Symposium and thematic section of Labour History

Working Life, Enterprise and Arbitration
Labour and business history from the proceedings of Australian arbitration
in the Commonwealth and state jurisdictions.

Symposium: Friday, 10 November 2006
Publication: Labour History November 2007

Labour HistoryAims

To highlight the rich and complex history of Australian working class experience and business enterprise as revealed in the transcripts of Commonwealth and State arbitration proceedings.

The publication of papers in Labour History coincided with the centenary of the Harvester judgement. This is intended as an ambiguous commemoration, reflecting the ambiguities of a judgement that drew inspiration from the evidence presented in the proceedings while judiciously overlooking key issues and contradictions – the inadequacies of a seven shilling per day minimum wage, the inability of Sunshine Harvester workers to present evidence for fear of employer victimisation, Higgins concern to protect an Australian enterprise and the prerogatives of its managers. Harvester clarified Higgins' intention to use the Court to play a role in Australian nation building and to uphold managerial prerogative while acknowledging a selective range of rights for a predominantly male workforce and their union representatives, an approach that was followed by Higgins' successors in the Commonwealth and state jurisidictions.

The Harvester case also revealed the forensic interrogative approach that was adopted thereafter by the Court, and which produced resonant and compelling accounts of working class experience and business enterprise available in few other sources and rarely in such comparable detail. The project aims to highlight a vital source for labour and business history too often neglected by historians and social scientists. The project also argues that focusing on the transcripts of evidence may significantly alter the interpretative perspective and challenge prevailing assumptions about the nature and influence of Australian arbitration.


A thematic section based on the project was published in Labour History in November 2007. Articles from this edition of Labour History can be accessed via the Labour History website.


Sifting the Evidence: Labour History and the
Transcripts of Industrial Arbitration Proceedings

Mark Hearn

Reconciliation and Conciliation: The Irreconcilable Dilemma of the 1965
‘Equal' Wage Case for Aboriginal Station Workers

Thalia Anthony

Mobilising at the Workplace: State Regulation and Collective Action
in Three Workplaces, 1900 to the 1920s

Sandra Cockfield

Making Liberal Citizens: Justice Higgins and His Witnesses
Mark Hearn

‘The skilful unskilled labourer': The Decline of Artisanal Discourses of Skill
in the NSW Arbitration Court, 1905-15

Ben Maddison

A Theatre of Words and Wages: Reading the Script of the Harvester Hearing
W.M. Robbins and Ian Harriss

‘War conducted under certain rules, but nonetheless war': Arbitration, Capital and Labour in the Western Australian Gold Mining Industry, 1901-14
Naomi Segal

The Dirtiest of Jobs: Maintaining Sydney's Sewers, 1890-1910
Peter Sheldon

[Research Note] Industrial Arbitration Transcripts and Related Sources
in the NSW State Archives, 1902-91

Christine Yeats

Interrogating Arbitration: Reflections on Work, Nation and History
Raelene Frances


Dr. Mark Hearn,
Department of Modern History,
Macquarie University

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