so we three held the fort. It was a trying experience for me, as then, as now, I dreaded public speaking. I am not an orator, and it has been only under certain circumstances – or emotion – that I face the ordeal – to me – of public utterance.
Half dreading a hostile reception from the audience, Seymour in the chair opened the meeting, and Bowling had a good hearing and silenced the few antagonistic hecklers.
The future of Peter Bowling – the arch rebel? The war fever caught him in its deadly toils, and he, with many other erstwhile Labour stalwarts, joined the ranks of the jingoes and became a fanatical conscriptionist. So, hailed gleefully by the bitterest enemies of the workers as a true Labour leader, despised by the toilers, Peter Bowling passed into oblivion.
My association with the A.W.A. caused me to again turn my attention to the urgent need of Socialist propaganda. With an unabated passion for the dissemination of working class literature, I saw in the militant A.W.A. a golden opportunity to most effectively carry out this work on a more satisfactory and sound basis than hitherto. Previous ventures in Queensland in this sphere had always been of a purely voluntary nature, its finances and organisation subject to the vagaries of the individuals, with no permanent or satisfactory source of income. I saw the possibilities of using a powerful, well-established organisation with branches and delegates throughout the State, as the organised machinery to distribute literature. Just as important too, was the question of finance. If I could only get the constitution of the union amended to include the purchase and distribution to members of socialist and working-class literature, then indeed would be created a propaganda organisation which would materially influence and affect the whole Labour movement of Queensland. I mooted the matter to Crampton, Moir and one or two militant members in Brisbane. They all readily agreed with its advisability, considered I could get it endorsed at the next A.W.A. conference, but were very dubious about succeeding in obtaining any money to put the scheme into operation. Intent on this project I nominated as delegate to the first A.W.A. Annual Conference, to commence at Townsville on January 9th, 1912, and with J. Moir and W. Bertram (who later became Speaker in Parliament), secretary of the A.W.A. Brisbane branch, was elected.
The adoption of the Australian Labour Federation basis of union organisation was in operation only in Queensland. Although it had been endorsed at the Ballarat Interstate Trade Union Congress in 1891, it had never become operative. The Brisbane unions were included in a central organisation on somewhat similar lines to the present Trades and Labour Council, known as the metropolitan district council of the A.L.F. Harry Coyne was Queensland president, Crampton, president, myself vice-president, and Jack Moir, secretary of the Metropolitan District Council, were in these respective positions in 1911. Lewis McDonald, one of the delegates from the Printing Trade Employees Union, was a militant delegate, Albert Hinchcliffe still being secretary of the Queensland Central Executive of the Australian Labour Party. There was a definite line of cleavage on the council between the militant and moderate section. The militants were in a minority, but having more enthusiasm, brains, and knowledge than the moderates, often snatched or secured a majority vote on various progressive questions.
If the Brisbane workers had been apathetic in the immediate past, the time was rapidly approaching when they would shake themselves free from their inertia and astonish Australia by proclaiming the first and only general strike that has ever occurred in the Commonwealth.
This reversal of form arose from a strike of the Brisbane Tramway Employees Union in January, 1912. The union badge was placed on the prohibited list by the manager, and members who insisted on wearing their badges were sacked. The dispute quickly developed, culminating in a strike of the drivers and conductors. The company procured a number of scabs, and with office workers and inspectors, kept the trams running to some degree. Support of the Tramway Union was unanimous from the unions, meetings convened and proposals for an extension of the strike were freely expressed, growing with ever increasing approval. Conference after conference of the unions were held, still no progress made towards a settlement of the dispute. As president of the A.L.F., Harry Coyne, M.L.A., presided at all the meetings of the combined unions. Still nothing definite was decided upon. Strike resolutions would be carried by large majorities but the delegates with a few exceptions could not pledge their unions to take such drastic action.
At one of these meetings I definitely proposed that a general strike resolution be submitted to all unions for decision, and instructions to their delegates to vote on at a meeting to be held the following Sunday afternoon at the Trades Hall. The chairman (Coyne) said the strike was a very drastic weapon and every other avenue should be explored before adopting the strike. I retorted that we had been exploring every avenue for a long time with absolutely no success and only the strike method was left. The unions had to use it in support of the tramwaymen – of a vital union principle – or throw in the towel. The resolution was unanimously carried and the fate of the struggle was thus left in the hands of each individual union to decide their policy.
As the A.W.A. Conference commenced at Townsville on the following Monday, January 29th, the Brisbane delegates had to leave Brisbane on Friday – the fateful union meeting was to be held on the Sunday, January 28th. Therefore I could not remain in Brisbane, though I instinctively felt that the Brisbane unions, despite their past indifferent record as militants, would unhesitatingly make history and declare a general strike. Coming out of the Trades Hall on Friday with Theodore I said: ‘I wish I was not going to Townsville. What I have been looking for all my life, a general revolt of the workers – is going to come here – and I shall be out of it.” Strangely enough, Theodore replied “Oh well, you might do more good at Townsville.” I believe he was right, though the good I did he regarded as evil, and used the full force of his unquestionable power to defeat my purpose and work, viz., to help build up a genuine Labour movement.
Moir, acting as secretary to the combined unions Committee, was unable to leave Brisbane to attend the A.W.A. Conference. Bertram, who had political ambitions, and saw in the A.W.A. a passport to Parliament by A.W.A. selection outside of Brisbane, defied an instruction from the Storemen and Packers Union, of which he was paid secretary, and left for Townsville on the eve of the threatened general strike. Rightly indignant at this desertion in the hour of need and crisis, the Storemen and Packers Union dismissed Bertram, but on his return to Brisbane this decision was never carried out and he retained the secretaryship until in the following State elections he was elected Labour member Woolloongabba.
Prior to the general strike, Brisbane had continuously failed to elect Labour members to Parliament, but the strike aftermath quickly reacted on the political field, the workers rallying to capture several hitherto Tory electorate strongholds. Immediately Bertram was elected he resigned the secretaryship of the Brisbane branch of the A.W.A. Crampton and I were condemning this abandonment of the A.W.A. to Theodore one day who defended Bertram’s action. Crampton thereupon told Theodore that on the ground of loyalty to members of the parliamentary Labour Party, the most immoral and heinous of crimes against the workers were condoned and defended by fellow members. This truism has found full expression since 1912, and while loyalty to the workers, to their self-sacrifice and devotion, is scornfully ignored, this blatant loyalty to each others misdemeanours, such a marked feature amongst Labour politicians, is ever in evidence to justify their own shortcomings – big or little.
Another delegate to the A.W.A. Conference, G. W. Martens, joined us at Bundaberg. Martens was an A.W.A. organiser. In the Vanguard days, I had corresponded with him when he had been at Mount Perry. An active member of the Vanguard and a good rebel, Martens and I immediately became the closest of friends and were comrades. In many a hard fought combat at A.W.A. and A.W.U. conventions and meetings. With a wide experience in the working class movement, a fluent speaker full of fire and energy, George Martens, with his vitriolic utterances and militant activities, was intensely disliked by the moderates and reactionaries, and for many years was a valued and powerful force in the Queensland working class vanguard. Martens had to face the trials and persecutions that are the inescapable lot of all who have the courage and intelligence to swim against the tide of orthodoxy and reaction. As a paid official of the A.W.U. he was feared and hated by those in high places who regarded him as a serious menace to their power and privileges. Fortunately, Martens had such solid support in the Bundaberg district and elsewhere that he occupied an impregnable position as organiser and later secretary of the central branch of the A.W.U. He was thus immune from any ballot catastrophe or any attempt that might be made by Theodore, Dunstan, and W. J. Riordan to oust him from office. Yet in later years this life long fighter against the corruption and treachery that is the greatest evil of the Labour movement today, abandoned his high ideals and became a valued ally and boon companion of men he had fought and despised for many years. On the appointment of W. J. Dunstan, secretary of the A.W.U. Queensland branch, as member of the Arbitration Court, W. J. Riordan, then president, became secretary, and G. Martens was appointed – and accepted the position of president. To all of those who knew the reactionary A.W.U. Queensland Executive with Riordan as its high priest, the fact that a militant member had been appointed by this coterie, was quite sufficient to shatter the reputation of such an appointee as a true working class leader. If I had accepted that position under similar circumstances I should rightly deserve the most scathing condemnation from all who regarded me otherwise than as an opportunist or place hunter. So Martens or anyone else, who, for some ignoble reasons, sell their principles and soul for their personal advancement, have no right to complain at the scorn and criticism of their old comrades.
Having once started his downward – probably many would term it upward track – Martens mounted still higher to the summit of Labourite ambitions. Elected to the Federal Parliament, Martens added one more achievement to his credit, that of a sycophantic admirer and follower of fellow politician E. G. Theodore. To realise the true inwardness of this phase of Marten’s apostasy, one would have to know – as I know – how Martens hated Theodore. There is no other word to use in this connection. He had a long and bitter experience with Theodore in the A.W.U. and scathingly criticised him. Still Martens is a living example of this phase of life. Prosperity equally as adversity make us live and sleep with some strange bed-fellows, but surely nothing stranger than George Martens, a comrade in arms with Ted Theodore and other like-minded individuals.
Reverting to the A.W.A. Conference, I had asked Crampton to wire me the result of the historic meeting of the Combined Unions representatives that met at the Trades Hall, Brisbane, Sunday, January 28th, 1912. I received the following wire on Monday morning: “They rose like lions after slumber!”
The fight was on in Brisbane and within a few days the general strike was extended throughout Queensland. The A.W.A. Conference at Townsville was obviously the body that should initiate the strike movement in the northern part of the State. The Brisbane strike committee decided to extend the strike and advised Theodore, who had been elected president of the A.W.A. to call a strike of all unions from Townsville. We adjourned the conference and called a meeting of all the unions to consider the proposed strike. Anthony Ogden, one of the representatives of the Meat Industry Union, with a number of other delegates, moaned and wailed about being forced into a strike that only concerned Brisbane. However, we managed to skulldrag them to vote for the strike resolution.
An amusing incident was that two days previously, George Martens and I had organised the hairdressers and barbers into the Hairdressers’ Union. Alex Skirving, secretary of the union, had asked me to try and get a branch started in Townsville. We were successful, and during the meeting, some of the prospective unionists expressed fear that they might become involved in a strike. I assured them that there was no possibility of such a tragedy. Within 48 hours the general strike was declared and these unhappy recruits to the ranks of unionism had their baptism of fire and were forced to become wicked strikers!
“Bill” McCormack, as secretary of the A.W.A., became general secretary of the strike committee. How he ascended or descended from that high and responsible office at Townsville in 1912, history has recorded. Posterity will judge him as strike leader and Labour Premier, probably to the latter’s great disadvantage.
Once the strike was declared, it caught the imagination of the workers of Townsville. Like a bush fire, the enthusiasm spread and one could almost visualise a complete triumph for the workers. Record meetings were held, at one of which, Fred Martyn, then secretary of the Far Northern district of the A.W.A., made an oratorial bon mot which for many years has been quoted in A.W.U. circles. Martyn, no one would accuse of being a militant, said in his oratorial flight: “There is no reason why the workers of Townsville should not have a first-class revolution on high-class lines.”
McCormack was in his element as a strike leader and evinced unquestionable ability and the necessary verve to conduct a big scale strike. Many exciting incidents occurred. I was with McCormack in the strike committee rooms the first morning of the strike. A man with bulging eyes rushed in exclaiming “Mac, three cabbies are out on the cab rank – what will we do?” “Do?” replied McCormack, “Why, upset the bastards, but, don’t come and tell me you have done it.”
As the police force had been sadly depleted reinforce the hard-pressed police in Brisbane, detachments of police were hastily rushed from wherever they could be obtained. In the meantime the police had a hard and worrying time.
The weather was blazing hot, and a crowd of strikers would march two or three miles out of the centre of the city. Of course, the police to go with them to prevent possible trouble. On returning to the town, a fresh crowd would march, shouting and demonstrating, in the other direction with the unfortunate police as an unwilling body-guard.
At one of the strike committee meetings it was reported that a train load of frozen meat was be taken early in the morning from Alligator Creek works to the wharf at Townsville for shipment. The committee discussed the best method to checkmate this move.
A delegate, well known in Townsville, solemnly rose and with a stately dramatic gesture and deep tones, said “Comrades, that train will not arrive at the wharf. This is my big responsibility. Leave it to me.” The committee asked no questions and this saviour of the situation marched out of the room to carry out his obligations.
Whatever doubts any of us might have had to the fate of the train load of meat were quickly settled by its safe arrival at the wharf according to the bosses plan. Either the supposed plot or plan, or the responsible delegate had failed, probably the latter, as he did not appear for several days.
Realising that after a week or ten days time that unless the strike was called off, collapse and disaster would inevitably follow, McCormack and I conferred on the question. We both saw the danger of the situation, and it was agreed that McCormack as general secretary of the strike committee, wire to the Brisbane strike committee chairman, H. Coyne, urging that committee to advise that the strike at Townsville be called off. I also sent a private wire to Charlie Seymour, then editor of the “Worker,” on the matter. We learned later, on returning to Brisbane, that Coyne and the strike committee members strenuously opposed the Townsville proposal, but after some hours debate, grudgingly wired the desired instruction. As soon as we got the wire from Brisbane, McCormack called a special meeting of the strike committee and read the Brisbane wire. With that strange perversity of some individuals, the same men we had practically to bludgeon into the strike now wailed just as dolefully because it was to be ended. They accused the A.W.A. of underground engineering and wire-pulling. McCormack in reply said very truly, that it is easy to start a strike, but it often demanded courage and intelligence to know when to call it off, and to do so. However, he said, if the other unions wanted to remain on strike, the A.W.A. would agree and its members would be still on strike while many other unionists would be rushing and crawling back to their jobs. The motion to call the strike off was eventually adopted and the unionists of Townsville had cause to be thankful that this policy had been carried out.
In Brisbane the workers had responded whole-heartedly to the strike call, and the city and country were industrially paralysed. The solidarity displayed was an inspiring example of the workers power and unity, and it was a tragedy that as such it was permitted to end in disintegration and humiliating defeat. This disastrous finish was due to the leadership of men who, “dressed in a little brief authority,” could not or would not see the inevitable collapse of a long hopeless fight against impossible odds. Bloated with an erroneous idea of their own importance and intelligence, Harry Coyne, Joe Collings, and other foolish leaders, continued to tell their audiences that the workers were “winning all along the line.”
As a display of working class determination to stand and fight together for a vital union principle, the Brisbane general strike was magnificent. Its final collapse after six weeks’ fight was a debacle that could have been averted if the leaders had had the “courage and intelligence” to end the strike when it was definitely seen that the entire forces of the State were arrainged against the workers. If that had been done, the Brisbane general strike would have succeeded in giving a lesson of working class solidarity, discipline and intelligence, that would have always remained to the credit of the workers.
At the A.W.A. Conference, a keen debate ensued on a proposed amendment to the rule that accepted small employers as members of the union. It is interesting to note that McCormack strongly supported the exclusion of all employers while Theodore vigorously opposed it. McCormack said that business men only joined from business reasons. An employer might be a good unionist as long as his interests were not touched, but, as soon as they were, he opposed the unions as bitterly as anyone. He opposed the admission of employers. Publicans, for instance, often joined to get custom, but they would be no help if the wages of those they employed were proposed to be raised. McCormack, continuing, said he was surprised at Mr. Theodore. Just because he (Theodore) was a politician and had votes from some employers who voted Labour, he was willing to sacrifice principle for expediency. Socialists and the employers were absolutely opposed and there could be no community of interests between them. They ought not to compromise.
When in the fullness of time, McCormack became a Labour Minister and a member of the Queensland Central Executive of the Australian Labour Party, he always insistently advocated the recognition and endorsement of “approved” employers as Labour representatives, although it must be conceded that there is a difference between the status of a union and that of a political Labour Party. The conference compromised by reducing the number of employees an employer member could employ from five to two.
A motion I moved to delete the rule debarring “coloured aliens” from membership evoked strong opposition and was eventually defeated by eight votes to six. I pointed out that the exclusion of coloured workers who were resident in Australia was wrong both morally and materially, and could not be justified by any intelligent working class organisation. Surely after deciding to admit employers the union would not reject workers who as good unionists desired to join?
It was on this motion that I first came into direct conflict with Theodore and, until he disappeared from the Labour movement, was in constant warfare with his reactionary policies and utterances. Theodore raved like a schoolboy at the bare thought of “prostituting” the Australian Labour Movement “by breaking down the White Australia Policy.” I listened in amazement to the puerile, stupid utterances that poured from Theodore’s lips in his bitter prejudice against coloured workers.
F. Martyn remarked that he was not opposed to international Socialism, but he had no sympathy with my ideals as they were unworkable.
McCormack agreed that the problem was a serious one and as a matter of self-protection against a large army of potential scabs that the coloured workers should be organised.
Two days later two Japanese warships arrived in Townsville and hundreds of seamen came ashore. The delegates came into contact with them in the afternoon after the conference had adjourned. The Japs. were an interesting study. Clean and strictly sober, they were a marked contrast to British Navy men ashore, who often “paint the town red” and end up with a riot. Many of these Japs. spoke broken English and they intermingled freely with the conference delegates, including Theodore.
One of the Japs. gave me a cigarette and when I proceeded to light it with a match, he ejaculated: “No! No!” and with his lighted cigarette in his mouth held his head up for me to get a light. The next day a large cartoon by Theodore was handed round the conference table depicting the above scene and entitled: “Lane in his celebrated ‘Brotherhood of Man’ act.” I secured the cartoon, a very good one. Some years later when Theodore was acting Premier, a Japanese warship arrived in Brisbane and became the honoured guests of Theodore. A photo of the Jap. officers and Theodore smoking cigars was published in ‘the “Daily Mail.” Naturally it recalled the Townsville incident. George Martens suggested that he take Theodore’s cartoon of me to Parliament House and get Harry Ryan, then member for Cook, who was at the Townsville Conference and fair cartoonist, to draw a cartoon of Theodore smoking with the Japs., and to circulate the two cartoons round the House.
Ryan apparently agreed, and the cartoon was left with him. But something must have happened. The plan or cartoon never eventuated, neither could Martens nor I ever recover Theodore’s Townsville cartoon of me.
The danger of paid officials on conferences becoming the predominating factor was discussed on a motion to debar all paid officials as delegates. This was defeated, but a motion I moved restricting the number of paid officials eligible to attend conferences as delegates, to one from each district, was carried. This became operative at the next ballot to elect conference delegates and resulted in several paid officials who had been elected having to give place to members of the rank and file.
How necessary such safeguards against the control of Labour organisations by paid officials is manifest to anyone who has taken part in A.W.U. conferences of late years. There the paid officials with their vested interests and natural dislike to anything of a progressive nature have an overwhelming majority and the machine remorselessly steam-rollers every attempt to infuse virility or militancy into the organisation.
On the amalgamation of the A.W.U. and A.W.A. in 1913, the restriction of paid officials as conference delegates was rejected.
Theodore moved the following resolution in relation to the Brisbane General Strike which was carried unanimously: – “This conference views with approbation the magnificent stand taken by the Brisbane workers against the tyranny of the employers and the inaction of the Government, and desires to express its entire satisfaction at the success of the general strike principle.” £100 was also remitted to Brisbane in aid of the general strike fund.
I was agreeably surprised that there was practically no opposition to my proposal that the rules be amended to provide for the purchase and distribution to members of Socialist and working class literature. I stressed the need to disseminate such literature as the most effective method to educate members and build up a sound industrial organisation. W. Bertram said money could not be better employed than in this direction. J. Stopford, then an A.W.A. organiser at Mount Morgan, in support said that the movement had nothing to be afraid of. Far better that a union should be small and solid than big and loosely connected. Other delegates also agreed and the resolution was carried unanimously.
After I had pointed out that the resolution would go in the waste paper basket unless money was definitely set aside by the conference to purchase literature, it was agreed to donate £50 from the sugar strike fund art union.
A proposal I submitted that threepence per member per annum be granted to the literature fund was considered too excessive, but a resolution was carried “that it be an instruction to the executive to spend a sum of not less than £100 per annum on literature.”
A Literature Committee comprising “Jack” Crampton, E. G. Theodore, J. Moir, W. Bertram and E. H. Lane, was appointed to choose and recommend literature to the executive and to purchase same if such recommendations be endorsed.
As an actual fact, except with the approval of Crampton and Moir, I carried out the functions of that committee. Theodore never interested himself and did not know that the gun was even then loaded to deal a staggering blow to the power and reactionaryism of officials. When the literature a year later was circulated amongst the A.W.U. and A.W.A. members throughout Queensland – then Theodore woke up and the explosion took place.
Another interesting question dealt with by the conference was a definite scheme of amalgamation with the Meat Industry Employees Union submitted by the A.W.A. This scheme adopted by the conference was a sound one but, of course, was subject to agreement by the M.I.E.U. This apparently was delayed and eventually the scheme was abandoned and the desired amalgamation never materialised.
On my return to Brisbane I drafted a list of pamphlets and booklets published by Kerrs, the American Socialist publishing house, Chicago, and forwarded it to the executive office, Chillagoe, for endorsement. This was given without question, evidently without any knowledge of the revolutionary character of many of the publications in the selected list. There is no doubt that if that had been known, the executive under the urge and guidance of Theodore, would have, without any hesitation, refused to endorse the purchase of such literature. Fortunately this censorship was not exercised on this occasion and after considerable delay a sum of £50 was made available to the literary committee.
As an old shareholder in Kerrs Publishing Coy., I got the full shareholder’s and trade discount for the A.W.A. literature ordered. I had been in constant communication with Kerrs in connection with the propaganda work of the old Social Democratic Vanguard, so it was with renewed vigour and pleasure that I again got in touch with them. In constant correspondence with various members of the Kerr company, particularly Mary Marcy of “Work Shop Talks” fame, I found the greatest assistance and results from this source.
The International Labour Movement, particularly the English-speaking section, owes a deep debt of gratitude to Kerrs for the fine pioneering printing and publishing work carried out by them nearly fifty years ago. In these modern days of practically unlimited publication, of an endless stream of pamphlets, treatises, and books on Communism, Socialism and every conceivable phase of economics and working class thought, it is impossible for the newer generation to imagine the place that Kerrs filled as propagandists in the Labour movement. Through their enterprise and determination was placed in the hands of countless workers the teachings of Marx, Engels and other leaders and founders of the present day working class movement, which otherwise would have remained unknown.
In addition, Kerrs published “The International Socialist Review,” a monthly magazine contributed to by the brainiest and most advanced Socialist and working class thinkers from all countries. First published in 1900, this magazine supplied a world view of international affairs and a re-perusal of its earlier numbers provides a startling example of prophecies and criticism of many apparently sound Labour policies and activities in various countries that history has since revealed as correct to the last detail. The Russian situation from 1900 onwards, a critical analysis of the German Social Democratic Party as far back as 1910, were all truthfully detailed and reviewed in this magazine.
An aftermath of the Brisbane General Strike was the introduction into Parliament by the Tory Denham Government of anti-strike legislation under the elusive title of “The Industrial Peace Act.” The Labour Party in Parliament was in a hopeless minority and as all anti-working class legislation always commanded a strict line up of Tory members, the passage of the Bill was obviously only a matter of time, and all Labour opposition useless.
The unions considered what action could be taken to counter and prevent the enactment of the pernicious legislation. The Brisbane district council of the A.L.F. decided to convene a conference of all unions and submit a resolution recommending the Parliamentary Labour Party, after opposing the first reading of the Bill, to leave the Legislative Chamber in protest and then immediately tour the State to address meetings and arouse public indignation against the Bill. It was known to be merely waste of time to fight for any modification of the Bill on the floor of the House, and a logical and sensible alternative was the one suggested.
There was a record meeting of union delegates on the Sunday afternoon, and Harry Coyne, as president of the A.L.F., presided. Crampton was out of Brisbane, so I, as vice-president, was deputed to move the resolution. Before the meeting commenced McCormack warned me that the proposal was going to get badly beaten and repudiated by the unions. He was right. After the resolution was formally seconded, the storm broke. Arthur Hall, now Chairman of the Apprenticeship Committee, was the first on his feet. “He was astounded at the audacity of Mr. Lane in moving a resolution dictating to the Labour Party what they should do.” These men, he said, had made the Labour movement and it was outrageous to question their policy or actions. Other speakers followed in the same strain and it was evident that the delegates regarded Labour members as far removed from the rank and file of the unions – sacred and infallible.
Then the chairman, Harry Coyne, seeing the tone of the meeting, rose in his majesty, and said he was very glad to see the attitude adopted with regard to the resolution. If the resolution had been carried, then the charge of the “Courier” and Tory press that the Parliamentary Labour Party was ruled from the Trades Hall would be justified. He (Coyne) considered that this attempt of the unions to lay down a policy for the Labour Party was similar to “the man in the street going to a union conference and dictating its policy!”
And this uncamouflaged repudiation of any rights of the unions to advise or influence Labour politicians by an alleged rank and file industrialist, Harry Coyne, was actually applauded by many delegates! The unions to-day are far short of what they should be, but they are at least in advance of this slavish adulation of Labour politicians, that was such a pitiable feature in 1912.
In order to avoid a humiliating defeat of the resolution, I withdrew it. The Labour Party opposed the Bill, through all its stages, without any effect whatever, and on the last day left Parliament in a body as a protest.
This record would not be complete without a more than passing reference to our new home in Brisbane. On deciding to settle in Brisbane, Mrs. Lane took up the onerous task of finding a house. I had resolved that our permanent home would have to have beautiful surroundings with a good view. One evening Mrs. Lane, after searching for months, said she had found the desired place, overlooking St. Lucia with an enchanting vista of woods, farms, river and mountains. Thus we found our present home “Cosme.” Apart from the outlook, the immediate surroundings of “Cosme” are unique, inasmuch as it is practically in the bush though so close to the centre of the city. Our “gully” is always a sheer delight with its wealth of trees and shrubs and its peaceful solitude. Gum trees, palms, bamboos, tree ferns, mangoes, papaws, poinciana, bougainvillea, poinsettia, and frangipanni, with creepers and a sequestered lawn make “Cosme” a real dream of beauty. With years of enjoyable toil I terraced the gully, thus finding happy surcease from the unending conflict that was the warp and woof of my existence.
When “Jimmy” Stopford was one of the rebel army, he visited “Cosme” once when I was working at the terraces and said: “Oh, well, if I was an employer I would never give you a job; you work too hard at home.”
“Cosme” itself has housed many good comrades, many, alas, now dead, or worse still , betrayed the movement and abandoned their old beliefs in the workers’ cause, which was their greatest glory. Many gatherings at “Cosme” marked a renewed inspiration for those of us who under all circumstances saw in a virile Labour movement the one sound hope of world progress. One of our many friends who found a haven of rest at “Cosme,” wrote in deep appreciation: “I don’t know when I have ever been happier, in the sense of contented, as when visiting your place. It is not only the lawn and the gully – the house itself would appear to take one unto itself. and be friendly. Friends are too far apart for one to forget them when once found. Even if I live to be a hundred, which God forbid, I cannot conceive of my ever becoming so rich, in memories that I could forget the days and nights of “Cosme.”
Visitors from the southern States particularly appreciated the gripping beauty of “Cosme” and all with artistic love of the beautiful capitulated to its charms.
Wallace Nelson, with true Nelsonian philosophy, said: “I have a beautiful house and home at Mosman (Sydney), but I would willingly give it all for this; and you,” he exclaimed, “are a revolutionary – why, you are a bloody fool! No revolution would give you anything finer than this – indeed probably it would be taken from you.”
What memories arise when thinking of “Cosme!” The comrades to whom it was a centre of attraction, of a “home away from home,” even of inspiration. How few are left within that magic circle – George Martens, Gordon Brown, Donald Grant, “Charlie” Collins, Myles Ferricks, Tom Walsh, Adela Pankhurst, Frank Anstey, Harry Holland, Pat Hickey, Bob Ross and countless others. The “Cosme” atmosphere, of course, could not have been possible without the unselfish co-operation of my wife, also of Dorothy, our eldest daughter, when she emerged from childhood.
One of nature’s Communists, nothing was too much trouble for Mrs. Lane and the happy result was that “Cosme” radiated comradeship and was a living embodiment of that community of fellowship which is the very basis of the Labour movement. My brother John loves “Cosme” and its quiet beauty, but always conditions his appreciation by saying that “Cosme” is not Brisbane.
If I have over-emphasised “Cosme,” it is because it has played a large part in my life since returning from South America. For years it was the actual centre of my activities in the movement and the meeting place of the rebel fraternity, many of whom were either members of the A.W.U. or other unions that engaged in similar militant activities.
So “Cosme” had indeed been a perpetual source of strength and comfort to me when the clouds were darkest and much seemed lost. Today it still retains its dear characteristics, albeit in a somewhat minor key due to, many changes that have arisen in the passage of years.
At the State elections held in April, a number of Labour members were elected in the metropolitan area as a direct result of the workers reaction after the general strike. This reaction had not yet permeated the outside electorates with the result that the Tory Denham Government received another three years’ lease of office. W. McCormack was, however, elected Labour member for Cairns, which placed his feet on the rungs of the political ladder on which he climbed to the Premiership and other spheres of material prosperity.
On the immediate resignation of McCormack, John Mullan, of Charters Towers (now Attorney-General), was elected general secretary by the executive council of the A.W.A.