Frederic C. (Frederic Chambers) Spurr.

Five years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions online

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persons who imagine that a Garden of Eden alone
can make a man what he ought to be. Australia is
the place to annihilate illusions of that kind.

Mr. Smith has put his finger upon another of
Australia's sore places thus :

"We are all agreed that in Australia, in a larger
sense than in any other place we have ever worked,
' Labour ' and the Church seemed estranged. To
speak of one man as a ' Labour ' man and another
as a ' Liberal ' is almost synonymous with saying
that one is an anti-Church and the other a Church

The fact is, generally speaking, undoubted, but
why it should be so is difficult to understand. The
common statement made by Labour leaders is that
the Church is wholly pledged to capitalism and to
the classes. No statement is more completely false.
As a matter of fact, one of the radical causes of
many troubles and injustices in our social system (I
should not be far astray if I said it was the radical
cause) is the iniquitous gamble in land which Aus-


Dead Flies in the Labour Movement

tralia deliberately allowed, and even fostered, in its
early days. The vicious system of the Old .World
was transferred to the new soil, with the result that
the present generation is paying usurious interest for
the social sins of the fathers. House rents are
wickedly high. Many commodities cost four times
their real value because shopkeepers are compelled
to pay absurd rents for their premises.

Many of the Socialists in Australia fail to allow for
this. Churchmen are not responsible for the iniquities
of the system. The greatest sinners in the olden days
were men who knew far better the interior of a saloon
than the interior of a church. And it ought to be said
that the leaders of social reform in Australia to-day
are men connected with the Church.

It is difficult to write about these things without
appearing to be unsympathetic. The present writer,
therefore, may be allowed to say that all his sym-
pathies are with men who are struggling for justice.
Labour men in Australia are right in demanding
certain readjustments which will give them a freer
manhood and a fuller share of the good things of life ;
but many of them are wrong in their temper and in
their methods. Further, many of them are unfair in
certain of their demands.

Take a concrete instance. A year ago there was
in progress a lesser strike, involving some sixty or
eighty men in an establishment which employs over
1,500 men. And why the strike? Will it be believed
that, put in plain terms, the men struck for less
money? The proprietor, who is a just and generous


Five Years under the Southern Cross

man, offered these particular men a new system of
piece-work, by means of which they could earn as
much as 175. per day. It was a definite offer of ad-
vancement, yet it was refused in favour of the old
system, which fixed (I believe) 125. per day as a
stated wage and apart from piece-work. Rather than
accept the new system the men went out upon strike.
To an ordinary person this seems an act of pure folly,
going dead against the men's interests. It is an in-
stance of a caucus imposing a tyranny. The first
and the chief need of Australia, from an industrial
point of view, is the establishment of friendly rela-
tions between employers and employed. At present
suspicion and acrimony reign, with disastrous results.

There is a great part for the Church to play in
the promotion of a better feeling among the people,
but before this can be done some of the Socialist
leaders will have to attend to a little reading, and
cease to blacken a religion the alphabet of which they^
do not understand.

In point of fact, the Labour men see but two
classes : the working classes, whose interests lie in
high wages, low rents, and cheap land ; and the non-
working classes, whose interests lie in low wages,
high rents, and dear land. It is obvious that there
is room both for information to be imparted to,
reconciliation to be effected between, and justice
accorded by these parties. The Council of Churches
has instituted a "Labour Sunday," in which the
radical principles underlying the relation of master
and man are expounded according to Christ. There


Dead Flies in the Labour Movement

is far too much suspicion on the part of the workers
against the Churches. Perhaps "suspicion" is too
mild a term to employ in view of the following ex-
tracts taken from official Labour papers. The Tocsin
said a year or two back : "Take it any road you will,
religion is a curse and a snare and a delusion and
a malicious sham." Another Labour paper, The
Worker, remarked : " When the Labour movement
has to turn to God for help, it will be God help it
indeed. ... Its (the party's) creed is purely mate-
rialistic, concerning no world but this world. Labour
writes on its doorposts, 'Wanted. A Saviour; no
God need apply.' " Ministers of religion are de-
scribed as "wolves in sheep's clothing, Pharisees,
whited sepulchres, who call themselves teachers of
Christianity, reptiles to be loathed, who, under the
cloak of religious authority or clerical superiority,
help to rivet more firmly the chains of injustice and
wrong." Of the Churches it is said : "Taking them
as a whole, they are the sanctuaries of the sweater,
the oppressor, and the Customs defrauder." It would
seem almost hopeless to reason with men of this type.
They have no discrimination. They have nothing but
opprobrium to pour upon the Churches and upon
Christianity. Theirs is a bitter and a wild crusade.
It may be that certain types of religion which have
flourished, and still to an extent flourish, have irritated
them, and that with reason, but this wholesale attack
is pitiful. Some of the workers appreciate "Labour
Sunday " ; others regard it as an insult. Happily, not
all the Labour men outside the Churches are of this


Five Years under the Southern Cross

inflammable and virulent type. The Church in Aus-
tralia has all its work cut out to reconcile the Labour
party with the Evangel.

A man who speaks plainly about these things is
likely to become unpopular. Two years ago I got
into trouble through telling a few cold truths about
the conditions of Australian labour. The affair came
about thus : Labour was very scarce in certain trades,
notably the building trade. Builders and contractors
could not obtain nearly sufficient men to enable them
to fulfil their contracts in time. High wages were
paid and offered, but the shortage continued. Some
of the men took advantage of this fact to further their
own interests. One gentleman in particular was
pointed out to me as by no means a rare case. He
was in receipt of over ^4 per week. Pay-night was
Friday, and this gentleman, having received his
salary, went in for a "good time " on that same even-
ing so "good " that he was unable to appear at work
on the Saturday. With several cases of this order
before me, I remarked to a reporter that some Aus-
tralian workmen needed to take a more honourable
view of work. They needed to learn the meaning of
Mr. Ruskin's prophetic word concerning work as a
factor in making character. Many of the workmen
simply work for their pay, and they work as badly
as they can. They have no conscience in their labour.
And then I cited the cases named above.

This is how the chief Labour paper in Australia
refers to the matter :

"Work is merely a means to an end, and there

Dead Flies in the Labour Movement

is nothing in it except for what it brings. The reason
Mr. Spurr does not work is because he gets the
products of labour he requires without producing
them himself. As a matter of fact, the employing
class simply want the workers to toil like galley slaves
in order that they may make huge profits and do
no work. Manhood ! Who are the men who spend
their lives in arduous toil because they have been told
it is right to work hard ? The workers ! Who are
the unfortunates who see their wives becoming
shrivelled-up drudges, careworn and ugly in middle
life while the employer's wife blooms with health
and good feeding? Who are the victims who watch
their sons and daughters being drawn into the
drudgery of the factory when they ought to be at
school ? Who are the patient slaves who toil on,
trying to prevent their daughters from being flung
on the streets after they themselves have been sucked
dry in the mill of labour and flung on the scrap-heap ?
The workers ! "

Now, if this had been written in England, or in
some parts of England, where wages are short and
hours are long, there would have been point in the
remarks. But in Australia there is an eight-hour day,
and the wages are high, being fixed by wages boards.
It is not the question of sweating nor over-work that
is here raised, but the question of remunerative
labour. The sweating and the grinding employers
have no greater enemy than the present writer. But
when an employer pays (as in the case cited) a liberal
wage, he has the right to expect conscientious work
p 225

Five Years under the Southern Cross

from his men. And it is not conscientious when a
man, by taking a day off for drinking, hampers and
harasses his employer, who admittedly pays him well.
I repeat, a number of Australian workmen need to
take a more dignified and honourable view of work.
Conditions of labour there are better than in any
other part of the world. It is a thousand pities that
certain paid "leaders" are eternally seeking to foment
a bad spirit between masters and men.

The moral side of labour seems to me to be in-
sufficiently emphasised. One of the speakers at an
annual demonstration hinted that a six hours' day
was a desirable goal to aim at. The suggestion
was received with great applause. And the reason
given was that when the actual needs of a com-
munity have been supplied work should cease and
play begin. One speaker announced as his ideal
for the twenty-four hours, eight hours' work, eight
hours' play, and eight hours' sleep. He left no place
for work of another kind, i.e. the work of study, of
information, and of culture. This omission is symp-
tomatic; it represents a real omission in the life of
many young Australians. Work, play, and sleep,
in the sense intended by many out there, will not con-
duce to the building of a great nation. Not so have
the great world-empires been built up. Not so has
Britain risen to her supreme position. One cannot
help feeling that work is not yet invested with the
dignity and sacredness which belong to it. It is
too frequently, amongst Australians, regarded as a
yoke which must, willy-nilly, be borne for a certain


Dead Flies in the Labour Movement

number of hours per day, and which ought to be
thrown off at the earliest possible moment. The glory
of work has not yet dawned upon the minds of many
of this new generation in this new country. Their
fathers knew it, rejoiced in it, and succeeded by
means of it. The sons take life far too easily and
light-heartedly. It is their peril that they do so.
Another thing is that the term "worker" is too fre-
quently restricted to one class of the community. A
"worker" is almost exclusively conceived to be a
person who toils with his hands, and soils them in the
effort. Workers with brain and pen are often spoken
of contemptuously, as if they did not know the mean-
ing of labour. A friend of mine, a leading doctor
in the city, told me a story which is typical of the
thought of many workers. He attended a football
match last season played between two teams, one of
which was the University team. As the University
men emerged from the pavilion to take the field a voice
was raised in the crowd, "Here come the loafers,"
and the remark met with not a little laughter. And
these "loafers " are the coming physicians, journalists,
and teachers of the State ! The gulf created by
prejudice between toilers with the hand and toilers
with the brain needs speedily bridging. And it may
be added that for these "loafers" there is nothing
so easy as an eight hours' day. This is a kind and
sympathetic criticism, and it is not superfluous.

As an illustration, on the other side, of what can
be done and is being done to make labour a worthy
thing, so far as agriculture is concerned, it may be


Five Years under the Southern Cross

well to describe some developments to which Aus-
tralia is committed. At Ballarat we saw, in full opera-
tion, the work of the Agricultural High School. It
was a perfect revelation to us. Here, for the first
time, a new type of agriculturist is being produced.
The old type, both at home and here, is well known,
strong, hard-working, dogged, and not too well edu-
cated. The new type is entirely different from the
old. This high school has been established by the
Director of Education for the purpose of giving a
broad and liberal education to the young men and
women in whose hands the cultivation of the soil
rests. It is an experimental college, but its success
is already so striking that similar institutions will
certainly spring up all over the Commonwealth. It
claims to be the best-equipped school for experts in
Victoria. The pile of buildings, which cost ,13,000,
is very imposing, and beautifully situated on the
outskirts of the city. It is surrounded by eighty
acres of land, used for experiments, as well as for the
practical purpose of supplying the institution with
vegetables. The whole land is carefully mapped out
into certain lengths, upon each of which a trial is
made of the value of various phosphates and manures.
Thus, before a student passes in the work of practical
agriculture, he knows exactly what is the fertilising
power of every manure in the market. He also knows
the cost of production ; hence he can tell immediately
whether or not his land will pay at a certain price.

The staff of teachers includes seven Masters of
Arts, a Doctor of Philosophy, two Bachelors of Arts,


Dead Flies in the Labour Movement

and others. The curriculum is most thorough. The
one idea of the institution is to produce intelligent
students who can unite science to labour. The
course of training includes carpentry, book-keeping,
commercial correspondence, history, botany, art,
chemistry, mathematics, languages, and cooking.
Think of the old-fashioned farmer and his wife with
these accomplishments ! We watched the students at
work, and a healthier or more intelligent body of
maidens and youths it would be impossible to find.
The girls, no matter what their station, take their
turn in cookery. Each day the kitchen is served by
these young ladies, who cook the food, serve the
meals, and then wash up. There are no servants to
do the dirtier work. Everything is done by the young
ladies themselves. We had the honour of lunching
with the director and some of his staff. The meal
served to us was, he assured me, just the ordinary
meal of the establishment. Not a single extra dish
had been created in honour of the visitors. It was
the daily sixpenny meal. We had for sixpence five
courses, including tomato soup, beautifully cooked
fish, meat, and vegetables, a tasty pudding, cheese,
and coffee.

This combination of the literary with the practical
is a splendid idea. No student leaves the institution
with only theoretical knowledge.

It ought to be said that the land upon which the
experiments are made is exceedingly poor, and this
is its great advantage for purposes of education. No
poorer land is likely to be bought by these students


Five Years under the Southern Cross

when they set up for themselves. They know, there-
fore, how to make the best of the worst. Science
pitted against a poor soil has conquered. The intro-
duction of artificial manures has produced the most
surprising results. The buildings of the institution
are modern in every respect, the ventilation and the
lighting being perfect.

In the matter of agricultural education, as shown
in the Ballarat High School, Victoria is ahead of the
Old Country. Is it not possible to adopt the best
features of this school and apply them to the condi-
tions in the Old Land? The soil is the radical and
the burning question at home. The congestion of
England in her towns and cities can only be relieved
as the rural life of the country is revived. The poorest
soil can be made productive by the use of scientific
methods. The Scottish delegation to Australia were
greatly impressed by what they saw at Ballarat. May
not the mother learn a little from her daughter ? The
redemption of the land in England and Ireland would
solve many of the social difficulties at home.




I HAVE no intention of discussing Australian politics.
All that I shall attempt is a little portraiture, with-
out the slightest "touching up." In 1910 Labour
was triumphant at the elections. Looking through
the list of triumphant candidates, I observe there
were two labourers, a bricklayer, five miners, an
engine-driver, an engine-fitter, a plumber, two
farmers, a hatter, a traveller, a tailor, a pattern-
maker, a quarryman, an orchardist, a watchmaker,
a physician, an agent, two barristers, and three
journalists. Was there ever such a Parliament as
that? Of "middle-class" men there are very few;
of so-called gentlemen scarcely any.

In 1912 the Liberals were returned to power in
Victoria. "Liberal" in Australia is the equivalent
of quasi-Conservative in England. There is really
no " Liberal " party in the English sense of the
word. The members of this party in Australia are
Protectionists. The "Conservatives" are Free
Traders, and also upholders of the "classes." This
is by way of explanation. An Englishman does not
easily or rapidly disentangle the political threads
in this new country. They are much more complex


Five Years under the Southern Cross

than at home. The old English "Radical" party is
represented here by the Labour party, which exceeds
in its demands the programme of the Birmingham
and Bradlaugh schools of the 'eighties.

The chief interest of the 1912 elections lay in
the fact that for the first time the principles of pre-
ferential voting were put into practice. And it must
be admitted that the experiment, with one exception,
proved a great success. It was an experiment which
might with great advantage be tried in England.
In Australia, as in England, three-cornered contests
work much harm and most manifest injustice. The
introduction of a third party in an election has had
the effect of splitting votes, and of returning to
Parliament one whom the majority of the people
would not and did not vote for. Preferential voting
removes this anomaly this injustice. For the bene-
fit of any who do not understand its working, I may
be permitted to explain the method. Three candi-
dates offer themselves for election. Of these only
one may represent the constituency. The three, we
will suppose, represent only two interests, but for
reasons of vanity or gain, in place of a single issue
between two opponents, one of the interests is
divided between two persons, each of whom "has his
advocates. Under the old system, as I have said,
this rivalry was often fatal to the interests of the
majority of the electors. While two quarrelled over
the dainty morsel, the third, and least desirable,
made off with it. But under preferential voting the
electors are compelled to vote, in the order of their


Australian Politics

preference, for all three candidates. Unless they do
this the voting-paper is rendered null and void. If
one of the candidates secures an absolute majority
over the other two that is, if against his name the
figure i predominates in numbers more than equal
to 2 and 3 together No. i is at once declared
elected. But if No. i on the list has only a rela-
tive majority that is, if Nos. 2 and 3 together
outnumber him then the votes given to No. 3, the
last on the list, are taken from him and divided, in
the order of preference, between Nos. i and 2. It
may happen that the position of No. i is thereby
so strengthened that he gains an absolute majority,
in which case he is declared elected. Or it may
happen, as in one case it did, that in the order of
preference the votes taken from No. 3 and added
to No. 2 give to the last-named the absolute majority,
in which case he is declared elected. All parties are
agreed that the system has worked excellently in the
last election. The actual will of the majority of the
electors has triumphed. In this matter, as in the
other matter of voting by post, the Old Country
has something to learn from Australia.

In 1911 the Referendum was submitted to the
Australian people. To the astonishment of the
Labour Government Australia voted "No" in the
most emphatic manner to the proposals contained in
the Referenda. A year previously Labour swept the
boards; then the reaction came. The Government
asked too much at once, and it adopted the policy
of "all or nothing." Had its proposals been more

2 33

Five Years under the Southern Cross

modest, the Referenda would have gone through
without doubt. Thousands of people who would
have voted "Yes" for many of the separate pro-
posals were compelled to vote "No" for the scheme
as it was presented to them en bloc. Great numbers
of men were genuinely sorry to have been compelled
to say "No" to certain of the proposals made, but
the way in which the good and the bad were mixed
together left them no alternative. The most re-
grettable thing was that, as the result of the voting,
certain vicious monopolies continue to drain the
purses of the people. The general feeling is that
these monopolies should cease at once. Take the
case of one city, in which is a fruit "ring" which
keeps up fabulous prices for fruit sold retail. Apples,
which are sold wholesale at half a crown the case of
forty pounds, are priced at one penny and twopence
each in the shops. And for oranges, which in Eng-
land sell for one halfpenny, threepence each is de-
manded. There is apparently no power available to
prevent the leeches of the ring from continuing their
business. Then there is a fish ring, which outrage-
ously robs the public. Fish in parts of Australia
near the coast costs three times the price charged in
England. Wood, which "up country" can be bought
for six shillings a ton, costs twenty-five shillings in
the capital. So also is it with coal, which is sold at
an inflated price. And the public suffer and pay. If
that part of the Referenda which had reference to this
kind of thing had been detached from the rest, I
believe it would have been universally approved, but


Australian Politics

the policy of "all or none" deprived the people of
the boon.

Again in 1913 certain referenda were submitted
to the Australian people for their decision. The
questions were drawn up by the late Labour Govern-
ment, submitted to the Governor-General for his
signature, and circulated all over the Commonwealth.
Every elector, male and female, had placed in his
hand a complete statement of the case. Not only
were the questions submitted, but upon the same
pages the pros and cons of the case were set forth.
The Liberals used their best arguments against the
proposals, and entreated the electors to vote "No."
The Labour men used their best arguments, and
urged the electors to vote "Yes." The proposals
were very simple. They were frankly Socialistic.
They included the nationalisation of a number of in-
dustries, the fixing of prices for commodities, the
destruction of trusts, and similar measures. The
sacred formula of Labour in submitting these pro-
posals was : " Shall the people rule ? " The Liberals,
on their part, steadfastly resisted the proposals on
the ground that some of them were unjust, and that
others were unnecessary, since it was alleged that
the State already possessed sufficient power to deal
with unfair monopolies. At first it was thought that
the "Ayes" had it, but in the final count it was seen
that the referenda were lost. Two facts stand out
very clearly: the "Ayes" have gained considerably
since the last time referenda were submitted, and the
voting has been remarkably close. It is clear to all


Five Years under the Southern Cross

that the Commonwealth is almost equally divided in
its opinion about the matter. We may take it as
certain that each side put forth all its effort, and
that, therefore, the late decision of the people fairly
represents the state of mind in the country for some
time to come.

More moderate referenda, and a different
personnel, might have ensured victory for the pro-

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Online LibraryFrederic C. (Frederic Chambers) SpurrFive years under the Southern Cross; experiences and impressions → online text (page 14 of 18)