By Gabriel Kuhn
Living and traveling in the South Pacific from 1997 to 2000, I visited Australia on several occasions. I returned again in 2003. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit for the first time in six years. It was encouraging to see an ongoing radical presence in the country; next to catching up with old friends and comrades, I got to meet a whole new generation of activists.
While my stay was pretty much limited to Melbourne and Sydney, radical politics in Australia are not. Environmental struggles remain strong in Tasmania, where precious old-growth forest is defended against logging interests, and union groups organize all around the country. Apparently, the currently strongest IWW chapter (the Industrial Workers of the World have a proud Australian history) is active in Perth, often dubbed the world’s “most isolated city.”
Most of my time was spent in Melbourne, where Trades Hall, dating from 1859, and the adjacent Eight Hour Monument (displaying the insignia “888” on top: eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure, and eight hours of sleep) are powerful reminders of a long history of labor organizing. I was able to meet with a number of activists and scholars, including (but not limited to!) Rob Sparrow, who holds anarchist principles high in the academy, and Verity Burgmann, as renowned for her work on radical unionism as for disrupting play in Sydney during the 1971 South African rugby squad’s tour of Australia in protest against the Apartheid regime. Verity is also one of the initiators of the Reason in Revolt website, which “aims to bring together primary source documents of Australian radicalism.” The site is currently maintained by Jack Roberts, who proved extremely helpful during my visit and who organized a recording session with Dave Kerin, who has done amazing union work in Australia for forty years. We talked about syndicalism and labor responses to globalization – the recording should be available on the Reason and Revoltsite soon. It was a great pleasure talking to Dave, and a confirmation that the internationalist spirit of labor politics is alive as ever.
As far as Melbourne’s anarchist movement is concerned, I met both with veterans of the Anarchist Communist Group and with long-time Food Not Bomb activists, community organizers, and publishers. I had a very interesting evening with the comrade who maintains the highly recommended slackbastard site, and a fellow anti-fascist activist. I attended a commemoration event for the Eureka Stockade of 1854, a very important date in the history of Australian labor struggles, and I joined Joe Toscano, organizer of the Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations in 1986, and the Wednesday Action Group at a rally for a new Australian people’s bank outside the Federal Minister of Finance’s office.
Still in Melbourne, the all-new collective of Barricade Books, originally founded in the 1990s, organized two talks for me in collaboration with the magnificent people from the Loophole Community Centre. One talk was on “Anarchism, White Supremacy, and Anti-Racist Action,” the other on “Radical Publishing.” Especially the first event was well attended, and I was very happy with the ensuing discussion in which people from Australia, Denmark, Switzerland, Colombia, and the US shared many interesting thoughts on how to combat racial prejudices and barriers in mainstream society as well as in radical communities.
I also had enlightening discussions in direct relation to some of my PM Press projects: Mark Huba, who explores the intersections of anarchism and mysticism, shared many interesting thoughts on Gustav Landauer, and the wonderful editors of the Hold Your Ground zine got me updated on the Australian straight edge movement and its connection to radical politics. Thanks also to the people at 3CR community radio who gave me the opportunity to speak about social developments in Europe and my work in a couple of interviews!
In Sydney I was happy to see that old tensions between the two anarchist bookstore collectives, Jura and Black Rose, seem to be a thing of the past. Today, the collectives cooperate, and each of them was kind enough to organize a talk for me. At Jura, I spoke about the German autonomous movement, and at Black Rose I was able to do my first ever PM Press book presentation, as Life Under the Jolly Roger had just come out. Both events were very well organized and highly enjoyable – thanks again to the pirate accordion player!
Radical Australian politics are often overlooked, but it’s well worth to tune in and keep yourself informed. Comrades do outstanding work in union and community organizing, environmental struggles, refugee solidarity, indigenous rights, anti-neoliberalist and anti-militarist action, and in building a dissident underground culture. Below are just some links that ought to be checked out: