Labor’s long history and uncertain future
Heroes & Villains: The Rise and Fall of the Early Australian Labor Party
by Nick Dyrenfurth
Australian Scholarly Publishing, $44 pb, 281 pp, 9781921875007
A Little History of the Australian Labor Party
by Nick Dyrenfurth and Frank Bongiorno
New South, $24.95 pb, 217 pp, 9781742232843
The heroes and villains in Nick Dyrenfurth’s account of the early Labor Party are the cartoon figures in the labour press that he uses to explore its political rhetoric. The heroes are sturdy working men, sometimes in bush garb, sometimes industrial labourers. The villains take various forms: serpents, harpies, bloodsucking insects, menacing aliens, but above all the Fat Man, the swollen, grotesque embodiment of capitalist greed. Dyrenfurth observes that Mr Fat is a far more ubiquitous device in Australian radical iconography than its counterparts elsewhere. British cartoons used a variety of villains: aristocratic loafers, rapacious landlords, ruthless sweaters, mendacious press barons. Those in the United States were less likely to personify capitalism with a generic capitalist villain than to depict combines and trusts.