Improvising nomads  
[6,456 words/11,584 including notes]

Opening The Australian Legend, Russel Ward reported that “[a]ccording to the myth the ‘typical Australian’ is a practical man … a great improviser, ever willing ‘to have a go’ at anything … He tends to be a rolling stone, highly suspect if he should chance to gather much moss.”[1] Although Ward drew this version of the “nomad tribe” of improvisers from pastoral workers, he could have been writing about building and construction labourers who, moreover, shared the characteristics of drinking and gambling,[2] mateship, independence and Irishness.

Ward faced difficulties of time and place in explaining the persistence of the type. He dealt with the temporal disconnect by showing how several of the conditions of working up country before 1850 had been repeated during the gold rushes, before being made mythic around bushrangers. To overcome the spatial divide, Ward had to demonstrate how an outback legend had conquered while a growing proportion of the population was settling into urban centres along the coast.[3] He pointed to the Bulletin as one conduit for how bush yarns and a rural ethos attracted city dwellers.[4]

The rural-urban divide affected class formation in Australia differently from in Europe where the peasantry had had deeper roots in localities than did up-country proletarians or small settlers.[5] There, the forging of labour-power into a commodity had driven rural workers into urban employments, or overseas.[6] Those migrations severed labourers from their sources of self-sufficiency. Australians looking for work were as likely to move from the cities to the bush, carrying town attitudes into the countryside and bringing rural sentiments back to the coast. Many bush workers were also city labourers, who shifted from construction sites to shearing sheds, or between the building trades and fruit picking; they left off navvying along the railway to take up mining; sailors came ashore as riggers and dogmen; labourers sold their capacities as pick-and-shovel men or as bush carpenters; they assisted tradesmen and took their places, chased work through the suburbs and from the cities to the country. They humped carcasses around abattoirs. Oft times, they were on the grass. They spoke of this skein as “following the job”. [7] The mobility of workers contributed as much to the acceptance of the type as did the balladists and writers. A Carcoar correspondent for the Town and Country Journal criticised the coming generation of railway navvies in 1885 for infecting the bush with larrikinism; his description of their style of dress was close to that of the Kelly supporters known as the Greta Mob.[8]

This article unpicks four strands of improvising nomads in relation to building and construction labourers. First, their nomadism will be documented, showing also how their switching between industries required relocation. Secondly, the labourers’ movements gyrated around localities to which most attached themselves, for if many were nomadic, few were rootless; as ever, memories threaded together the flows across space and time. Thirdly, the pursuit of jobs spurred labourers “to have a go”, an improvising which required mobility up and down the trades, giving a twist to equality and independence. Finally, the analysis moves past the folklorist and literary approaches by returning the nomadic improvisers to their place within the dynamics of wage-labour versus capital. 

I. On the wallaby
In describing the origins of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), John Merritt pointed up the cycles of employment:

Clearing, earth moving and building usually ceased during the shearing season and contractors and their employees would seek work as shearers or shedhands.

For most of the year, these city and town dwellers worked intermittently on municipal work gangs, or building sites, in flour mills, foundries or engineering shops and on the wharves. The proceeds from a couple of sheds enabled them to cope with the fluctuations in urban home building, the jobbing-shop environment of Australian manufacturing and the seasonal variations in urban unskilled work.[9]

Contractors hired coal miners to excavate the Sydney telephone tunnel and the Glebe tunnel in 1900.[10] Non-economic impulses drew some to the open-air of building sites when factory-hands escaped the iron cage of process work, miners sought relief from troglodyte confines and dirt farmers from loneliness. Another reason for mobility was the blacklisting of activists. After the 1909 lockout at Port Pirie, several Wobblies agitated across the State, one joining the United Labourers’ Union to organise fruit-pickers before becoming prominent around Adelaide .[11] NSW Secretary Jack Millard described much of his Branch membership in 1913 as “wanderers”:

They are men who follow the occupation for two weeks at a job. I have taken their names, and they have been on a week till they get their pay, and I would catch again them two or three months after, floating … In a lot of cases, as soon as they get a pay, it is “off”.[12]

In the winter of 1916, the majority of ABLF members at Queenscliff “were at other work”.[13]

As a young engineer, John Monash supervised construction works throughout Victoria . In 1891, he described the habits of pick-and-shovel men:

Navvies are generally restless and when work is plentiful go from one job to another out of pure caprice. In the country he might when contracts were scarce turn farm hand (at smaller pay), miner, perhaps shearer, wood-feller. But he generally travels with his whole household long distances to get work on contracts with better pay

… a horse and dray … is part of the stock in trade of many of them, and in this they carry away their household goods when they travel for fresh work.[14]

These navvies were on the outer-suburban line, but their kind drifted in and out of the metropolis and to the reservoirs. At Mildura in 1890, the Chaffey Brothers complained that their field labourers were working for “a short time” before they got “a cheque and clear out,”[15] and denounced strikers as “a mob of wandering swagmen”.[16] During the 1890s depression and drought, “caprice” became less convincing as an explanation for mobility as “the hordes of artisans, labourers, clerks, larrikins, and social camp followers” swarmed “out of the cities into the poverty-cursed country districts.”[17] At the same time, the three Hannah brothers shifted from Melbourne to Perth and Adelaide , and back again, to lead building unions in each city. Also in the West for the 1897 building trades dispute were the Theosophist carpenter, Montague Miller,[18] the Secretary of the colony’s Builders’ Labourers’ Society, Bill Mellor, who had agitated in Sydney and Melbourne , and his comrade from Newcastle , Hugh de Largie.[19]

The experiences of one nomad, A. J. Sullivan, exemplified the transitions between bush worker and builder’s labourer. Although a progenitor of the AWU, Sullivan chose to publish his memoirs in the Builders’ Labourers’ News (BLN). Across fifty years, he went from farmhand to shearer, while shifting back and forth between navvy, builder’s labourer and miner. As a stripling, he shouldered his swag in 1872 to seek experience and a fortune. He turned to navvying in 1878 on the rail line between St Arnaud and Dunolly. As a fully-fledged shearer, he travelled around Australia , gaining knowledge of “harvest hands, navvies and general workers.” Between 1884 and 1886, Sullivan busied himself with the formation of shearers’ unions across the Riverina, and then in Tasmania . By 1892, he had found work in Melbourne , first on the Tooronga gasometer and then on the Glen Iris rail line; next year, he carried the hod on the quarantine station at Portsea. Following this stint on the coast, he spent seventeen years in mines around Rutherglen where he perceived that the seams into which he and his workmates were burrowing had been streams before “mighty convulsions” buried them. Change was the one constant in nature, a lesson Sullivan carried across to political and industrial activism while “following the job”.[20]

Sullivan’s story was the kind of evidence that the Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation (ABLF) needed to gain a hearing before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1913 by satisfying the constitutional requirement under Section 51 (xxxv) of being involved in a dispute “beyond the limits of any one State”. Union officials testified that when firms accepted inter-State contracts they took labourers with them. During 1912, the Victorian Branch had issued 200 cross-border clearances.[21] The sprawl of nomadism is confirmed by the clearances that the Victorian Branch granted to its members in the late 1920s when Bro. C. Watt went shearing, as did Bros Allen and Riley who followed the clip every year; Bro. Scott had accumulated overdue fees of £4 12s 6d while banana-growing in Queensland ; late in 1928, Bro. Wilson wanted to stay financial although he was farming at Traralgon; and Bro. Wilkins moved to the Adelaide Coachbuilders’ Union in July 1929. The minutes recorded: “These men received our wages but were in other unions – they were not permanently on our work but were changing about in different jobs.”[22] West Australian Paddy Troy (b. 1908) took work as a shop assistant, gardener, shearer’s roustabout, seaman and miner before becoming a rigger on construction sites, shifting between Mt Magnet in the north and Albany to the south, while retaining ties with his birthplace at Fremantle.[23]

II. Nodes for nomads
Observing navvies from outside and above, Monash had been puzzled by their arriving “from no one knows where like crows around a carcase, and when the work is over they vanish as mysteriously.” At the same time, he acknowledged that “a popular ganger always knows where to find 20 or 30 favourite men.”[24] Such combinations suggest more than “pure caprice” behind their pathways. Just as swaggies left signs for each other, so itinerants learnt the tracks to travel to locate their next job. The struggles of railway navvies from 1860 to 1890 revealed the importance of local linkages.

John Vans Agnew Bruce had charge of the £3,357,000 contract to build a rail line from Melbourne to the Murray .[25] When he cut wages in July 1861,[26] the navvies struck, marching down the track to Kyneton and through Castlemaine, before 600 “turn-outs” advanced towards Woodend.[27] At a meeting with Bruce in the Menzies hotel, a Mr Simpson spoke for his fellow labourers, as he had on most of the delegations during the previous three years.[28] Simpson said that he had not come to negotiate but to make it clear that the navvies were determined to refuse 5s a day. Although they had not formed an organisation, elected any officials, or adopted a set of rules, the navvies did not confine their struggle to a few miles of track but obtained help from their fellows far and wide; Simpson told Bruce that the men were “trusting to contributions from without.”[29] Five labourers at Porcupine signed a letter to the Mt Alexander Mail asking the citizens of Castlemaine to support a meeting to raise funds for the strikers.[30] That gathering set up a Railway Relief Committee to collect subscriptions door-to-door and supplies from merchants and storekeepers who resented the monopoly that the sub-contractors had over supplying the workforce as much as the navvies did the prices charged at the company shanties. [31] One small businessman called on his fellows to remember their own experiences as labourers.[32]

If the movements of the men disrupted any on-going organisation, the contacts made during their travels spun a web of friends who sent gifts, or made loans, some from striking it lucky on a gold field, just as the strikers themselves did a spot of fossicking and panning. Simpson had warned Bruce that the men would wait for agricultural jobs in the spring. The economic climate changed before the season. No sooner had the navvies struck, than the first gold escort reached Dunedin from the Otago field.[33]  Thousands of Victorians headed for New Zealand , depriving Bruce of a reserve army of labourers. [34] On 19 August, he sent up a large body of men from Melbourne on 6s per day. The morning after, his agent was offering to restore the 7s rate. Before the month was out, contractors on the Geelong to Ballarat line had to pay 10s. The balance of class forces had shifted and, hence, the socially necessary costs of reproducing labour power had increased.[35] Meanwhile, the Kyneton navvies defended themselves against charges of incitement to riot and assault by establishing their sobriety and character with testimony that they had had their families with them, squatting by the track in “snug” winter quarters.[36] A Melbourne magistrate accepted enough of their evidence to acquit one and to sentence the rest to just fourteen days.[37]

The importance of localities for itinerants recurred as they engaged in disputes which led to the formation of unions. When railway navvies near Tenterfield resisted a wage cut early in 1884, they had not formed an association, yet their kind had come a good way since the “mobs” of the 1860s. The New England strikers elected a Central Committee to stop all work along the line, to drive off strike-breakers, and distribute the donations that flowed from their fellows elsewhere.[38] The iron rails that tethered the mighty Bush to the world were connecting navvies to each other.

Victorian navvies went a step further in August 1887 by forming the Australian Railway and Public Works Employees Union (AR&PWEU). In each camp, the Union had its own collector, garnering £1,000 in less than a year, which one navvy praised as “so much vitality as ours”. Conflicts erupted along the track. In July 1888, the contractors locked out labourers at Bacchus Marsh after 500 refused to return without 6d a day extra; in December, 500 labourers of the Outer Circle Line struck for that increase. One difference between these strikes and those from twenty years before was that more of the stoppages fed into organisations which outlasted the dispute.[39]

The labourers’ unions of the late 1880s highlighted the expanse of their mobility but also exposed a failure to sink roots in many localities. Late in 1889, the Australian Labour Federation in Brisbane called a meeting to form a General Labourers’ Union (GLU), which gathered together the pick-and-shovel men on all manner of construction sites, from reservoirs to railways and roads, but also enrolled mill-hands, carters, drivers, and storemen-and-packers. The GLU contacted its counterparts in Maryborough, Cairns and near Rockhampton, offering to exchange membership cards, admitting members of the Barcaldine Central Labour Union while setting up suburban lodges. By the Maritime dispute on August 16, the metropolitan GLU had 320 members. Defeat of the Marine Officers did nothing to stem enthusiasm. Lodges opened in Gympie with 309 railway labourers, at Mungar and Mt Coomra. Growth cracked the foundations, bringing on a financial crisis. The GLU had enrolled members with too little organisation in their workplaces or communities.[40] Sustaining a strike, still less a union, among itinerants was nigh on impossible.[41] Survival as an organisation depended on their coming together along rail tracks, or at hiring points for shearers, such as Port Augusta or Barcaldine[42] to rejoin their teams and to renew their union membership.

By the 1840s, Marx and Engels could see that the working classes might remake the world because modern industry brought wage-slaves together in factories and in cities, allowing them to develop collective strength as “new-fangled men”.[43] Those structures could not instil consciousness, which required “human sensuous activity, practice” at every level of life.[44] Illustrating why class consciousness had to be the outcome of social practices, Marx characterised the French peasantry as being “formed by simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.”[45]

Classes are divided by skill, trade and industry. They are also fractured by mobility and locality; in turn, localities are split along class lines, between landlords and tenants, as well as employers and employees. Yet, those contrary forces contributed to the labourers’ achieving a geographic expanse for their unions. Identification with neighbourhoods deepened in the 1880s, for instance, through football clubs,[46] while a continental awareness spread in forms of federation such as the Inter-Colonial Trade Union Congresses between 1879 and 1891. Williamstown workers rallied in 1873-74 to support Sydney iron-workers defending the 8-hour day,[47] and Victorian railway labourers sent funds to Newcastle miners in 1888.[48]

Pockets of the cities were isolated, as at Williamstown and North Sydney , Fremantle and Port Adelaide; at Balmain, in October 1889, 300 labourers formed their own union.[49] The parochialism of lodges was at times a barrier to wider association, but could also become its seedbed. The activists had to learn how to marshal transient labourers, a task which became easier if enough of them settled in localities, close to a transport hub, such as Richmond in Melbourne . During 1898, the Melbourne Lodge of the Builders’ Labourers’ Union fought the Richmond Lodge as much as the bosses; erstwhile Victorian ABLF Secretary, Henry Hannah, recalled that “one lodge would carry a resolution … and the other would do the direct opposite”; punch-ups on sites were a “common occurrence”.[50] In 1900, the ULPS in NSW tried to prevent a Lodge in Newtown from affiliating with the Trades and Labor Council, and did the same against the Builders’ Labourers’ Union in 1902.[51]

The Builders’ Labourers’ Unions from the five Eastern States federated in 1910 through a three-tiered process of merging lodges within the cities, combining navvies with tradesmen’s assistants, and by joining hands across State borders. The movement of labourers between capital cities had established the personal contacts to facilitate this combination. The NSW Secretary had been in Victoria until after the 1906-7 strike; the Queensland President arrived in Brisbane from Sydney in January 1910; the Queensland Secretary travelled to Melbourne to talk the Victorians around.[52]

Employers displayed their class consciousness by recognising how being “settled” had dimensions of both place and social order. In 1884, and again in 1886, the NSW government offered to fund public works in municipalities and shires if they took in some of the metropolitan unemployed. Some local authorities declined, fearful, as one Shire Clerk put it, “that in the event of any Eight-hours men coming down here, they would spoil the regular farm labourers who have been settled here for some years.” The Penrith Magistrate agreed: “To import an unsettled section of the unemployed into the District, would to a great extent, tend to upset the settled portion of the working class of this place.” These agents of capital placed the long-term benefits from keeping a workforce disorganised above the gains from government spending on infrastructure, or any advantage from a downward pressure on wages brought by the “pedestral unemployed”, or “sundowners”.[53]

All communities are imagined, though not imaginary. Labourers made “place” by constructing its buildings and utilities, in the process reshaping the natural environs, and, through their labours, remaking themselves, individually and collectively, physically and mentally.[54] Anecdote and lore, yarns and songs, supplied links between locality with mobility, binding neighbourliness to nomadism.[55] Although urban labourers practised mateship as often as when they went up country, their actions in the cities were passed on as anecdotes more often than they were made literary. For instance, five men died from poisoned air in the South Yarra section of a sewerage tunnel on 28 December 1897; two had sacrificed their lives by going back to rescue the others, one calling out as he plunged into the gas: “Mick, mate, we must get them out.”[56]

Labourers projected the distant past or remote events into current disputes. In 1861, Kyneton’s navvies called one of their leaders “The Captain”. Whether this title resonated with “Captain Swing” of the agricultural rioters is not known, [57] but that such nicknames could bear a political significance was shown by Irish navvies in Queensland in 1866 who echoed the cry of “Bread or Blood” from England in 1816, while recalling the overthrow of Governor Bligh in 1808 and the attacks on Lord Elgin in Montreal in 1849.[58]

Less surprising is the persistence across decades of stories about local struggles. The need to raise track levels on the Melbourne-Murray line in 1862 delivered a bonanza to Bruce but gruel to his labourers, so that, seventeen years later, unionists resented this injustice.[59] In 1922, a labourer recalled how builders, more than 30 years before, had employed “runners” to set a faster pace “to get profit up and finished as quickly as possible.”[60] Throughout the 1920s, the New South Wales ABLF Secretary painted a grim account of Melbourne in the 1880s.[61] Victorian Norm Gallagher compared the 1973 -74 de-registration of the Federation with that of the Queensland Branch after the 1927 strike, four years before he had been born.[62]

Patterns of movement and locality within metropolises deserve their own studies before being integrated with this account of movement between cities and the bush. A starting point is the English immigrant millwright and pattern-maker, Thomas Dobeson, who recorded how he chased work around Sydney in the 1880s:

I consider it harder to look for work than the work itself. A man out here must be of tough material. He must have a pair of strong legs. Let us go together kind Reader and look for work. The day is early and we must not tarry. We will see what is in the tenders. Here is one. Off we go. In half an hour we are there. We are told to go to _____ Street. Away we go again, and in three-quarters of an hour we are there. There are about 30 men here now and a lot more at the end of the street. Some of the men would have to come long distances, up to 8 miles. I myself would have to come 5 miles.

At another job, applicants had the toes out of their boots. Dobeson learnt to pursue every possibility, following a cart of timber to ask the owner for a place. Despite believing that tariff protection created a demand for his skills in Melbourne , he could not afford to move south: “We would have to sell our home at a great sacrifice. We could not let it. There are hundreds of houses empty already.” Dobeson’s trade qualifications did not save him from sharpening saws at sixpence a time, chasing a day’s pay as a poll clerk, or seeking work as caretaker for the Town Hall. Labouring became a prize for this skilled worker.[63]

III. Skills
Ward summarised the “myth” of the “typical Australian” as being distinguished as much for his improvising as by his nomadism. Labourers not only moved about the country, but shifted between industries while scrambling up and tumbling down the skill ladders, with effects on the significance for the Legend of “equality” and “independence”. An unskilled labourer on a building site might have been a semi-skilled operative in a different trade. The lines between unskilled, skilled and multi-skilled were not decided by the possession of a scrap of paper, whether a trade certificate or a union ticket, as is evidenced by the clearance records of the ABLF. In Victoria in the mid-1920s, Brother Hondrien transferred to the Boilermakers, Bro. Perry was cleared to the Brick, Tile and Pottery union, Bro. Mitten had joined the Storemen and Packers but hoped to come back to the ABLF, Bro. Ireland rejoined after having been in business for himself for six months; Bro. Bray asked to be cleared to the Carters and Drivers while Bro. Hammell returned to the boot trade.[64]

Because the AWU in Queensland claimed coverage for almost every unskilled and semi-skilled occupation, less diversity was apparent in Brisbane on 29 May 1928 when two-thirds of the 37 new members for the ABLF came from the AWU; the other 14 had been with the Boilermakers, Seamen’s, Engineers, Iron workers, Furniture Trades, Foodstuffs, Saddlers and Railways, while three had no union attachments. The July meeting admitted one ironworker, one seaman and two carters, two flour millers and a pair of storemen and packers, not to mention one from the Asylum Employees.[65]

Vocabularies contribute clues about interchanges between industries. “Navvy” had its origins in navigator. The goldfields warning “yo-ho” that the traps were coming was later the call for knock-off time on building sites.[66] To indicate that a site had been cleared of scabs, an ABLF organiser in 1913 used “Zambucked”, from a patent ointment, Zambuck, popular among cement workers and shearers.[67] Much of the jargon and most of the knots used by scaffolders and riggers derived from seamen, known around the building game as “shellbacks”.[68]

Craft barriers had fractured in an economy where the demand for buildings outran the supply of tradesmen who had served out their apprenticeship. Indeed, the new chum tradesman found himself at a disadvantage because he lacked “colonial experience”, a quality which involved a willingness to make-do, to perform as an all-rounder and to get along with other workers without expecting deference.[69] Eight-Hours activist Ben Douglass had been apprenticed to a plumber in the United Kingdom , landed in Melbourne in 1855 as a bricklayer, a year later became the foundation President of the Operative Plasterers’ Society and helped to organise labourers.[70] The latter picked up the rudiments of skill from the tradesmen they assisted, while learning knacks from fellow labourers, to make themselves into the “skilled unskilled”.[71]

Settlers adapted building methods to local materials in processes memorialised as “Stringing bark and green hide is the mainstay of Australia ”.[72] This improvising was as prevalent on city buildings as on bush huts, helping the wattle from wattle-and-daub to become a national emblem.[73] After the spread of Veneer saws from 1867, a wood-carver lamented that his skills were not wanted: “the business has degenerated to third-rate found work.”[74] Sydney carpenters complained in the winter of 1882 that they were being paid less than hod-carriers although the construction business was brisk and all the other building trades were doing well. The Bulletin suggested that carpenters were suffering because their branch now included lots of jumped-up men, with few capacities.[75] The apprenticeship system was failing.[76] Labourers with aptitude had absorbed the basics to compete against accredited tradesmen. During the 1888 strike by Melbourne carpenters, they complained about being treated worse than labourers.[77] Fifteen years later, the Carpenters’ Society in Sydney objected because “so many men jumped the trade in this country, they come along as carpenters’ labourers, and afterwards they come on as carpenters.”[78]

House-painting had turned into “a kind of casual trade for all sorts to enter.”[79] The Trades Hall Gazette remarked in 1889 that a man could be a dish-washer one day and a “painter” the next.[80] Next year, one Master Painter reported that he had dismissed seven men who had claimed to be tradesmen but, in truth, were failed “Tailors, boot-makers, grocers and drapers all.” He feared that such untrained brush-hands went from job to job picking up a knack here, or a trick there, until, after a few months, they styled themselves as contractors.[81]

Bricklaying became less skilled from 1880 with a simpler criss-crossing, known as the Colonial Bond,[82] and after the standardisation of cement during the1890s.[83] Builders’ labourer was once synonymous with the hod-carrier who oversaw the whole job, from preparing the mortar (mud) to keeping up the supply of bricks, thereby learning enough to tender for a labour-only contract to erect a brick wall, though not to set an arch or weave a chimney.[84] A navvy might assemble a gang to excavate, and, after the 1890s, to lay the concrete foundations.[85] Just as the colour of cement drew its descriptor from Portland stone, so did its application displace stonemasons, even for the facings of Sydney ’s Trades Hall in 1891.[86]

The determination among tradesmen to hold the line between themselves and their offsiders grew in reaction to the porousness of demarcations around the jobs. As a bricklayer remarked in 1890: “It was not a nice thing for a man to have to work for a master who at one time had carried bricks to him.”[87] Tradesmen got their own back each winter when, according to a Melbourne labourer, they “rush into our ranks and take work out of their line, at a wage they know they cannot live on … until their trade brightens up.”[88] The ABLF’s Federal President reported in 1913 on

a large number of contractors working the same as the men. These small contractors in villa work act as carpenters and bricklayers and sometimes help the plasterers. They will be working on the jobs just the same as a tradesman, taking their place with them.[89]

During the 1916 lockout in Tasmania , the ABLF accepted that carpenters were not scabbing because “carpenters’ labourers have never been in vogue in Hobart , it is a very fine line of demarcation,”[90] which was true for suburbs on the mainland, and throughout the country districts. Hence, the distinctions between a building tradesman and his assistant were not always as sharp as those between that assistant and the navvy. A hierarchy, if not an aristocracy, existed among labourers. Monash had discerned a gradation even between the navvies capable of wielding a pick and those limited to the shovel.[91]

The fraying of skill barriers contributed to equality’s coming to mean not just that Mick thought that he was as good as his master, but that Mick could become self-employed, even a master, if only for a time. The Master Builders’ Association in NSW declared itself “open to the ambitious mechanic who aspired to establish a business of his own.” Its official history observed in 1923 that “the ranks of the Master Builders” were still “recruited from those of the workmen.” [92] Nonetheless, freedom from a display of deference lasted longer for the proletariat than independence from wage-slavery did for individual labourers.

Their rising and falling added intricacies to the making of the Australian working class. Commentators once emphasised the differences between the tradesmen and the miners, shearers, tailoresses and boot-makers who established “New Unionism” from the 1870s.[93] The quest for benefits was not the dividing line between the Craft Societies and the labourers whose need was greater because of their higher rate of harms. The AR&PWEU provided £20 for burials, or for any member who had to leave the trade.[94] The ABLF and the ULPS also maintained funds for injured brethren, and buried their dead.[95]

Previous discussions of the spatial dimension in the self-making of the labour movement have traced the creation of trust through local disputes. Students of skill demarcations have exposed the fissiparous effects on solidarity. Such investigations enrich our understanding and alert us to the variegated experiences within class consciousness.[96] The next task will be neither to inscribe a stasis nor to track mobilities, but to plot the dynamics of their intersections within the needs of contending classes.

IV. Cycles of capital
The significance of mobility in the formation of union solidarity, class consciousness or a national ethos is conditioned by the multiple needs of wage-earners, the self-employed and the employers. Their reproduction as classes generates conflicts with orders of complexity which here can only be indicated.

To the extent that labourers became nomadic improvisers in order to put food on the table, that characteristic is peculiar neither to bush workers and builders’ labourers, nor to the nineteenth century.[97] The expense of maintaining two tables was a disincentive to married wage-earners’ going away for a job,[98] while single workers who moved out of home lost the subsidy that households provided to the socially necessary costs of reproducing their labour power.[99] When the ABLF accepted a reduction in weekly earnings in 1913 to secure a shorter week, one official explained that a “man could save a lot of money by repairing his own and his children’s boots in the spare time and could help to improve his house and do many things like that.” [100] Another official assured Higgins that his men “would often make up for the loss of wages by giving more time to the cultivation of vegetables for the table in their little plots of ground.”[101] Higgins choice of “bizarre” to describe this preference for time over cash indicated the distance between the life of the judge and that of the navvy, a gap which afflicts scholars who overlook the persistence of the domestic economy.

The situation of small holders was more time-bound, altering as the cash economy penetrated rural life, sending selectors and their sons away shearing or onto the construction of railways, silos and reservoirs. The more of their needs, both personal and productive, that the farmers had to buy in, the more of their produce they had to exchange for money. Once they concentrated on commodities for sale, they had taken the first step towards becoming commodities themselves, a challenge they met by improvising co-operatives and Country Parties.[102]

The expansion of money-capital is not the same as its territorial extension,[103] but can occur within a domain already dominated by a body of capitals through their nation-market-state.[104] Although the expanded reproduction of individual capitals and of aggregate capital most often involves a spatial dimension in order to secure materials and customers, the purpose of that physical extension of production-capital and of commodity-capital is to contribute to the growth of money-capital.[105] Its expansion depends, first, on the reach of the power of the state, and secondly, on the disciplining of labour time, with agents of capital extending the former to achieve the latter.

Capitalists are torn between the need for mobility among their employees and the need to tie them down once they start work. At issue is “not simple geographical mobility … but mobility beyond the spatial boundaries of organisational coherence,”[106] as became apparent at Swan River in the late 1820s when Mr Thomas Peel moved outside the labour discipline upheld by the state.[107] For as long as the outback was a terra nullius as far as the capitalist mode of production was concerned, employers replaced convict chains and the lash with Masters’ and Servants’ Acts.[108] Those means of coercion had to be backed by the shadow, and sometimes, the substance of the gun. The absence of armed force compounded the problems that Bruce encountered around Kyneton in 1861 when the Imperial contingent had been dispatched against the Maori,[109] limiting the state’s ability to uphold the law of supply and demand. In later moments of crisis, the state sent artillery to Newcastle in 1888, Gatling guns to Barcaldine in 1891, and troopers into the NSW sheds in 1894.

In addition to armed force, capital needs a reserve army of labourers to hold down labour costs, but also to be ready to begin work as soon as opportunities arise for adding value. Capitalists lose money if they incur interest charges while scrounging for hands. Moreover, an oversupply of labour helps a contractor to get one project finished in time to take on another before the business cycle has turned down.[110]

Capitalists also lose money when they pay workers who are not adding value. A Bulletin contributor claimed in 1894 that “labour’s own legs brought labour without cost to capital’s door.”[111] It was more precise to say that the rural employers’ provisioning of swagmen cost capital less than a rail ticket and on wages during travelling time, while labourers were not adding value. The safety bicycle reduced those times and costs, relieving pastoralists of feeding their shearers’ horses and allowing the teams to reach more sheds during a season.[112]

On building sites, contractors stood workers down for blocks of 15 minutes while waiting for materials to arrive or the rain to stop. When Justice Higgins granted the ABLF a 20 percent loading for “lost time” in the 1913 Award, he contended that this higher hourly rate was to “the advantage of employers” who needed “to have a number of men holding themselves attached to the building trade, ready to take a job in that trade when it is offered, and waiting for the offer.”[113] Higgins further argued that if workers lost too much time, they would quit the industry, depriving employers and the public of the benefits from those who served by waiting. Experience provided little support for Higgins’ argument. For as long as the level of unemployment ran between five and ten percent, Messrs Construction Capital did not need to pay a loading for lost time to attract labourers.[114]

Marx recognised that, to minimise circulation costs, capital pursues “the annihilation of space by time”.[115] This rule rarely applies to the structures on which building and construction labourers add value, since few can be moved from their point of production, despite the long experience with prefabrication. Money-capital moves more easily, generating a demand for office space as exemplified by the construction of Equitable Insurance offices for Melbourne and Sydney in the early 1890s. Apart from speculators, buildings usually have been sold before their foundations are dug. This arrangement shifts the time-costs of capital back to the client who, in turn, limits that charge through progress payments and penalties for delay, risks that the contractors pass on to their labourers through speed-ups, causing injuries to stay fifty percent higher in the sector than throughout the economy.[116]

Looking backward, glancing forward
Ineluctable elements in the expansion of money-capital erase neither the sectoral particularities of that process, nor the socio-cultural inheritances within which it operates. Alertness to the specifics of time and space is essential to locating the Legend within class conflict and for pondering why Ward’s version focused on pastoral workers and was innocent of Marxism.[117] Ward had developed his ideas during the decades when Australia rode on the sheep’s back,[118] publishing The Australian Legend as the economy sustained a building boom for the first time in sixty years. Those circumstances did not prevent N. G. Butlin from representing urban construction as the motor of the boom from 1860 to 1890, Eric Fry from researching the metropolitan working classes in the 1880s, or George Nadel from exploring urban culture in the mid-Nineteenth century.[119] Yet, Ward’s “Apotheosis of the Nomad Tribe” was contemporary in its defence of socialism-as-being-mates against the individualism of Yankee imperialism, a contrast which Ward spotlighted in the concluding chapter, “Two Noble Frontiersmen”.[120] The Australian Legend was part of the folk revival as an alternative to Coca-colaisation, an academic parallel to the Communist Party’s backing of the 1953 musical Reedy River and the launch in 1954 of Overland , with his masthead “Temper Democratic, Bias Australian”.[121]

The failure of that manoeuvre by radical nationalists confirms why our understanding of the “myth” about “‘the typical Australian’” cannot be advanced by adopting either inner Sydney or the bush as its matrix. For a start, the growth of the cities had been possible because of gold and the fleece, with railways and timber-getting as linkages.[122] The crux of the Legend is not a divide between the city and the bush, but rather their interactions within the conflicts between wage-labour and capital. Hence, the materials presented above do not pose mutually exclusive determinants, neither nomadism versus neighbourliness, cabinet-making against bush carpentry, nor builders’ labourers in place of pastoral workers. Analysing other segments of the workforce to enrich our apprehension of the Legend invites researchers to emulate the improvising nomads.

Humphrey McQueen is researching builders’ labourers and their unions.

[1] Russel Ward, The Australian Legend, Oxford University Press, Melbourne , 1958, pp. 1-2.

[2] The bush labourer, A. J. Sullivan, recognised from his earliest encounters with shearers and labourers in the 1870s “the irreparable damage – mentally, physically and morally – that John Barleycorn was doing, and had done. The saddest phase” of the men’s drunkenness “was their cynical pessimism and their cramped and distorted views on social subjects.” Builders’ Labourers News (BLN), 7 July 1916 , p. 5, and 4 August 1916 , p. 1. A Victorian organiser with the Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation (ABLF) in 1924 named “Mr Booze”, SP bookies and card games as the obstacles to collecting dues, ABLF Victorian Branch Minutes, 1 September 1924, Noel Butlin Archives Centre (NBAC), Australian National University (ANU), Z398/20.

[3] Ward returned to the urban question in “The Australian Legend Re-Visited”, Historical Studies, 18 (71), October 1978, pp. 183-90.

[4] Beginning with words and ending with words, Graeme Davison, John Hirst and John Rickard discovered that the makers of the legend had had more in common with academics like themselves than with those who were “sceptical about the value … of intellectual and cultural pursuits generally.” (Ward, Legend, op. cit., p. 2.) Graeme Davison, “Sydney and the Bush: an urban context for the Australian Legend”, Historical Studies, 18 (71), October 1978, pp. 191-209; J. B. Hirst, “The Pioneer Legend”, Historical Studies, 18 (71), October 1978, pp. 316-37; John Rickard, “National Character and the Typical Australian’: An Alternative to Russel Ward”, Journal of Australian Studies, 4, June 1979, pp.12-21. Similarly, a special issue of Australian Cultural History on “The Cult of Practicality” in 1989 ventured no further into the world of work than ideas about education and training.

[5] Flemming Mikkelsen, “Working-Class Formation in Europe and Forms of Integration: History and Theory”, Labor History ( USA ), 46 (3), August 2005, pp. 277-306.

The 1834 Poor Laws spurred the mobility of rural labourers while the abolition of protection for grains during the 1840s aimed to reduce the costs of reproducing labour. Debates continue around Karl Polyani’s 1944 account of the interplay of those commodities, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, Boston , 1957. The effect of “free trade” was not felt in full in the United Kingdom until the 1870s by which time railways were carrying crops to the foreign ports from where the costs of trans-oceanic shipping also declined. In addition, see the debate about the quest for a staple export from Australia, J. W. McCarthy, “The Staple Approach in Australian Economic History”, Business Archives and History, IV (1), February 1964, pp. 1-22.

[6] Linda Clarke, Building Capitalism, Historical Change & the Labour Process in the Production of the Built Environment, Routledge, London, 1992; M. B. and C. B. Schedvin, “The nomadic tribes of urban Britain: a prelude to Botany Bay”, Historical Studies, 18 (71), October 1978, pp. 254-76.

[7] Fifty building tradesmen from Sydney arrived in San Francisco in October 1906 to help with reconstruction after the earthquake, Michael Kazin, Barons of Labor, The San Francisco Building Trades and Union Power in the Progressive Era, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987, p. 125; the foundation Secretary of the ABLF left for the USA in 1912, National Archives of Australia (NAA), B1958 (B1958/1), 9/1912, [hereafter 1913 Transcript], p. 250.

[8] Town and Country Journal, 25 July 1885, p. 171c-d, and 7 May 1892, p. 16d, mentioned by Richard Waterhouse, “The Vision Splendid: Conceptualizing the Bush, 1813-1913”, Journal of Popular Culture, 33 (1), Summer 1999, pp. 23-34. Morrissey listed “labourer” as the occupation of a third of the Kelly sympathisers, though the line between that category of work and the selectors or shearers who made up the rest is likely to have been a distinction with little difference, Doug Morrissey, “Ned Kelly’s sympathisers”, Historical Studies, 18 (71), October 1978, pp. 293 and 296.

[9] John Merritt, History of the AWU, OUP, Melbourne, 1986, pp. 43 & 23. The tussles between the AWU and the ABLF for coverage of several types of labouring grew out of the mosaic of jobs that their members had to create to keep food on their tables. Transfers between the ABLF and the AWU multiplied because so many ABLF members went shearing. After the United Labourers’ Protective Society (ULPS) exchanged tickets with the AWU in 1903, two ULPS members who went to Western Australia had their cards accepted even after the formal agreement had expired back East, ULPS Minutes, Mitchell Library (ML) MSS 262/7 (1).

[10] ULPS Minutes, 31 January 1900 , & 11 March 1901 , ML MSS 262/6 (9).

[11] Jim Moss, Representatives of discontent: history of the Communist Party in South Australia 1921-1981, Communist and Labour Movement History Group, Melbourne, 1983, p. 8; labourers from Broken Hill continued to move onto Adelaide, notably, the last Federal President of the ABLF, Ron Owens, who started work aged 13 in 1947 in a bakery, took station jobs and went shearing in Queensland before returning to his birthplace to mine underground and then left for Adelaide where he drove a truck for a soft-drink company and started labouring on construction in 1964, interview, 7 July 2005.

[12] 1913 Transcript, p. 489; Millard had earlier played down the drift to other industries, p. 21.
[13] BLN, 7 July 1916 , p. 3.

[14] Printed in Labour History, 40, May 1981, pp. 93-94; Patsy Adam-Smith, The Lore of the Railwaymen, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1969; Terry Coleman, The Railway Navvies, The Men Who Made the Railways, Hutchinson, London, 1965.

[15] Argus, 30 May 1890 , p. 6d; the Chaffeys lamented a scarcity of labour in rural districts, Mildura Cultivator (MC), 17 April 1890 , p. 6.

[16] MC, 29 May 1890 , p. 7. The Mildura-based Land, Trade and Labour Union of Australia wanted to combine station hands, roustabouts and swagmen with labourers and tradesmen as a rival for the Shearers’ Union , MC, 29 May 1890 , p. 7.

[17] Bulletin, 23 September 1894 , p. 23b.

[18] West Australian (WA), 5 March 1897, p. 4g, 20 March 1897 , p. 5b and 3 April 1897 , p. 5a; Jill Roe, Beyond belief: theosophy in Australia 1879-1939, University of New South Wales Press, Kensington, 1986, pp. 36 and 118.

[19] WA, 13 March 1897 , p. 12c, 10 June 1897 , p. 4g; Verity Burgmann, In our time: socialism and the rise of Labor, 1885-1905, George Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, 1985, p. 163.

[20] BLN, in six parts from 7 July to 13 October 1916 . His brother Charlie took out the first ticket in the Wagga Wagga Amalgamated Shearers’ Union , ML MSS A2886; segments of Charlie’s memoirs ran in the Australian Worker from 5 February to 4 March 1936 , usually on page 7.

[21] Henry Hannah, Affidavit, p. 5, NAA, A1007 (A10071/1) 1914/1.
[22] ABLF, Victorian Branch Minutes, 25 August and 3 November 1926 , 28 May 1928 , NBAC, Z398/20.
[23] Stuart Macintyre, Militant, the Life and Times of Paddy Troy , George Allen & Unwin, North Sydney , 1984, pp. 12-14 and 54-55.
[24] Labour History, 1981, op. cit., p. 94.
[25] Argus, 14 August 1861 , p. 5a, 15 August 1861 , p. 5b & e.
[26] Argus, 5 August 1861 , p. 5c-d. Bruce had been summoned over the non-payment of wages, Argus, 24 May 1861 , p. 5a.

[27] Argus, 6 August 1861, p. 5b; 150 followed a green flag emblazoned with the Harp of Erin; the Argus correspondent thought that rumour had run riot more than the navvies.

[28] Argus, 7 August 1861, p. 4g; the navvies wanted 30s a week but not 5s a day because broken time during the winter rains meant that they could not earn 30s a week, Argus, 5 August 1861, p. 5d.

[29] Argus, 7 August 1861 , p. 4g.
[30] Mt Alexander Mail, 14 August 1861 , p. 3d.

[31] Argus, 4 July 1860, p. 3g, and 3 October 1860, p. 6c; cf. letter from “A Navvy”, Age, 9 December 1870, p. 3g. For the Truck system as a method of labour discipline see Samuel Cohn, “Keeping the Navvies in Line: Variations in Work Discipline Among British Railways Construction Crews”, Louise T. Lilly and Charles Lilly (eds), Class Conflict and Collective Action, Sage, Beverley Hills , 1981, pp. 143-66.

[32] Mt Alexander Mail, 19 August 1861 , p. 2 c-d; the chairman complained that some leading citizens had absented themselves.

[33] Age, 6 August 1861, p. 5b; Mt Alexander Mail, 8 August 1861, p. 6d, 21 August 1861, p. 2b, and 23 August 1861, p. 3d-f; Herald, 7 August 1861, p. 4d.

[34] Mt Alexander Mail, 8 August 1861 , p. 6d, 21 August 1861, p. 2b, and 23 August 1861 , p. 3d-f.

[35] The Argus fumed that, by taking advantage of the labour shortage, the navvies were laying the foundation for a future loss to themselves since high wages would discourage investors from new projects when conditions returned to whatever was normal in the colonies. Argus, 16 August 1861 , p. 4e; Herald, 8 August 1861 , p. 4d.

[36] Letter from “A Navvy” (Gisborne), Argus, 11 May 1860 , p. 7b.

The presence of families here unsettles the notion of a gender imbalance of up-country life as a source of mateship’s compensating for the absence of white women, Ward, op. cit., pp. 88-90. The skerricks of information I encountered about how itinerants related to the household economy neither confirm nor deny the masculinist bias of the type. [see note 96 below] Similar questions arise about the relationship of the legend to intellectual pursuits and religion if bush workers spent periods of their lives in urban districts, and more so once schools followed itinerants, see Graham Wilson, “Public Schools Along the Great Western Railway Line from Tamworth to the Queensland Border”, Journal and Proceedings, Armidale and District Historical Society, 50, 2007, pp. 71-83.

[37] Argus, 28 August 1861 , p. 6b. On the same day, a Melbourne man got one month’s hard labour for stealing a coat.

[38] Denis Rowe, “The Robust Navvy: the Railway Construction Worker in Northern New South Wales , 1854-1894”, Labour History, 39, November 1980, pp. 28-48; Peter Chambers, “The Big Family: Railway Workers in Armidale”, Journal and Proceedings, Armidale and District Historical Society, 50, 2007, pp. 51-70.

[39] Trades Hall Gazette (THG), 28 July 1888 , p. 7, 29 December 1888 , p. 4

[40] General Labourers’ Union Records, NBAC, Z491/8.

To what extent did the survival of the ASU and the success of the AWA depend on the interweaving of the small selectors who went shearing with the mining settlements, so that the Shearers’ Unions piggy-backed on the more settled membership of the Miners’ Association?  Mining was ignored by Bede Nairn, Civilising Capitalism, The Labor Movement in New South Wales 1870-1900, ANU Press, Canberra , 1973.

[41] In explaining why miners made their stand around Ballarat late in 1854, and not earlier, or elsewhere, Geoffrey Blainey stressed the more settled life around the pits than on alluvial finds, The Rush That Never Ended, MUP, Parkville , 1964, chapter 4.

[42] Merritt, op. cit., p. 102; Australasian Pastoralists’ Review, 15 September 1894 , p. 321.

[43] Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, Selected Works, Volume I, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow , 1958, p. 360.

[44] Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 5, Lawrence and Wishart, London , 1976, p. 6. The analysis of space in the formation of class consciousness starts from the processes of hominisation discussed in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1938, Part I; Karl Marx, “Introduction”, Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1970, pp. 188-217; and Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations, New World Paperbacks, New York, 1964, pp. 88-99.

[45] “In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond and no political organisation among them, they do not form a class.” Marx-Engels, Collected Works, volume 11, Lawrence & Wishart, London , 1979, pp. 187-88.

[46] The Wren machine in Collingwood, like the Loughnans’ in Richmond and Keegan’s in the Glebe, connected sport, religion and municipal politics; Chris McConville, “John Wren, Machine Boss, Irish Chieftain, or Meddling Millionaire?”, Labour History, 40, May 1981, pp. 49-76; Janet McCalman, Struggletown: portrait of an Australian working-class community, Penguin, Richmond, 1988; Michael Hogan, Local labor: a history of the Labor Party in Glebe, 1891-2003, Federation Press, Annandale, 2004.

[47] Lynne Strahan, At the edge of the centre: a history of Williamstown, Hargreen Publishing Co., Williamstown, 1994, chapter 6.

[48] THG, 29 September 1888 , p. 6.
[49] Australian Trades and Labour Journal, 19 October 1889 , p. 5.

[50] BLN, 12 May 1916 , p. 3; in March 1912, a reform ticket routed an executive which had appointed an outsider as coach, the incoming officials campaigning on “Richmond for the Richmondites”, Brian Hansen, Tigerland: the history of the Richmond Football Club from 1885, Richmond Former Players’ and Officials’ Association, Melbourne, 1989, p. 34.

[51] ML MSS 262/6 (9); NSW Industrial Arbitration Reports, 2, 1903, pp. 32-49 & 226-230; Peter Sheldon, “In Division is Strength: Unionism Among Sydney Labourers, 1890-1910”, Journal of Industrial Relations, 35 (3), November 1992, pp. 43-59. 

[52] Although a Western Australian attended a Sydney Conference in 1912 to form a national union of general labourers, the State’s Builders’ Labourers’ Union did not join the ABLF until the 1960s; Argus, 26 June 1912: 13c, and 24 July 1912: 15d; Mark Hearn and Harry Knowles, One Big Union, A History of the Australian Workers Union 1886-1994, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1996, p. 126.

[53] quoted in Anne P. O’Brien, “The Poor in New South Wales , 1880-1918”, Ph. D. Thesis, University of Sydney , 1982, pp. 22-23.
[54] Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking”, Poetry, Language, Thought, Perennial, New York , 2001, pp. 143-59.

[55] See my “The embarrassment of nationalism: a love that does not have a name”, Manning Clark House Newsletter, 31, September 2007, pp. 17-20.
[56] Age, 12 January 1898 , p. 5g.

[57] Argus, 21 August 1861, p. 6b, 28 August 1861, 4f and p. 6b-c; see E. J. Hobsbawm and George Rude, Captain Swing, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1969, chapter 14.

[58] John Kellett, “Bread or Blood, 1865”, Raymond Evans and Carole Ferrier (eds), Radical Brisbane, an unruly history, Vulgar Press, Melbourne, 2004, pp. 42-44.

Anxious for news, immigrants were often closer to “home” in their thoughts than if they had moved only to a different county in Britain . When commenting on local strikes for “the boon”, Melbourne editors in 1860 referred to the lockout of British building workers over their claim for a nine-hour day, Argus, 5 November 1860, p. 5f, and 23 November 1860, p. 4f; Raymond Postgate, Builders’ history, National Federation of Building Trade Operatives, London, 1923, pp. 174-6.

[59] THG, 2 February 1889 , p. 10.
[60] J. H. Disney, Victorian Parliamentary Debates, volume 161, 4 November 1922 , pp. 1666-7.
[61] Victorian ABLF Minutes, 18 August 1924 , 29 March 1926 and 14 May 1928 , NBAC Z398/20.

[62] Australian Building & Construction Employees and Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, Federal Council, 30 October 1973 , NBAC, N130/18; see my “Lessons from Defeat: The 1927 Claim for a 40-hour Week by Queensland Building Industry Unions”, Queensland Journal of Labour History, 3, September 2006, pp. 16-46.

In the words of biologist Steven Rose: “Memories are living processes, which become transformed, imbued with new meanings, each time we recall them”, The Making of Memory, From Molecules to Mind, Anchor, New York, 1992, p. 2.

[63] ML MSS 2980, CY 731.

Henry Hannah rode a bike to work, leaving his Northcote home at 7.10 am and getting back at 5.50 pm., though when he had worked at Rippon Lea, he set out an hour earlier and returned over an hour later, to be away for nearly 13 hours a day, 1913 Transcript, p. 142; Victorian official Dick Loughnan told Justice Higgins that he had had to travel to the outlying areas to find a job once he became known as a union activist, 1913 Transcript, pp. 379 and 398.

[64] ABLF, Victorian Branch Minutes, 25 August and 3 November 1926 , NBAC, Z398/20.

[65] Fryer Library, University of Queensland , ABLF, Queensland Branch Minutes, QUFL 166.

In 2002, a quarter of the members of the Construction Division of the CFMEU had joined in the past year, and 45% in the previous three years. Workplace Health and Safety, Discussion Paper 6, Royal Commission on Building and Construction Industry, Canberra , 2002, p. 27.

[66] Ward, op. cit., p. 110; 1913 Transcript, p. 156.
[67] BLN, 28 April 1916 , p. 1.
[68] 1913 Transcript, pp. 516-7; Architecture, November 1924, p. 7.
[69] For a first-hand reaction see Australasian Engineering and Machinery (B&EJ), January 1912, p. 13.

[70] S. Merrifield, “Benjamin Douglass (1830-1904)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 4, MUP, Carlton , 1972, p. 93.

[71] Higgins distinguished “skills” that required special training from “knacks” to be picked up on the job, 1913 Transcript, p. 320; in NSW, Judge Heydon had drawn similar lines, see Ben Maddison, “‘The skillful unskilled labourer’: The Decline of Artisanal Discourse of Skill in the NSW Arbitration Court, 1905-15”, Labour History, 93, November 2007, pp. 73-86; Charles Fahey, “Unskilled Male Labour and the Beginnings of Labour Market Regulation, Victoria, 1901-1914”, Australian Historical Studies, 33 (118), April 2002, pp. 143-60. Labourers knew that the skill they needed most was how to survive by “following the job”, 1913 Transcript, p. 610.

[72] Ward, op. cit., pp. 81-82.

[73] Libby Robin, How a Continent Created a Nation, UNSW Press, Kensington, 2007, p. 189; Henry J. Cowan, From Wattle and Daub to Concrete and Steel, MUP, Carlton , 1998.

[74] Robin Boyd, Australia’s Home, Penguin, Ringwood, 1968, p. 47; B&EJ, 11 February 1893, p. 58; the editor offered a Ruskinite critique of an architecture in which art had declined because it did not pay, 22 April 1893, pp. 147-8.

[75] Bulletin, 24 June 1882 , p. 1.

[76] John Shields, “Deskilling Revisited: Continuity and Change in craft work and apprenticeship in late Nineteenth-century New South Wales ”, Labour History, 68, March 1995, pp. 1-29.

[77] THG, 22 December 1888 , p. 9.
[78] George Waite, Carpenters’ Transcript, Court of Arbitration, NSW, No 2 of 1903, p. 379, ML MSS 208.  
[79] Jeff Rich, “Victorian Building Workers and their Unions, 1860-1890”, Ph. D., ANU, 1993, p. 60.
[80] THG, 13 April 1889 , p. 8.

[81] B&EJ, 1 March 1890, p. 77; in the 1920s, ready-mixed paints encouraged householders to do their own jobs, Decorator & Painter, May 1929, p. 218; June 1929, p. 258, July 1929, p. 277, August 1929, pp. 309-10; 311-13; competition was less acute for decorators, August 1929, pp. 311-13. One Master Painter welcomed the ready-mixed paints for their reduction of labour time, characterising the resisters as being stuck with the view that “there is only one paint – that is, one made from English white lead, linseed oil and patent driers. They must dig the lead from the can, knock it up with a stick and strain it through a piece of Hessian or stocking.” September 1929, p. 355; for the impact of pressed-metal ceilings on plasterers see Susan Bures, The House of Wunderlich, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, 1987.

[82] David Denholm, The Colonial Australians, Penguin, Ringwood, 1979, chapter 5; Rich, op. cit., p. 88; Nathaniel Lloyd, History of English brickwork, H. Grenville Montgomery, London, 1925.

[83] B&EJ, 6 February 1892, pp. 56-7; 5 March 1892, pp. 99-100; 5 May 1894, pp. 139-40; Miles Lewis, (ed.), Two hundred years of concrete in Australia, Concrete Institute of Australia, Sydney, 1988.

[84] 1913 Transcript, pp. 419 and 468.
[85] 1913 Transcript, pp. 20 and 269.
[86] Ray Markey, “New Unionism in Australia , 1880-1900”, Labour history, 48, May 1985, p. 19, n. 35.
[87] Australasian Builder and Contractors’ News, 20 September 1890 , p. 216.

[88] Age, 18 July 1890 , p. 6c; Ray Markey, The Making of the Labor Party in New South Wales 1880-1900, University of NSW Press, Kensington, 1988, pp. 34-5 and 45.

[89] 1913 Transcript, p. 520.
[90] Letter in BLN, 21 July 1916 , p. 5.
[91] Labour History, 1981, op. cit., p. 93.

[92] J. M. Pringle, A Jubilee Record, MBA, Sydney, 1923, pp. 13-14, see also Pringle’s Australian industrial legislation and the building trade 1902-1906; review of Australian industrial Legislation and the Building Trade, 1926, MBA, Sydney, 1928, p. 6.

[93] When brickies’ labourers and scaffolders in Melbourne set up the United Labourers’ Protection Society in May 1882, W. G. Spence wrote from Creswick offering the assistance of the Miners’ Association, Trades Advocate and Friendly Society Journal, 26 May 1883 , p. 7.

[94] THG, 9 February 1889 , p. 10.

[95] From 1912 to 1914, the Victorian Branch of the ABLF distributed £200 each year from its Mortuary Fund, 1913 Transcript, p. 211. In Sydney , the ULPS, between 1919 and 1924, paid out ₤4,500 for accidents and £1,000 on funerals, ML MSS 208/2 (5).

[96] Examples range from Alan Walker, Coaltown, A Social Study of Cessnock, N.S.W., Melbourne University Press, Carlton , 1945 to Barry Hill, Sitting In, William Heinemann Australia , Port Melbourne, 1991.

[97] August D. Webb, “The Building Trade”, Sidney Webb (ed.), Seasonal trades, Constable, London, 1912, pp. 312-93, mentioned by Higgins, 7 Commonwealth  Arbitration Reports (CAR) (1913) 210 at 218; William Stanley Parker, “The Problems of Seasonal Unemployment in the Building Industry”, International Labour Review, 9 (3), March 1924, pp. 361-71; Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, especially Chapter 2; Jan Kok, Kees Mandemakers and Henk Wals, “City Nomads: Changing Residence as a Coping Strategy, Amsterdam, 1890-1940”. Social Science History, 29 (1), Spring 2005, pp. 15-44.

[98] 1913 Transcript, pp. 133 and 522.

[99] Seamus O’Hanlon, Together apart: boarding house, hotel and flat life in pre-war Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2003, pp. 32-34 and 47. Men and women contributed within the household and for barter, (see note 34 above). For instance, Dobeson helped his wife to make him an overcoat, which they later sold, as Mrs Dobeson did her dress-making in 1889, ML MSS 2980, CY 731. These earnings suggest that married women did more paid work than appeared in Coghlan’s statistics; see also Ben Maddison, “ ‘De-Skilling’ the 1891 Censuses in New South Wales and Tasmania”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 53 (4), December 2007, pp. 505-18.

Access to a garden plot varied with the suburb, but one employer complained that “all classes of gardeners round Melbourne have a miniature general nursery at the back of their cottage ready to supply those who will buy at a cheaper rate than the legitimate nursery-men.” Journal of Horticulture, 7 June 1907 , p. 218.

For the significance of rent see Frederick Engels, The Housing Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1970, pp. 11-12 and 45, and for the significance of labour which does not itself produce surplus value, see Claude Meillassoux, Maidens, Meal and Money, Capitalism and the Domestic Community, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981.

[100] 1913 Transcript, p. 458.
[101] 7 CAR (1913) 210 at 229.
[102] Humphrey McQueen, A New Britannia, revised edition, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 2004, pp. 262-3.

[103] Ellen Meiskins Wood, Empire of Capital, Verso, London, 2003; canals and railways offer intermediate cases, see Marc Linder, Projecting Capitalism, A History of the Internationalisation of the Construction Industry, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1994.

[104] “Distance” subjected thinking about settler Australia to a tyranny of cliché after Blainey reworked insights proposed by the Tasmanian Marxist Ken Dallas, who argued back in “The Fallacy of Remoteness”, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Papers and Proceedings, 16 (2), September 1968, pp. 55-60.

[105] For the three circuits of capital, Karl Marx, Capital, II, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1957; see my “What happened in Globalisation?”, Journal of Australian Political Economy, 51, June 2003, esp. pp. 115-26.

[106] Doreen Massey, Spatial divisions of labour: social structures and the geography of production, Macmillan, Houndsmill, 1995 edition, p. 56; see also Edward W. Soja, “The Socio-Spatial Dialectic”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 70 (2), June 1980, pp. 207-25; Jamie Peck, Work Place, The Social Regulation of Labour Markets, Guilford, New York, 1996; Ellen Meiskins Wood, “Global capital, national states”, Mark Rupert and Hazel Smith (eds) Historical Materialism and Globalisation, Routledge, London, 2002, pp. 17-39; and Andrew Herod, “Workers, Space and Labor Geography”, International Labor and Working-Class History, 64, 2003, pp. 112-138.

Social, cultural and political dimensions of the move from convictism were surveyed by George Nadel, Australia’s Colonial Culture, Harvard University Press, Cambridge , Mass. , 1957, and Michael Roe, The Quest for Authority in Eastern Australia, 1835-51, MUP, Parkville, 1965.

[107] “Unhappy Mr Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production”, Karl Marx, Capital, I, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1958, p. 766; one solution was to import convicts, Mathew Trinca, “The Control and Coercion of Convicts”, Studies in Western Australian History (SWAH), 24, 2006, pp. 30-32.

[108] Robert J. Steinfeld, Coercion, Contract and Free Labor in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001; Douglas Hay and Paul Craven (eds), Masters, servants, and magistrates in Britain and the Empire, 1562-1955, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2004; Rob McQueen, “Master and Servant Legislation as ‘Social Control’: The Role of Law in Labour Relations on the Darling Downs 1860-1870”, Law in Context, 10 (1), 1992, pp. 123-39. Capitalists supplemented both convict labour and the Masters’ and Servants’ Acts with the import of indentured workers, Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery, the Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830-1920, OUP, London, 1974; K. Dallas, “Slavery in Australia – Convicts, Emigrants, Aborigines”, THRA, P&P, 16 (2), September 1968, pp. 61-94; Jack Hutson, Penal Colony to Penal Powers, AEU, Sydney, 1966.

By the twentieth century, the stop-watch was “suggesting the whip of owners or taskmasters.” “Editorial”, Australasian Engineering and Machinery, 1 April 1913; Frank B. Gilbreth, Bricklaying system, M.C. Clark, New York, 1909; Frederick Winslow Taylor and Sanford E, Thompson, Concrete costs: tables and recommendations for estimating the time and cost of labor operations in concrete construction and for introducing economical methods of management, Wiley, New York, 1912.

[109] In the opinion of the Herald, 7 August 1861 , p. 4d, they had been ferried from Melbourne to shoot “down the New Zealanders as savages because they won’t sell their land to the Government for an old song.” The biggest movements of Australian workers in the service of aggregate capital have been to and from imperialist wars.

[110] Karl Marx, Capital, II, Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow , 1957, Part II; see my “Making Capital Tick”, Overland , 170, Autumn 2003, pp. 92-101. Sometimes, employers accept the expense of hoarding the workers who add the most value, or those whose skills are in short supply. If a building project runs late, all the surplus value can end up in the hands of bankers and lawyers, or with the client through penalties.

[111] Bulletin, 1 September 1894 , p. 23b-c; Western Australian settlers resisted keeping ticket-of-leave men for a year, when they had hardly more than a month, Trinca, SWAH, 2006, p. 32;  “The homeless man’s preference for migratory work makes him in this phase quite a valuable member of the work force,” according to Alan K. Jordan, in charge of Hanover Centre Fitzroy, who prepared a paper on homeless men for 1964 Royal Commission on Supply and Consumption of Liquor in Victoria, quoted in John Stubbs, The Hidden People, Poverty in Australia, Cheshire-Lansdowne, Melbourne, 1966, p. 85.

[112] Jim Fitzpatrick, Bicycle and the bush: man and machine in rural Australia, OUP, Melbourne, 1980, p. 210; Merritt, op. cit., pp. 59, 73, 147 and 200; unionists breached the eight-hour day to perform their 44 hours within five days in order to head home over weekends when working on the SEC in the La Trobe Valley, ABLF Minutes, 21 November 1936, NBAC, Z398/21, and on the construction of the national capital, with the foreman carpenter at Parliament House pedaling to Braidwood, Ann Gugler, Canberra Construction Camps, early houses and selected documents, privately published, Canberra, 2001, p. 94.

[113] 7 CAR (1913) 210 at 218. Higgins made aggregate capital pay builders’ labourers when they were not adding value so that their weekly incomes approached the basic wage set in the 1907 Harvester judgement. Elsewhere in the ABLF Award, Higgins ruled that “the working time of the labourer is time purchased by the employer, who has the exclusive right to it.” (7 CAR (1913) 210 at 232)

[114] Only in an extremity did the demand for labourers upset the relative strengths of the buyers and sellers of labour-power. One such emergency was the demolition work following the Flinders street fire in 1897 when the ruins had to be knocked down as quickly as possible because they were a danger to passing traffic, Age, 22 November 1897, pp. 5-6, 25 November 1897, 5h-i, and BLN, 12 May 1916, p. 3. A second instance came during the Great War when a recruiting drive pushed the number of Victorian volunteers up to 26,000 in July-August 1915, causing the Master Builders’ Association to offer a 21.8% wage increase to match rises in the cost of living - but on the “secret” condition that the ABLF grant “absolute preference” in the supply of labourers to MBA members, NAA A106 G1921/2019. A few months later, the Masters offered inducements to the ABLF not to work for price-cutters, BLN, 4 August 1916, p. 4 and 18 August 1916, p. 5.

[115] Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973, p. 524.

[116] Final Report of Royal Commission on the Building and Construction Industry, volume six, AGPS, Canberra , 2003, p. 11.

[117] Like many intellectuals, Ward joined the Communist Party to be a more effective anti-fascist, but unlike several other Party members at the ANU, erstwhile or not, such as D. W. A. Baker, Eric Fry, Robin Gollan, Bernard Smith and Oscar Spate, Ward’s scholarly writings showed no sign of political economy, and only traces of historical materialism, a criticism which applied to A New Britannia, but see the “Afterword” to its 2004 revision, pp. 250-90. However, Ward relied on the Marxist founder of Pre-History, V. Gordon Childe, for more than the title of his 1955 school text, Man Makes History. Ward did manage to reconcile J. V. Stalin, F. J. Turner and W. K. Hancock, “Ethos of the Pastoral Workers”, Ph. D. Thesis, ANU, 1955, p. 537.

[118] At the ANU, Professor W. K. Hancock established an interdisciplinary Wool Seminar from 1957 to 1959, which can now be viewed as an obituary service for “Old Australia”, Geoffrey Bolton, “Rediscovering Australia: Hancock and the Wool Seminar”, D. A. Low (ed.), Keith Hancock, The Legacies of an Historian, MUP, Carlton, 2001, pp. 180-200.

[119] N. G. Butlin, “The State of the Australian Economy 1860-1890”, Economic Record, 34 (67), April 1958, pp. 10-29; E. C. Fry, “The Condition of Urban Wage-Earners in the 1880s”, Ph.D. ANU, 1956; Nadel, op. cit.

[120] Ward’s comparison coincided with the arrival at the ANU in 1953 of H. C. Allen, author of Bush and Backwoods, A Comparison of the Frontier in Australia and the United States, Michigan State University Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 1959; Ward did not mention Allen in his memoirs where he attributed his awareness of Turner’s frontier thesis to C.M.H. Clark, see A Radical Life: the autobiography of Russel Ward, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1988, chapter 10. The contrast of frontiers had been illustrated in two motion pictures, Harry Watts’ 1946 The Overlanders and Howard Hawks’ 1948 Red River .

[121] Mark Finnane, “Censorship and the Child: Explaining the Comics Campaign”, Australian Historical Studies, 23 (92), April 1989, pp. 229-233; Michael Sturma, “ The Politics of Dancing: When Rock ‘n’ Roll Came to Australia ”, Journal of Popular Culture, 25 (4), Spring 1992, pp. 123-42; Square Dancing posed a equal challenge to the bush dance and country ball.

[122] Peter Groenewegen and Bruce McFarlane, A History of Australian Economic Thought, Routledge, London , 1990, p. 239n; William Cronon illustrated the dynamics between the mobility and stasis of commodities around nineteenth-century Chicago by quoting a British journalist: “The hog is regarded as the most compact form in which the Indian corn crop … is sent to Chicago as a package provided by nature for its utilization.” Nature’s Metropolis, Chicago and the Great West, W. W. Norton, New York , 1991, pp. 208-9.