Canberra Union Voices raised again!

Director Chrissie Shaw, a legend in Canberra theatrical circles, is back leading the Canberra Union Voices, starting with the year’s first practice on Wednesday 3 March 2020.

Every town needs a good union choir, and here is ours, for all interested singers to join. A recent quote from an anonymous singer:

“I have found it to be an incredibly pleasurable experience.  Chrissie teaches us how to breathe properly, and there are warm up scales and many wonderful union songs.”

Practices are at 2 – 3.30 p.m. at the Dickson Tradies Club. The cost is $20.00 per week or $75.00 for the term.

Contact: Andrew Blankensee 0421 193 794.

 Photo: Canberra Union Voices, 2010, from the archive.

“Women of Steel” — BHP in Wollongong

Film director Robynne Murphy came to one of our meetings in 2019 (read about this below), with news about her film “Women of Steel”, at that time still in the making.

Since then the film has been completed and last year it was a documentary finalist in the Sydney Film Festival. “Women of Steel” also won the History Council of NSW’s 2020 Applied History Award; and was a finalist in the 2020 ATOM (Australian Teachers of Media) Best Documentary awards, in the two categories of History, and Social & Political Issues.

Recently a number of Vintage Reds found they had all had the same excellent idea and booked tickets to see the film at Smith’s in Alinga Street. It’s a wonderful story, beautifully told, and the audience went away uplifted and impressed by what can be achieved by people coming together with a common purpose. It was particularly moving that most of the women were migrants and took on a reluctant and powerful company (BHP) in a second language.

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Miles Franklin in America

Verna Coleman, Miles Franklin in America, Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career
(Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1981)

Reviewed by Adrian Cameron, March 2021

In 2013 I attended in Canberra a conference for the Australian Teachers of History as part of Canberra’s Centenary celebrations. One of the most impressive speakers was Professor Marilyn Lake. She was looking at Australia in 1913. It was her view that in those days Australia was seen internationally to be the pinnacle of progressive development. She argued that the link between “progressives” in Australia and the USA (particularly in Chicago) was strong and that the Americans were very impressed with the steps being taken by the new nation. She indicated that she was writing a book on this link, which arrived in the Yass Library six years later!

Stella Miles Franklin started work in a Department Store. Then later, via a network that linked across the Pacific, she joined the National Women Trade Union League. As an employee, she travelled on their behalf across many parts of the USA to support workers and unionists involved in major union action.

Though she started as just an administrative assistant, eventually she became editor of ‘Life and Labour’, a journal on working women, for the NWTU. In this role, Stella Franklin attended the 1912 Progressive Party presidential convention, where former president Theodore Roosevelt was nominated as their candidate after he had broken away from the Republicans. He was unsuccessful and progressive policies (pro-union and pro-women) were lost.

Having had my interest in this period developed, I came across this book on Miles Franklin. Franklin left Australia in 1906 to seek literary success overseas but arrived in San Francisco just days after the devastating earthquake! After assisting with voluntary work she then headed for Chicago, which was then seen as both the best and worst of life in a Mega-City.

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Vintage letter writers

The fabulous Vintage Reds fired off a couple of good letters which topped the page today, as below:

Right-royal waste.
The expenses incurred in the Mountbattens’ proposed travel (carbon emissions!), their security entourage, ad-visers, general hangers-on & royalist political sycophants could be in the millions – & should, more appropriately, be devoted to bushfire victims’ wellbeing (“William & Kate to visit bushfire-hit regions”, Feb. 12, p3)
Albert M. White, Queanbeyan

Picking up the cheque.
So a couple of British ‘royals” are to tour Australia. I’m OK with that as long as they’re paying their own way. They are paying their own way, aren’t they?
Fred Pilcher, Kaleen

November 2019 Guest Speaker, Greg Fry, “Framing the Pacific”

Greg has worked for many years on the Pacific, and his book, Framing the Islands: Power and Diplomatic Agency in Pacific Regionalism, was published earlier in the year by ANU Press (free download here).

Greg asked us to consider our Australian perspective and why we always get things wrong in our relationship with the countries of the Pacific.

How can we do better? Not by thinking of us all as a family, as the prime minister Scott Morrison has done. Australia in this scenario would be the bad brother of the Pacific.

Australia’s deep assumptions about the people of the Pacific parallel the way we have thought about aboriginal people in this country. We don’t really see them; we don’t expect them to have agency over their own lives.

A second preconception is that Australia has a natural right to lead in the region. The Pacific is seen as “our” backyard. And a third: we’re leading in the Pacific in a sort of deputy sheriff role for the USA.

Source: Center for Pacific Islands Studies: https://hawaii.edu/cpis/research-and-publications/research-aids-resources/

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Kieran Donaghue, German Lessons

German Lessons is a new novel by Canberra writer, Kieran Donaghue.

This dramatic and profound story shows us how history is lived at the personal level. In the early 1930s, Frank Hannaford, a young Australian Catholic, goes to Germany to study. He learns German, he makes friends. While the Nazis are consolidating their power, ordinary German Catholics are mostly resistant. Then the Catholic Church in Germany suddenly withdraws its opposition to National Socialism and the group of students is torn apart.

Visit Kieran’s website http://www.kierandonaghue.com to find out more about the author and the background to the story.

German Lessons is published by Palaver Press, a start-up publisher dedicated to fostering new ideas in the fields of ethics and reconciliation. Find out more at smallpressnetwork.com.au, or at http://www.palaver.com/about.

Pam Blakeley of the Vintage Reds had the pleasure of meeting Kieran and interviewing him for our website.

Interview with Kieran Donaghue, December 2019

You’ve focused on the dilemma for the Catholic Church as Nazism takes over. Why did you decide to look closely at this situation?

It goes back to the figure of Eugenio Pacelli. He became Pope Pius XII in 1939 and was Pope through the second world war and up until his death in 1958. There is substantial controversy about Pius XII and what he did, or more importantly did not do, in support of the Jews. There is significant evidence that he was aware of the Holocaust relatively early in the war, yet it seems he did very little to thwart it, though questions remain about his scope for action.  [photo: Wikimedia Commons]

I read a book called Hitler’s Pope [by John Cornwell, published 1999], a controversial title, which reviews arguments relating to Pius XII during the second world war. In reading this it became evident to me that in the early 1930s the Catholic Church was a vehement opponent of Nazism. Right up until Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933 and the subsequent election where the Nazi Party took complete control, the Catholic Church had opposed Nazism. But once the Nazis were firmly in power this opposition disappeared almost overnight.

In historical terms that’s interesting: Why did it happen? Was it inevitable? But these are questions for historians. I was more interested in the possibility of a fictional exploration of this time.

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Letters to the Editor, Canberra Times

Vintage Reds members are a prolific source of informed comment in the letters pages of our local paper. Here is a selection, carefully gleaned online…

Canberra Times, 18 December 2019: Hemlock anybody?
Those criticising Greta Thunberg should note that Socrates said when the debate is lost slander becomes the tool of the losers.
Fred Pilcher, Kaleen

Canberra Times, 9 December 2019:
Scott Morrison says his just announced public sector changes will improve both services to the public and delivery efficiency. But he didn’t ask the public about what we need or the service about how they can improve delivery.

So who advised him? Was it political staffers, or perhaps business lobbyists? Or did a bunch of politicians just get together and make stuff up?

And would now be a good time to start feeling afraid? Or even very afraid?
Pauline Westwood, Dickson

Canberra Times, 27 November 2019: Why Westpac? Why?
Westpac has been accused of breaking anti-money laundering laws 23 million times and will ostensibly be fined for having done so.

That’s like accusing my lawn mower of cutting my grass too short and fining it some of the petrol in its petrol tank. Westpac is a legal entity composed of nothing but pieces of paper; it has no more capacity to break the law than my lawnmower has the capacity to choose the height of its blades.

While Westpac hasn’t broken any laws per se, the people running it who must take responsibility for what has occurred will walk away with little more than a reduction in their multi-million dollar bonuses.

It’s well past time we abolished the legal nonsense that corporations are “natural persons” which can be held responsible and punished for crimes resulting from the actions of executives and employees. Until the people who are actually responsible are held personally liable nothing will change.
Fred Pilcher, Kaleen

Canberra Times, 27 November 2019: Firefighters on welfare
I wonder how many of our wonderful volunteer firefighters are subjected to the cashless welfare card?
Pauline Westwood, Dickson

Canberra Times, 18 November 2019: Humpty Dumpty moment
This is Frydenberg’s journey “Through the Looking-glass”, where, like Alice’s Humpty Dumpty, words can mean anything, even more so in translation(!) in a subjective legal environment.  Time may subliminally foil “Enforceable conditions” imposed on Bellamy’s sale contract “supporting jobs in Australian” (Takeover deal no real threat, CT, 16 November, p.6).
Albert White, Queanbeyan Continue reading

Ion Idriess, Forty Fathoms Deep

Ion Idriess, Forty Fathoms Deep (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1937)

Review essay by Pamela Blakeley, December 2019

By the early 1930s Broome in Western Australia was a thriving town, ‘a tiny place, yet the richest and greatest pearling port the world has ever known’. Idriess spent more than a year there and wrote Forty Fathoms Deep based on his own experiences and first-hand information.

The main story is about the romantic, guitar-playing Castilla Toledo from Manila. He is a young, good-looking diver on Bernard Bardwell’s lugger Phyllis, and he is desperate to find a pearl so that he can marry the white girl of his dreams. Every now and then a pearl is discovered inside the pearl shell which is the basis of the industry. Approximately one pearl shell in 500 contains a natural pearl. At the time a single pearl could fetch hundreds or thousands of pounds in Broome and far more when it was resold in Europe. Bardwell warns Toledo against the girl, an adventuress from down south, and indeed she marries another man as soon as Toledo has put to sea. Toledo finds
another girl. He still needs a pearl in order to marry.

Toldedo returns to sea and works like a demon, provoking the crew to introduce chilli powder into his lifeline to force him to come up from the bottom of the sea. Towards the close of the season, an unrecognised vessel fishes nearby for several days. Then one afternoon a dinghy comes off her and races towards the lugger. A white man jumps aboard in great excitement. The master immediately takes him down below. The man, naïve in the cunning ways of Broome, has found an exquisite pearl and wants to show it off! The master estimates its worth at over £5000 and suggests showing it to his diver, Toledo. ‘Toldeo’s heart leapt at the sight of the pearl, the world stood still for him.’ They drink and smoke and admire the pearl. They have dinner. Toldeo drinks little himself but keeps the glasses of the two men full. Soon the men are drunk, and the wind has whipped up. The visitor finally wraps the pearl in soft paper, puts it into a match box and, helped by Toledo, takes to his dinghy and rows away unsteadily. However, the pearl is in Toledo’s pocket, the empty matchbox in the pocket of the other man. Continue reading

Union Organising in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Communities in North Queensland

A presentation by Bill Thompson to the Vintage Reds ACT on Tuesday 17 September 2019 at the Tradies Club, Dickson ACT 1

Bill acknowledged the Ngunnawal people, the custodians of this land and the land on which we met, and paid his respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples past and present.

I was appointed as the North Queensland Organiser by the Municipal Officers Association (MOA), Queensland Branch, in July 1985. The union later to merged with others to form the Australian Services Union. My area of responsibility was the northern half of Queensland, or that area above a line drawn between Birdsville inland to Bowen on the coast.

It was a difficult time to be appointed, as the South East Queensland Electricity Board industrial dispute had been raging (and that is not too strong a word) for five months, and it was the year in which great changes were occurring in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community councils, not the least in their governance. With the introduction of the Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT), a significant disruption in the administration of those councils had occurred.

Much of what follows is anecdotal and personal observations. But here I must digress.

Have you heard the joke about the bloke who went to the doctor – he had a monkey growing out of his head. Tell me said the doctor, “how did this begin?” Well, said the monkey, “it started with a spot on my bottom’. At the risk now of enraging the Queenslanders in the room, I need to set the political scene in Queensland in 1985.

“Rural, backward, racist, populist, authoritarian and corrupt”. So said Seymour Martin Lipset an American political scientist, who in the context of the USA said “every country has a South”. We in Australia have a North, in this case Queensland under the Bjelke-Petersen Government, which had been in office since 1968. The definition suited Queensland to a ‘T’, as the Liberal-Country Party (later the Liberal National Party), well entrenched both politically and within that society, was resolutely opposed to change, unless it was to the detriment of its political enemies. Queensland was to prove the political monkey on the back (not the head) of the Australian body politic for decades. No doubt, a sentiment shared by Gough Whitlam. Continue reading

July 2019 Guest Speaker, Lara Watson

Lara acknowledged that we met on the country of the Ngunnawal and paid her respects to elders past and present. She herself is a Birri Gubba woman from central west Queensland.

Lara is the ACTU’s Indigenous Officer and has worked for two years with the ACTU’s First Nations Workers’ Alliance. She spoke about the federal government’s “Community Development Program” (CDP), a work-for-the-dole scheme which was launched by Tony Abbott in 2015. The CDP has its roots in the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme, established in 2003, with similar programs running in remote communities since the 1970s.

The FNWA is an alliance of union members, trade unions and union-like organisations giving CDP people a voice. Lara reports the work of FNWA to the indigenous committee of the ACTU. So far it’s just her! She covers the whole country. She relies on national unions to get information out.

The CDP is the work-for-the-dole program which only operates in remote Indigenous communities, some regional towns with high Indigenous populations and is different from JobActive the work-for-the-dole program covering everywhere else. The CDP is a racist and disfunctional scheme. The worst aspect of it is the punitive measures in place for infractions of its rules. It features aggressive job provision services run by private Job Service Providers. 

Lara mentioned a case of a young bloke who was “breached” [i.e. in violation of the rules, so not paid] for eight weeks for refusing to operate a drop saw with no protective clothing or gear.  When you are breached for eight weeks you get no money coming, not even the social security payment that the rest of Australia can rely on if suddenly finding themselves out of work.

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