Sunday, 25 September 2016

A sense of deja vue!!!

Although we’ve become somewhat jaded in our attitude to political polls, there was little surprise in JC’s victory over Owen Smith yesterday. He slightly increased his majority from 59 per cent last year to 61.8 this largely because he polled 85 per cent of the post 2015 members while Smith had a majority of those who were members before the 2015 elections.  The problem is that the election solved little…JC’s supporters think that he can walk on water and presumably feed the Liverpool conference with loaves and fishes while the ‘moderates’, the term now sneeringly applied to those MPs and presumably party members who do not subscribe to the Corbyn mantra and who are now faced with the choice of continuing to fight against the Corbyn surge and almost inevitably face deselection, join the crusade, faded into the woodwork and hope not to be noticed or leave the Party.  The scale of the challenge facing the Party was well illustrated in a survey published in the Independent on Friday of attitudes of working-class voters.  

Almost half of unskilled and manual workers believed JC to be ‘out of touch’ and an ‘election loser’.  More than a third thought he was ‘incompetent’ and ‘naive’ with middle-class voters holding slightly more positive views of the Labour leader. The survey also showed that those planning to support him in the future were completely detached from working-class voters and those who voted Labour in the 2015 Election. The polling suggests JC has a huge amount of work to do in convincing voters who once automatically voted Labour that he is the man for them.  Most worrying is the evidence that only 22 per cent of working-class people thought he was ‘in touch with the voters’ while 42 per cent thought him ‘out of touch’ and 36 per cent did not know.  This result is paralleled by responses to his competence: 26 per cent competent, 36 per cent incompetent and 36 per cent did not know.  Across the responses, unsurprisingly, those who support JC had a far more positive view of his capabilities with 65 per cent seeing him as competent, 49 per cent see him as ‘insightful’ with 26 per cent as ‘naive’ and 51 per cent as the ‘best choice for leader’ and 29 per cent ‘not the best choice’--which raises important questions about why people who thought him incompetent, naive and not the best leader were still prepared to support him. 

The problem for the moderates in the Party is that if they dare to criticise JC in any way, then the opprobrium of Momentum and the different sects that now form the radical Left descends from a great height using social media…you’re out of touch with his huge mandate, you’re a closet Tory or even worse a Blairite, you’re being taken in by the anti-Jeremy media rhetoric.  All of this may well be true but, and here is the critical question, in the decades that Jeremy has been a Member of Parliament—and by all accounts he has been an excellent constituency member--what has he actually done that has had any impact on national politics?  In fact, is there any evidence that he has ever had an original radical thought…everything he says appears to have been said before (and often better) by others.  His over-weaning characteristic appears to be ‘anti’ as illustrated by his response to the question ‘what’s your favourite biscuit?’…instead of just saying shortbread he prefaced it with being anti-sugar…yes I know we all should be…but why lay yourself open to ridicule.  You may well say…yes but he’s been consistent in his opinions…well why?  I’m not sure I know anyone whose view of the world and the issues that face us have not radically altered in the last thirty years.  

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Women on the goldfields

As early as 1851, there were women who worked with their husbands searching for gold. There were about twenty women, for instance, at the Mount Alexander diggings in early November 1851.[1] By May 1852, a visitor to the diggings was ‘struck by the number of women and children about’. [2] Some women even worked independently as diggers, but unlike their male counterparts, were not required to purchase a license. By 1854, 208 women were in paid employment in Ballarat. The majority were domestic servants, 8 per cent were storekeepers and others were needlewomen, dressmakers, milliners and shoe-binders. William Kelly was unimpressed with Ballarat women:
I was on the point of writing the softer sex, but that would be a misnomer, for the most callous specimens of the male creation I ever encountered were mere green pulp in comparison with some of the granite-grained viragoes I had the honour of meeting. [3]
Charles Evans also commented about Ballarat that ‘even women feeling themselves relieved from the salutary checks which society in civilized life lays on them fall into a vice bad enough in men, but disgusting and repulsive beyond expression in women’, and later:
A butcher who had picked up one of those delightful specimens of female vixenism which to the warning of bachelors are plentifully met with in this country - had a noisy brawl with his loving helpmate. – The wife’s face & hands smeared with blood from the man’s brutality & the course language of both was most disgusting. [4]
However, this was far from the universal view. More positive male perceptions of entrepreneurial abilities of women on the goldfields were also evident:
Sir - I removed to the Caledonian Lead a few months since, and located in the vicinity of the Brown Hill Hotel. In a few days after being installed in my new quarters, my attention was attracted by the strokes of an axe, plied incessantly from morning until night. On observation, much to my surprise, I perceived the indefatigable wood-chopper to be a woman…may further add, that the time of this girl, (I have been told that she is single), is not undivided. With the assistance of another female, her partner, she keeps a milk dairy, a lot of poultry, and a herd of pigs. I am unable to give the name of either of the parties, but any enquiries made in reference to the above, in the vicinity of 70 or 80 Caledonian Lead, would be successful. Her reputation has become quite a prodigy in these parts[5]
By the end of the 1850s in Castlemaine, women were working in a number of traditional male occupations: there were female printers, cattle dealers, quarry men, brick makers, and blacksmiths.[6] There were so many women on the diggings that Charles Hotham confidently proclaimed in a despatch to London that the increase in the fairer sex would surely see an improvement in the behaviour and demeanour of the male miners. One of these presumed ‘civilising agents’ was Nancy Kinnane, who taught at the National School tent, positioned on the Eureka lead and later confined within the Stockade. Nancy had 40 children enrolled and reportedly sheltered them during the battle. Another story placed her as an assistant in the covert amputation of the arm of miners’ leader, Peter Lalor. In the aftermath of the rebellion, Nancy and her husband sought compensation for losses incurred at the hands of the military and received £80. She went on to become the proprietor of the Camp Hotel, Ballarat.
Within the socially fluid circumstances on the goldfields, many women were able to gain a greater degree of economic independence and assume social roles that broke the strict confines of tradition and Victorian morality. Many women continued to be wives and housekeepers but:
If women weren’t rocking the baby’s cradle, they would be out on the diggings rocking the gold cradle…Women of all classes were often active in their partner’s business and economic affairs.[7]
One woman who ran a successful store on the Ballarat goldfields was Martha Clendinning. [8] Her husband, George, was a doctor who brought his wife to Victoria from England in 1852. He travelled to the goldfields with his brother-in-law to look for gold, leaving Martha with her sister in Melbourne. However, Martha and her sister decided to follow their husbands and walk the ninety-five miles to Ballarat. They brought with them bedsteads, mattresses, blankets, chairs and cooking utensils on a bullock dray and planned to set up a store on the diggings. This idea was met with ridicule from their husbands as it was not considered normal behaviour for respectable women of the time to operate businesses. Despite the men’s objections, the sisters opened a store in the front of their tent selling tea, coffee, sugar, candles, tobacco, jam, bottled fruit, cheese, dress materials and baby clothes but unlike many others on the diggings, did not sell sly grog. They were required to pay £40 a year for a storekeeper’s license. After her sister returned to Melbourne, Martha continued to run the store on her own until 1855 when growing competition from larger businesses and the cost of the storekeeper’s license made it less profitable. Also, Martha’s husband could now support the family and social attitudes towards middle-class women were quickly changing as Ballarat became a more settled, conservative community. Middle-class women were expected to be wives and mothers, not businesswomen. [9]
For a number of reasons the story of Eureka has not been told from the perspective of its female protagonists in the overwhelmingly ‘male’ narrative of mining and rebellion in Victoria’s goldfields. [10] Looking at the ways that men and women have historically shared certain spaces rather than competing for dominance over them, opens possibilities for understanding how women participated in critical events and social spaces, forging their own female or indeed collective responses to circumstances. They did not just participate on the domestic fringes of male revolutionary fervour. Clare Wright states that the women on the Ballarat goldfield ‘were witnesses to the historic events; they were agents too, intimately connected to the critical affairs and emotions unfolding in Ballarat in 1854’. Women attended protest meetings, petitioned the governor and were inside the Stockade. Such women included Anastasia Hayes, a ‘quick tempered Irish woman from Kilkenny…known as a ‘firebrand’ (who) complained openly about the harsh treatment of the miners’. She worked alongside Anastasia Withers and Anne Duke to sew the Eureka Flag that was unfurled on Bakery Hill as a symbol of united resistance and to provide material support, shelter and medical aid in the lead-up to and aftermath of the uprising. Women sold the illicit alcohol that inflamed passions and quelled discomfort. They also provided the meals and accommodation in the many goldfields hotels where meetings were held, strategies planned and grievances aired by miners and military men alike. Women were formally excluded from the political spoils that disenfranchised white men won after the uprising but did the women of Ballarat view manhood suffrage as a loss to their own dignity and self-worth?
A gender analysis of Eureka reveals that women could indeed be included in wider colonial narratives. Contrary to prevailing notions of women as the inevitable victims of ‘gold fever’, many women showed an aptitude for entrepreneurialism and opportunism. [11] As theatre managers, actresses, shopkeepers, liquor sellers and, of course, as prostitutes, women were able to take advantage of avenues for economic independence offered in the new country, far from the rigid moral and class restraints of England. Many popular songs of the day stress the resourcefulness and autonomy of women on the goldfields.[12] Women generally played a more active part in public life and made a significant contribution to the social struggles on the goldfields. Examining the women at Eureka brings renewed relevance to a diverse community for whom talk of ‘democracy and freedom’ automatically raised questions of gender equity.

[1] ‘Mount Alexander Diggings’, Argus, 8 November 1851, p. 2.
[2] ‘A Sailor’s Trip from Melbourne to Mount Alexander’, Argus, 20 May 1852, p. 6.
[3] Ibid, Kelly, William, Life in Victoria or Victoria in 1853 and Victoria in 1858, p. 154.
[4] SLV, MS 13518, Charles Evans Diary, 23 November 1853, pp. 64-65, 5 December 1853, p. 71.
[5] ‘What a Woman On Ballarat Can Do’, Ballarat Weekly Times, 25 December 1857.
[6] Grimshaw, Patricia, and Fahey, Charles, ‘Family and community in Castlemaine’, in Grimshaw, Patricia, McConville, Chris, and McEwen, Ellen, (eds.), Families in colonial Australia, (Allen & Unwin), 1985, p. 90.
[7] Johnson, Laurel, The Women of Eureka, (Historic Montrose Cottage and Eureka Museum), 1994.
[8] On Martha Clendinning, see Asher, Louise, ‘Martha Clendinning: a woman’s life on the goldfields’, in Lake, Marilyn, and Farley, Kelly, (eds.), Double time: women in Victoria-150 years, (Penguin Books), 1985, pp. 52-60; Anderson, Margaret, ‘Mrs Charles Clacy, Lola Montez and Poll the Grogseller: glimpses of women on the early Victorian goldfields’, in ibid, McCalman, Iain, Cook, Alexander, and Reeves, Andrew, (eds.), Gold, pp. 239, 242-243.
[9] Martha’s reminiscences (‘Recollections of Ballarat: A Lady’s Life at the Diggings Fifty Years Ago’, State Library of Victoria, Manuscript Collection: MS 10102/1) describe life on the Ballarat diggings together with a detailed description of the first Church of England in Ballarat and an account of the Eureka uprising. Her daughter Margaret married Robert Rede, Goldfields Commissioner at Ballarat during the rebellion.
[10] Kruss, S, Calico Ceilings: The Women of Eureka, (Five Islands Press), 2004; Wicham, Dorothy, Women of the Diggings: Ballarat 1854, (Ballarat Heritage Services), 2009, Wright, Clare, ‘Labour Pains: towards a female perspective on the birth of Australian democracy’, in ibid, Mayne, Alan, (ed.), Eureka: Reappraising an Australian Legend, pp. 124-142, and ‘‘New Brooms They Say Sweep Clean’: Women’s Political Activism on the Ballarat Goldfields, 1854’, Australian Historical Studies, Vol. 39, (2008), pp. 305-321.
[11] Duyker, E., (ed.), A Woman on the Goldfields: Recollections of Emily Skinner 1854-1878, (Melbourne University Press), 1995, and Thompson, P., (ed.), A Lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings in Australia in 1852-1853, 1853, (Lansdowne Press), 1963, pp. 84-91, on Mrs Charles Clacy, gives two examples of women’s experience on the goldfields.
[12] Thatcher, Charles R., The Victorian Songster: Containing Various New & Original Colonial Songs Together with a Choice Selection of the Most Popular Songs of the Day, (Charlwood & Son), 1855, 2nd ed., (G. H. Egremont-Gee), 1860; Thatcher, Charles R., Thatcher’s colonial songs: forming a complete comic history of the early diggings, (Charlwood), 1864; Hoskins, Robert, Goldfield balladeer: the Life and times of the celebrated Charles R. Thatcher, (Collins, Auckland), 1977, Arnold, Denis, (ed.), The New Oxford Companion of Music, (Oxford University Press), 1983, p. 119, and Anderson, Hugh, The colonial minstrel, (F.W. Cheshire), 1960.