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ItemThe marks of want and careLee, Jenny (McPhee-Gribble, 1988)It is not true that time heals all wounds. Some wounds linger on until the wounded die and their pain is forgotten. A generation of Australians harboured searing memories of the 1890s depression - of hunger, cold, bewilderment, humiliation and fear. But they are gone now, and their memories with them. If the depression is remembered at all, it is for the bank crashes of 1893, which produced panic among the propertied class. The working people and the unemployed who felt the chill most severely left few written records. Here, as in so many other areas of Australian life, the privilege of being remembered, being included in ‘history’, has been open to only a few. But why would anyone want to re-live the sufferings of a dead generation? Perhaps because so many of the institutions we take for granted began as attempts to do something about the effects of the 1890s crisis. Federation, state welfare, arbitration and the rise of the Labor Party all date back to that time. The crisis also ushered in profound changes in family life. As earlier chapters have discussed, the 1890s marked the beginning of the trend towards smaller families, with all that it implies for the way that people organize their lives. If the memory of the 1890s has gone, its legacy is still with us.
ItemDivers observations on Australians: a historical libraryLee, Jenny ( 1988)Now we confront the five reference volumes of Australians: A Historical Library. These books’ very appearance suggests authority: they are weighty, dignified; they fall open without disintegrating; their typography is conservative but highly legible. They’re real books, as opposed to the cheap paperbacks that have perforce become our staple diet. At the same time, they are pitched towards a non-specialist audience. The language is fairly straightforward and they are heavily illustrated, with generous use of colour. Given the ‘slice’ approach adopted in other volumes of this ‘library’, these reference volumes bear a particular load: they have to provide a readily accessible ‘quick fix’ of basic information that will at least fill in the topography of the rest of the cake. To be blunt, taken as a whole they don’t discharge the responsibility very well. While they contain a mass of useful information and embody a lot of good work by a lot of good historians, as a set of reference volumes they have many inadequacies and inconsistencies.
ItemA re-division of labour: Victoria's Wages Boards in actionLee, Jenny ( 1987)With the 1896 Factories and Shops Act, the Victorian legislature took a pioneering step towards wage regulation in manufacturing industry. The new Act established six Wages Boards to cover furniture-making, baking, bootmaking and three branches of the clothing trades. Each Board was to comprise equal numbers of employer and employee representatives under a ‘neutral’ chairman with a casting vote, and each was equipped with power to specify mandatory minimum wage levels and the proportions of learners to be employed in its trade. As is well known, the measure was less the brainchild of the labour movement than of the liberal Christian small-bourgeois and professionals of the Anti-Sweating League. The liberal anti-sweaters had a restricted vision of the prevailing economic crisis. They sought particularist, moralistic explanations for the misery engulfing the working class in the 1890s, and fashioned their legislation accordingly. They attributed the near-universal erosion of wage standards to the greed of a small number of unscrupulous employers who had taken advantage of the glut of labour to reduce wages, undercutting the business of the respectable majority and eventually compelling them to follow suit. The solution seemed straightforward: the state should provide a neutral ground on which employers and employees could meet and, through collective bargaining, formulate a common attack on the unscrupulous minority. Only the sweaters would suffer: wages would rise, the domestic market would revive, profits and employment would increase, and all men of good will would prosper.