John Rickard reviews 'Of Labour and Liberty: Distributism in Victoria 1891–1966' by Race Mathews

John Rickard reviews 'Of Labour and Liberty: Distributism in Victoria 1891–1966' by Race Mathews

Of Labour and Liberty: Distributism in Victoria 1891–1966

by Race Mathews

Monash University Publishing, $34.95 pb, 408 pp, 9781925495331

I was a student at Sydney University when, in 1954, the embattled Labor leader Dr H.V. Evatt went public, accusing a small group of Labor MPs of disloyalty, their attempt to gain control of the party being directed from a source outside the labour movement. He identified the Melbourne News Weekly as their mouthpiece. Few had heard of B.A. (‘Bob’) Santamaria, who ran News Weekly, but his name now spread far and wide. The name had an exotic flavour, particularly when associated with a secret Catholic organisation known simply and mysteriously as ‘The Movement’. Soon we students were drunkenly singing an Evatt-oriented version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in which the chorus began ‘Santamaria, Santamaria, Keon and Mullens disloyal to me’ (Keon and Mullens being the two Victorian Labor MPs particularly associated with the Movement). Having come from an Anglican background, and having grown up at a time when sectarianism was still common, I tended to see Catholics as a regimented lot who did what they were told and attended Mass every Sunday. It therefore came as a surprise to me that what became known as ‘The Split’ was not only a split in the Labor Party but a split, with intellectual ramifications, in the Catholic community as well.

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John Rickard

John Rickard

John Rickard is the author of Australia: A Cultural History (2017). In his youth he worked as an actor and singer.

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