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Introduction

Michael Wilding

William Lane was born in Bristol, England on 6 September 1861, and died in Auckland, New Zealand on 26 August 1917. He was the eldest of five sons and one daughter. His brother John, next in age, recalled that the family

sprung from peasant blood of County Cork and County Gloucester. Lane combined the sturdy persistence and love of adventure of the West Saxon, with the warm-hearted idealism and brilliance of the Celt. His English mother's Puritan influence remained with him throughout his life; and the evils of drink bitterly felt by him in childhood, made him a life-long enemy of alcohol.note

His father, as the youngest brother, E. H. Lane, put it ‘had emerged from a peasant environment in Ireland to that of a humble member of the petty bourgeoisie’,note an Irish protestant of strong conservative politics; a landscape gardener, he had at one time employed twenty workmen but had been proletarianized into poverty and alcoholism. John Lane records of William that

before he was 16 he struck out for himself, and migrated to America, landing in New York, penniless, friendless and unknown. He worked at odd jobs in town and country; as shop boy in stores, as handy boy on farms, and, finally, after varied


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experience in the United States and Canada, became printer's devil on a Detroit newspaper, where he worked up to be compositor, and then a reporter, in which he found his vocation. While doing press work in Detroit he married an American-bred grand-daughter of a Scotch professor.note

Her name was Anne McQuire. William ‘never took kindly to American ways and manners’ according to John, and in 1885 emigrated to Australia, where his brothers Ernie and Frank had arrived the previous year. Settling in Brisbane he found work as a journalist for Figaro, the Telegraph, the Courier and the Observer. He wrote under various pseudonyms, one of which, ‘John Miller’, he used for The Workingman's Paradise. The name derives from the opening chapter of William Morris's Marxist romance, A Dream of John Ball (1887), part of the password of the revolutionaries of John Ball's Peasant Revolt of 1381: ‘John the Miller, hath y-ground small, small, small’. The correct reply was ‘The king's son of heaven shall pay for all’.note It was the appropriate pseudonym for Lane's mystical, religious communism.

Together with a compositor friend Alfred Walker, Lane established The Boomerang (19 November 1887), a weekly labour-liberal paper: ‘A Live Newspaper — Born of the Soil’. From reporting on labour issues, Lane became increasingly involved in the trade union movement. He was one of those advocating the ‘New Unionism’ — the extension of the union movement into non-skilled, non-craft, non-trade areas to form a united body of the working class.


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‘He felt that if only the working classes could be got to understand the why and wherefore of things, then, and then only, would it be possible to change living conditions, so that life for all would be worth living’, wrote John Lane.note He was chief architect of the Queensland Australian Labour Federation (ALF), planned as the spearhead of a federal organization of unions.

The Boomerang ran into financial difficulties and came under pressure from advertisers restricting editorial freedom. Lane resigned. The ALF established a new paper, The Worker, and Lane was appointed editor. The first issue appeared on 1 March 1890 and having been boycotted by the newsboys, was sold along the line of the Eight-Hour-Day procession by volunteers. In 1891 government hostility to The Worker and fear of its influence resulted in the imposition of a postage charge on all newspapers, previously carried free, raising The Worker's subscription from two shillings to three shillings a year.note

Through The Worker's columns Lane attempted to direct the union movement beyond the specific concern of wages and employment into a wider political programme of socialism. ‘Lane's role was to wed the labour movement in Queensland to the socialist ideal’, Robin Gollan wrote; as a consequence, from 1887–93, Lane ‘occupied a position of leadership that has rarely been equalled in the history of Australian radicalism’.note ‘When future historians ever


  ― [12] ―
undertake the task of analysing and assigning the causes and effects and course of the phenomenon of Australian Socialism’, A. St Ledger wrote in 1909, ‘Lane's writings in The Worker will be found the fons et origo from which all further and subsequent explorations must begin’note Lane's journalism of this period has never been collected, but four examples of his work are reprinted in Manning Clark's Select Documents in Australian History 1851–1900.note

The newly organized unions were immediately tested in the financial crisis of 1890–3. The employers organized amongst themselves and a succession of strikes ensued. ‘Writers on the period agree substantially that the aim of the employers was to break the unions'.note The first part of The Workingman's Paradise, Lane points out in the preface, covers two days ‘during the summer of 1888–9’; the second part is set ‘at the commencement of the Queensland bush strike excitement in 1891' (p. iii). The novel begins, that is, with the union movement untested; between parts one and two came the maritime strike; and the novel ends with the beginning of the shearers' strike. These political confrontations are the off-stage determinants of the characters' political consciousness; they are a major unwritten, but present, component of the novel. The events occur off-stage, but they are also assumed to be known, so vast, so public. Robin Gollan indicates the strikes' significance as mass action, mythic confrontation.

The Maritime Strike began in August 1890, and soon involved transport workers, miners and shearers in the eastern


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colonies, South Australia and New Zealand for periods of a fortnight to two months. The whole of the trade union movement was involved financially, and many workers not on strike were thrown out of work. The issues were, on the union side, “the recognition of unionism”, by which they meant the exclusive right of the unions to negotiate working conditions in industry. On the employers' side the issue was “freedom of contract”, the right of employers to engage unionists or non-unionists, to work under union conditions or under conditions agreed to by individual employees. The strike was fought with great bitterness and as it progressed became open class warfare. The large numbers involved, and the mass demonstrations, such as the fifty thousand in Flinders Park, Melbourne, and the procession a mile and a half long through the streets of Sydney were quite different from anything that had previously occurred in the history of Australian unionism. In fact, the strike became a mass movement in support of specific trade union demands, but also implicitly, and in part consciously, a political movement in support of vaguely defined political objectives. The unions were defeated by lack of funds, by the employment of non-union labour and by the lack of a definite political objective.note

The shearers' strike began in the first week of January 1891 when unionists refused to sign the pastoralists' contract of 1890, which, after the defeat of the Maritime strike, disavowed the principle of the closed shop. The agreement also reduced the rates for labourers in the shearing sheds, sometimes by upwards of thirty-three per cent; the labourers constituted sixty per cent of the employees on the stations.note Gollan records:




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The Shearers' Strike was contested with even greater bitterness than had been the Maritime Strike. The issues were essentially the same, the “recognition of unionism” and “freedom of contract”. But in Queensland, partly as a consequence of the socialist opinions of the union leadership, and partly because of the only thinly disguised partisanship of the government, from the first the strike was pictured by unionists as resistance to an attack on unionism by a combination of pastoralists and government.note

There were some 500 unionists camped near Clermont, and 1,000 at Barcaldine. By the third week in February 1891, 107 police, 140 special constables (mostly pastoralists and their employees) and 151 military were in the Clermont district. By the end of March there were 29 officers and 509 men based in Barcaldine.note Altogether the Queensland Defence Force provided 1,357 men, 85 officers, 765 horses, 3 nine-pounder guns and 2 Nordenfelt machine guns ‘for special service in aid of civil power’, Colonel Drury's report records.note ‘With the systematic arrest of union leaders in late March and early April, including the members of the strike committee, it was made much clearer that the strikers were likely to lose’.note Non-union labour was shipped into Queensland under armed guard. On 10 June the ALF executive asked the camps to consider calling off the strike as funds were now exhausted. There was no formal ending to the Queensland strike, but few held out beyond this date. The criminal statistics return for 1891 records 25 arrests for conspiracy, 100 for intimidation and 36 for riot and breach


  ― [15] ―
of the peace. Unionists comprised almost all of these arrests. ‘These were not the total range of charges brought against unionists, but in these three categories 82 out of the 86 men convicted were imprisoned for terms of upwards of three months in the case of intimidation, and of three years for conspiracy.’note

The leaders of the Barcaldine and Clermont Strike Committee were arrested on charges of ‘unlawful assembly, riot and tumult’.note They were acquitted, but the government prosecuted again under an 1825 conspiracy act, still in force in Queensland though repealed in England. Judge Harding gaoled twelve of the unionists for three years imprisonment each; Harding's attacks on the police for failing to fire on assembled unionists, his bullying of the jury for three days until it came up with a verdict of guilty, and his contemptuous refusal to consider the jury's recommendation of clemency, made the trials notorious. William Lane wrote The Workingman's Paradise to raise funds for the families of the imprisoned unionists, and to draw out the socialist message of the strike. Alec Forrester, one of the twelve gaoled for conspiracy, recited extracts from the novel in St Helena prison and was sentenced to seven days on bread and water for his troubles.note

The first recorded use of the phrase ‘the Workingman's Paradise’ is in Henry Kingsley's novel, The Recollections of


  ― [16] ―
Geoffry Hamlyn (1859): ‘Australia, that Workingman's Paradise’.note Lane uses the phrase with bitter irony for his title. The phrase was turned ironically against him in the British Government's Foreign Office report on New Australia: ‘New Australia was anything but a workingman's paradise'.note It is a resounding phrase; and it is the exposure of the ideology embodied in the phrase that is Lane's subject in his novel, an exposure effected by revealing the economic and social realities of the workers' life in this antipodean paradise.

The Workingman's Paradise does not deal with the detail of the shearers' strike. There was a considerable response to the strike in the writing of the time, as Clement Semmler has shown; and Lane appears as a character in Vance Palmer's play about the events, Hail Tomorrow! (1947).note But when Lane wrote, the strike had been defeated. He was concerned to widen the issues from a specific defeat into a socialist analysis of the society that generated the confrontation. His intention was to expound the basic ideas of socialism and communism in a readable and accessible form, to raise his readers' consciousness for the next round in the battle.

The novel's protagonist, Ned Hawkins, begins with a very moderate position. ‘ “We only want what's fair”, he


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said. “We're not going to do anything wild.” ’ His naivety appals Nellie Lawton, the girl he comes down from Queensland to visit.

How dared he talk as he did about only wanting what was fair, she thought! How had he the heart to care only for himself and his mates while in these city slums such misery brooded! And then it shot through her that he did not know. With a rapidity, characteristic of herself, she made up her mind to teach him. (p.10)

And the novel consists of Nellie's opening Ned's eyes to the social conditions of Sydney, and directing his unionism into a committed socialism. ‘The evolution of Ned was the evolution of Lane and of the workers of Queensland’, Lloyd Ross remarked.note And the political education of Ned is Lane's political education of his readers.

Lane's base had been Queensland, Brisbane in particular, but he was a frequent visitor to Sydney and he set the novel in Sydney because the aftermath of the shearers' strike had made it ‘not thought desirable, for various reasons, to aggravate by a local plot the soreness existing in Queensland' (p.iii).

Marcus Clarke in his ‘Lower Bohemia’note series and John Stanley James in ‘The Vagabond Papers’note had produced earlier exposes of Melbourne in the Mayhew tradition.


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Lane continued the mode in articles he wrote for the Observer and Boomerang under the name ‘Sketcher’, ‘gradually taking up the task of exposing glaring cases of social injustice — over-crowded slums, sweated labour, and the long hours of shop assistants, waitresses, and tramway men’.note He was able to draw on these detailed accounts of inner-city living for the novel. The lack of any specifically industrial material indicates the Brisbane basis of his explorations; Brisbane did not have Sydney's industries, and this makes the novel present a somewhat distorted picture of working-class life in Sydney. The stress is on the housing, the living conditions, on cottage industries and on domestic and service employment. Ned, of course, is a bushman, a shearer, not an industrial worker: he was one of ‘the genuine western men, strong, tall, brave, kind-hearted men, the best men in the whole world and the tenderest’note that Lane knew and in whom he put his faith, rather than one of the industrial proletariat.

Ned comes down to Sydney and suggests he and Nellie go to visit some of the typical attractive leisure spots — ‘to Manly or Bondi or Watson's Bay’. Nellie suggests they ‘see a little bit of real Sydney’ (p.13). So they see the slum housing; they see Mrs Somerville slaving in the cottage garment industry; they go to ‘a fashionable Sydney restaurant’ (p.23) where Nellie cross-questions the waitress about work conditions. They end up with ‘Saturday Night in Paddy's Market’, a chapter Leon Cantrell includes in his anthology The 1890s, arguing that

The most frequent picture of city life in Australian writing of the period stresses this poverty of the down and outs …


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Though William Lane's novel The Workingman's Paradise deals with the breaking of the strikes, it makes an impassioned plea for a socialist future where the distress and suffering we see in “Saturday Night in Paddy's Market” will be swept aside.note

Other commentators have stressed Lane's English literary sources. Graeme Davison notes the influence of James Thomson's ‘City of Dreadful Night’ (1874),note whose mode had been followed in Australia by the ‘Arnoldian Socialist’ Francis Adams, a friend and fellow journalist of Lane's in Brisbane. John Docker points to Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke (1850):

The tradition of seeing the urban landscape as the location of squalor and bitter class experience, equivalent to the “industrial tradition”, can certainly be witnessed in Lane's The Workingman's Paradise, and the evocation of “Saturday Night in Paddy's Market” by Lane bears a remarkable similarity to a disgusted description of a Saturday night street market scene in working-class London in chapter eight of Kingsley's Alton Locke. Yet both of these scenes, intended to typify working-class life in London and Sydney, can be contrasted to the chapter in Louis Stone's Jonah (1911) which almost enviously evokes the pleasurable shopping and eating of the Saturday night crowd at Paddy's Market.note

Kingsley's street-market is discussed in P. J. Keating's The Working Classes in Victorian Fiction:




  ― [20] ―
Kingsley's sole intention is to describe to the reader the horrors of working-class life; to recreate the feeling of repulsion experienced by himself … he makes no attempt whatsoever to present it from a working-class viewpoint … This kind of slum description is the most common in Victorian fiction before the eighties. They are not incidental but hold a central place in the novels, in that they are being used to grip the reader and stir his conscience. Almost everything else that happens in the novel depends upon such scenes for its vitality.note

But Lane had a political, didactic purpose. He was not recoiling in disgust, but analytically presenting the market, as Brian Kiernan points out, as ‘the focus for the critical depiction of Sydney’ with ‘Sydney as the centre of the exploitative capitalism that is dominating the whole continent’.note

After the market, Nellie takes Ned to visit a group of intellectuals, bourgeois bohemians interested in the labour movement. The episode has been variously interpreted. Graeme Davison finds that ‘the salon conversation of his radical intellectuals (Geisner, the Strattons) exposes, even as Lane himself attempts to repair, their fragile alliance with the working classes’.note Whereas John Docker, countering Cantrell's ‘Gloom Thesis’ argues ‘the novel in these sections can be seen as offering a glowing account of Sydney's early nineties radical intellectual life’: ‘the house is surrounded by a leafy garden, and the inner spirit of the household is shown as at one with the natural world of the


  ― [21] ―
harbour’.note The opposed responses are not accidental. Lane saw the contradictions: they were the dialectic of his argument, from which Ned's final commitment to the working-class movement through radical action issues.

Joseph Jones singled out the Stratton episode as the most successful part of the novel, which otherwise he found flawed:

Stagey, sentimental and exhortative by turns, it has more than its share of technical faults but it does nevertheless dramatize the perfervid attitudes of the day, most successfully in a long “Medley of Conversation” held in the home of a middle-class Sydney family named Stratton.note

But when Lane was ‘stagey’ he was consciously stagey; he was a self-aware writer. After leaving the Strattons Nellie takes Ned through the Domain where the homeless sleep out. Here, in answer to Ned's queries as to ‘What is Socialism?’ Nellie kisses a sleeping prostitute on the cheek.

‘This is Socialism.’ And bending down again she kissed the poor outcast harlot a second time … Perhaps if he had been less natural himself the girl's passionate declaration of fellowship with all who are wronged and oppressed — for so he interpreted it by the light of his own thoughts — might have struck him as a little bit stagey. Being natural, he took it for what it was, an outburst of genuine feeling. (p.100)

Joseph Jones' ‘stagey' is a reaction Lane has taken into account: he accommodates, absorbs and situates it.

Arthur Rae, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, and a vice-chairman of the New Australia


  ― [22] ―
Association, had a more practical complaint about the episode.

“Ah! Will,” said Rae, “You didn't complete the picture. When the prostitute woke up she wouldn't know that she had been kissed by a girl. Nellie should have left half a crown in her hand—that would have been practical Socialism!”note

Robert Louis Stevenson, who visited Sydney four times between 1890 and 1893, described the plight of the homeless sleeping out in Sydney's Domain in The Wrecker.

The long day and longer night he spent in the Domain, now on a bench, now on the grass under a Norfolk pine, the companion of perhaps the lowest class on earth, the Larrikins of Sydney. Morning after morning, the dawn behind the lighthouse recalled him from slumber; and he would stand and gaze upon the changing east, the fading lenses, the smokeless city, and the many-armed and many masted harbour growing slowly clear under his eyes. His bed-fellows (so to call them) were less active: they lay sprawled upon the grass and benches, the dingy men, the frowsty women, prolonging their late repose … Yes, it's a queer place, where the dowagers and the kids walk all day, and at night you can hear people bawling for help as if it was the Forest of Bondy, with the lights of a great town all round, and parties spinning through in cabs from Government House and dinner with my lord!note

When Ned sleeps in the Domain there is no prolonging any late repose. A grinning gorilla-faced constable kicks him in the ribs and threatens to run him in for indecent exposure.

Ned's rude awakening occurs in part two of the novel. Between the two parts came the defeat of the Maritime


  ― [23] ―
Strike, the worsening of the situation of the working class. The baby born in the first chapter of part one, dies in the first chapter of part two. Marcus Clarke had complained that ‘the success of the “dying children” urged Dickens to extremes. Every book must have a dying child, and the trick becomes wearisome’.note But Clarke used the theme himself in His Natural Life and in the story of the child dying in the bush, ‘Pretty Dick’. The child's bush death became a familiar theme in Australian fiction and painting. Lane shifts it back to the Dickensian urban milieu. But to see this as primarily a ‘literary’ topic and as sentimental or melodramatic, is to refuse to recognize the reality of nineteenth-century experience. Humphrey Osmond remarks

I am pretty sure no modern author has to remind himself not to introduce that incomparable tear-jerker, the dying child. Unlike the Victorian author, who could be certain of a large and deeply involved readership who had experienced the loss of brothers and sisters in the home, and who had lost a child or two as parents themselves, the modern author cannot expect such a predictable response.note

With Lane, the death of the child is firmly related to the slum housing conditions and working-class poverty. Capitalism is the cause of ‘The Slaughter of an Innocent’.

Between the two parts Ned's consciousness has changed — through the experience of the Maritime Strike, in which the Queensland shearers were involved for one week in September 1890, and through the education from Nellie and Geisner. In Part I Nellie seizes every opportunity to


  ― [24] ―
propagandize. By Part II Ned similarly recruits the unemployed youth in the cheap lodging house. The capitalist Strong, whose appearance Ned likes in Part I, is encountered in Part II and revealed as the intransigent, unscrupulous power worshipper. The individual episodes of the novel have the force of illustrative vignettes; but they are all part of an ongoing dynamic, a process of revelation and commitment. And it is all situated in Sydney and around the harbour: ‘the most beautiful spot I know,’ says Geisner, in a context of a world in which ‘all countries are beautiful in their way’ (p.105). The beauty is there, the setting for what could become a just society, a paradise.

The progressive stages of Lane's own political development all find their place in The Workingman's Paradise. John recalls that when he and William sailed to Australia on the Quetta in 1885, William ‘had bought for study on shipboard a collection of books on political economy, including Karl Marx's Capital, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and Henry George's Progress and Poverty’. note

The first English translation of Capital did not appear until 1887. William may have possessed it untranslated, or John may have placed Will's certain later acquaintance with Capital back in time a little. William certainly arrived in Brisbane radicalized. Ernie Lane recalls

to my horror I discovered that Will had evolved into a radical or worse. When he had left England for America some years before he had given me as a parting gift a Church of England prayer book in the fly leaf of which he had written “Fear God and Honour the King.” That was the very foundation of our material and spiritual life. I reminded him of this. He had forgotten, and I said sadly, “Don't you believe that now?” He


  ― [25] ―
laughed and replied “No! And you won't some day when you know better.”note

Ten years in the U.S.A. had had a profound radicalizing effect on William. He arrived in time to experience the Great Upheaval of 1877, the wave of general strikes that were, as President Hayes recorded in his diary, ‘put down by force,’ and in which more than a hundred strikers and onlookers were killed by police and troops.note Henry George and Edward Bellamy, both Americans, were influences on his social thinking until he discovered Marx. And Lloyd Churchward notes that

William Lane had spent some time in Detroit before he settled in Brisbane and he had a high regard for the achievement of the Knights of Labor in the United States before he joined the Sydney-based Eureka Assembly of the Knights of Labor in 1891.note

The Knights of Labor had been founded in 1869. ‘It combined the functions of a trade union with an opposition to the wage system as a whole, and originally had a deep religious strain as well.’note Unlike the traditional trade unions of that time, which generally represented only the highly-skilled craftsmen and were concerned to maintain their comparatively privileged position in the labour force, ‘the one great sentiment embodied in the Knights of Labor was the idea of solidarity among all workers, whether white or black, skilled or unskilled, men or women’.note The


  ― [26] ―
Knights were opposed to strike action; strikes distracted from the programme of creating producers' co-operatives and of controlling monopoly through government, and strikes threatened to generate revolutionary disorder. But it was the Knights of Labor's success in the 1885 Railroad Workers Strike against the railway ‘king’ Jay Gould, that resulted in the rapid growth of their organization—from 71,326 members in July 1884 to 729,677 members by July 1886. An organizer was sent to Australia in 1888,note and, Churchward notes, ‘William Lane, in particular, quoted freely in the Boomerang during 1888–90 from United Labor, the journal of the Knights of Labor, printed in Philadelphia'.note

Henry George's Progress and Poverty which Will brought with him to Australia, had already been serialized in a Sydney newspaper in 1879, the year of its publication in the U.S.A. And, as Churchward points out, land taxation and land nationalization theories were already widespread in England and America before George's book. T. A. Coghlan's Wealth and Progress of New South Wales

revealed that while 212,639 selections were sold in New South Wales over twelve years, 1876–88, individual holdings of one acre upwards had increased only from 39,639 to 46,142. In 1889 580 persons held 25 million acres comprising 53 per cent. of the alienated land of New South Wales. These facts caused the early Australian interest in progressive land taxation.note

Land nationalization leagues were widely established


  ― [27] ―
through eastern Australia in 1887. Lane wrote in The Boomerang

Land nationalization would do more in a single day than protection will do in a century towards adjusting and keeping perpetually adjusted that distribution of wealth, the present mismanagement of which is the cause of all poverty, nearly all crime, and most vice.note

In 1890 Henry George lectured in Australia, expounding his ‘single tax’ programme, and attracted a considerable following. The novelist Catherine Spence was active in the single-tax movement in South Australia, and the poet and story writer John Farrell in N.S.W. Churchward argues that

the influence of Henry George on the Australian Labour movement was a general rather than a specific one. No part of the Labour movement accepted the panacea of the ‘single tax’ but George's books and his visit to Australia in 1890 did much to popularise the principle of the taxation of unimproved land values and partly explains the prominence of this principle in the early Labour Party platforms. More generally still his visit in 1890 helped arouse the sections of the middle class to the claims of labour and served to strengthen the optimism of the workers which was so marked in the early strike struggles of 1890.note

In The Workingman's Paradise Geisner explains to Ned

George's is a scheme by which it is proposed to make employers compete so fiercely among one another that the


  ― [28] ―
workman will have it all his own way. It works this way. You tax the landowner until it doesn't pay him to have unused land. He must either throw it up or get it used somehow and the demand for labour thus created is to lift wages and put the actual workers in what George evidently considers a satisfactory position. (p.110)

George's Social Problems was the second work discussed by Lane in his ‘Books Well Worth Reading’ series in The Worker.note Although he found Progress and Poverty ‘a wearisome book for all its brilliant writing and repeated outbursts of intensest passion’, and Freetrade and Protection ‘a mere piece of special pleading’, he declared that ‘George is the man who, most of all the English writers — writers of English — has clothed the dry bones of political economy with the flesh of humanity and the blood of passionate sympathy’. He recommends Social Problems, defining its limitations at the same time that he acknowledges its propagandistic strengths.

It is readable from beginning to end. It is short. It is George at his very best, that phase of George which all who seek better things love and admire and respect. Every man and woman who can read can wade through it easily and if they do so they will feel, when they put it down, that they are better and truer and nobler than when they picked it up.

George may be out on interest. He may be wrong in maintaining that population, the illimitable quantity, cannot get to the limits of land the limitable quantity. He may be not quite logical in assuming that competition is a great thing. But he is a great man and a good man and “Social Problems” is his book.

The last issue of The Worker that Lane edited, 30 July


  ― [29] ―
1892, carried on its front page Karl Marx's letter of 1881 on Henry George and his theories: ‘the man is a back number’. Geisner's view is similar and he explains to Ned the inadequacies of the ‘Single Tax’ proposal:

The capitalists, who alone can really use land remember, for the farmer, the squatter, the shopkeeper, the manufacturer, the merchant, are nowadays really only managers for banks and mortgage companies, will soon arrange a way of fixing the values of land to suit themselves. But apart from that, I object to the Single Tax idea from the social point of view. It is competitive. It means that we are still to go on buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest. It is tinged with that hideous Free Trade spirit of England, by which cotton kings became millionaires while cotton spinners were treated far worse than any chattel slaves. (p.111)

Lane presents the Single Taxers amongst the Sunday afternoon speakers in the Domain. There was ‘a vigorous iconoclast, who from the top of a kitchen chair laid down the Law of the Universe as revealed by one Clifford’ and ‘a wild-eyed religionary’ who had been enabled ‘to foretell exactly the date of the Second Coming of Christ. Then came the Single Tax platform’ (p. 120).

It is not an utterly hostile placing. The iconoclastic puritans of the English revolution, the millenarian visionaries, were the transmitters of a radical consciousness as much as the Single Taxers. They were all progenitors of socialism. W. K. Hancock remarked of the 1890s, ‘the waters were turbulently Marxian; but Lane was at heart an English Puritan, a spiritual descendant of Winstanley and the digger-communists of seventeenth-century Sussex’.note The communism of the radicals of the English revolution (not confined to Sussex) was transmitted into the nineteenth


  ― [30] ―
century through radical, independent religious groups. At the Strattons, Ford tells of his childhood in the west of England and how his elder brother

took to going to the Ranters' meetings instead of to church. My mother and father used to tie him up on Saturday nights and march him to church on Sunday like a young criminal going to gaol … It was the deadliest of all sins, you know, to go to the Ranters. (pp. 80–1)

In the end the whole family went.

The Ranters were an anarcho-communist sect, adherents of the medieval doctrine of the Free Spirit. Norman Cohn has explored their European connexions in The Pursuit of the Millenium. A. L. Morton and Christopher Hill have traced their role during the English revolution, and Jack Lindsay has indicated the transmission of their beliefs into Blake's milieu.note Their beliefs were straightforward. ‘The true communion amongst men is to have all things common and to call nothing one hath one's own’, Abiezer Coppe wrote. God, ‘that mighty Leveller’ will ‘overturn, overturn, overturn’. ‘Who are the oppressors but the nobility and gentry?’, asked Lawrence Clarkson.note

Lane continually refers back to the English revolution. The recurrent paradise image of the novel's title, with Ned as Adam, Nellie as Eve, and Geisner as Satan, associates


  ― [31] ―
him with that seventeenth century focus on Eden for radical propaganda that we find in Winstanley's True Leveller's Standard and Milton's Paradise Lost. In the tradition of the Ranters and Blake, the conventional story is inverted. Geisner's temptation is the positive force of Socialism. As for Nellie, ‘For that kiss Ned gave himself into the hands of a fanaticism, eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, striving to become as a god knowing good from evil’ (p.100). Lane also shares the doctrine of the Norman Yoke, which Christopher Hill has shown was a central myth of the Cromwellian revolutionary period.

Before 1066 the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of this country lived as free and equal citizens, governing themselves through representative institutions. The Norman Conquest deprived them of this liberty, and established the tyranny of an alien King and landlords. But the people did not forget the rights they had lost. They fought continuously to recover them.note

Writing in The Worker the week the shearers' strike was called off Lane declared:

Class governance is a usurpation, a tyranny which has its roots in the ages when armed robbers, military castes, ground the peaceful tillers of the soil into slavery. Our parliamentary system, of which the very opponents of one-man-one-vote profess to be so proud, is only a degenerated survival of the assembly at which in primitive times our Teutonic forefathers gathered, free and equal, to make for themselves laws for their common governance.note

John Lane recalled how William would announce ‘we


  ― [32] ―
Germanic people came into history as Communists. From our communal village we drew the strength which broke Rome down, and the energy which even yet lets us live’.note Southern England was always thought to be more Norman than the Midlands, West and North. Lane wrote in the Boomerang,

Australia is not a sect or a section, it is not a caste or a class, or a creed, is not to be a Southern England nor yet another United States. Australia is the whole white people of this great continent.note

The stress on the Aryan tradition, the Germanic heritage, the Anglo-Saxon, provided, too, an ideology for the racism of the early socialists.note

Humphrey McQueen has called Lane ‘a fanatical racist’.note Certainly racism is a major component of his thinking. In The Workingman's Paradise Nellie recalls Ned telling her that the ‘squatters were mostly selfish brutes who preferred Chinese to their own colour and would stop at no trick to beat the men out of a few shillings’ (p.10). Lane correctly saw that the pastoralists were eager to import Chinese or kanaka indentured labour as a way of undercutting and destroying the unions. Lane's first novel, White or Yellow? A story of the Race-war of A.D. 1908 by ‘Sketcher’,note predicted an alliance of the pastoralists of the Queensland establishment and Asian capital. The alliance


  ― [33] ―
is destroyed by white, working-class unionists taking up arms and fighting. The Chinese are driven up to the northern tip of Queensland and then deported. The economic predictions may yet come true; but over and above that there is a racism. Instead of seeing the Chinese or kanakas as equally oppressed peoples and forging an alliance with them, Lane believed that blacks and orientals were inferior races, decadent, doomed to extinction. Though in his pessimistic projections of industrial capitalism, he speculated that perhaps in the decadence of these last days of capitalism, the Chinese were destined to survive better than the Celtic-Saxon Aryan. Nellie speculates

this yellow man and such men as he were watching them all slowly going down lower and lower, were waiting to leap upon them in their last helplessness and enslave them all as white girls were sometimes enslaved, even already, in those filthy opium joints whose stench nauseated the hurrying passers by. Perhaps under all their meekness these Chinese were braver, more stubborn, more vigorous, and it was doomed that they should conquer at last and rule in the land where they had been treated as outcasts and intruders. (p.9)

Lane wrote about the opium dens and the gambling joints in his ‘Daylight and Dark’ series in The Boomerang. He tried opium and noticed that

the world seemed to move back a peg or two and that it seemed as though there was getting to be nothing but friendliness in it and that the jarrings of life were getting covered with india-rubber shields. … I noticed mostly that I began to hate less these calm-faced impassive invaders of our civilization and to feel less intensely against their abominable habits … And then I recollected seeing a year ago in this very same place and at much the same time of day a bloated-faced, fair-haired white girl, hardly 20, who was lying insensate with the poppy-drug in the midst of these smooth-faced and


  ― [34] ―
heartless yellow men … And then I wanted to kick the lamp over and burn down this joint and all the other joints and with it every one of these yellow devils who, with mask-like faces and fawning guise and patient, plodding ways and superb organization, have come here and rooted themselves here and brought with them all their virtues and all their vices and who threaten us with this frightful habit which will wreck the manliness of our men and the womanliness of our women, and will bury our nationality in a deadly slough of sloth and deceit and filth and immoralities from which the vigorous white race man now shrinks in horror. note

An intractable hostility to the Chinese and to their use of opium was another feature of the American Labor movement that Lane brought with him to Australia. ‘At its first meeting in 1881, the first act of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions was to condemn Chinese cigarmakers of California and to urge that only union-label cigars be bought.' noteThe Federation became the American Federation of Labor in 1886 and its founding president, Samuel Gompers, led the campaign against the Chinese until his death in 1924. The Chinese were seen as a threat to organized labor since they were held to work harder for longer hours at lower wages than white workers, and their opium usage was held to help them work harder for less. The labor unions' campaign against the Chinese resulted in legislation prohibiting the importing of opium by Chinese to the U.S.A. in 1887, the Chinese Exclusion Act barring the further immigration of Chinese into the U.S.A. in 1889, and the restriction of the manufacture of smoking opium to American citizens in 1890. note Concerted


  ― [35] ―
anti-opium campaigns, directed against the Chinese, began in Melbourne and Sydney in 1890.

When Lane established his communist settlements in Paraguay in 1893, he was adamant that there should be no contact with the native guarani. Of course there was contact. When Mary Gilmore left the Cosme settlement in 1900 she explained ‘ostensibly we left because of the climate, actually because (a) we feared, if not in this, in a later generation, the admixture of the native’ and (b) because it was no longer operating communistically. note The fear of interbreeding, the sex-fear is exploited by Lane in his Lucinda Sharpe column.

Lane's racism is blatant; but it is important to realize it was a racism shared widely by his fellow communists and socialists. McQueen notes:

What Lane was fond of calling “the piebald issue” dominated the thinking of the Labor Party to such an extent that when the Objectives of the Federal Labor Party were adopted in 1905:

the cultivation of an Australian sentiment based on the maintenance of racial purity and the development in Australia of an enlightened and self-reliant community.

took precedence over:

the securing of the full results of their industry to all producers by the collective ownership of monopolies and the extension of the industrial and economic functions of the state and the municipality.




  ― [36] ―

In other words, the Labor Party was racist before it was socialist.note

In this context it is a mistake to see Lane as in any way exceptional in his racism. It is a contradiction that was endemic to the labour movement. Lane recognized the economic advantages to the capitalists in using cheap coloured labour; he failed to realize that a racist reponse merely supported the capitalists in dividing the working classes.

In 1887, recalled Ernie Lane,

My brother started a Bellamy society. Looking Backward was just then in the boom. We met regularly on the closed-in balcony of George Marchant's hop beer factory in Bowen Street [Brisbane], and there were about a dozen of us used to attend.note

Lane began serializing Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward 2000–1887 (1887) in the first issue of The Worker,note and he discussed it in first of his ‘Books Well Worth Reading’ series in the same issue. ‘It has won rich men to the side of State Socialism, and has moved the masses as no book dealing with political-economic topics


  ― [37] ―
ever moved them before,' Lane wrote.note Bellamy's vision of the year AD 2000 was one of ‘all change.'

Industry has readjusted itself to the age of machinery; competition has been swept away by natural process; the state has absorbed all the means of production and distribution; equality of wealth reins supreme, and in this equality individualism finds unlimited scope, and the ablest lead, and the weak are happy with the strong. Woman, too, has won her equality, and shares fully with man in the abounding wealth and marvellous opportunities of a great community, where all are workers, and where no man robs another, where crime is unknown and immorality unthought of, where the dreaming of the good and great is realised at last…note

An immensely influential work for the labour movement, Bellamy's novel lies behind the portrayal of Australia in The Workingman's Paradise. Sydney in its slums, its poverty, its inequalities and its exploitation is the counter-type of Bellamy's utopian city.

Bellamy's industrial army of socialism may have been in the background of the New Australia movement. The first issue of the journal, New Australia asked ‘DO YOU BELIEVE’

That there is intelligence enough and power of organization enough among the workers to enable them of their own free will to organize the present conditions of industry and to give the world an example of a peaceful and self-sustaining industrial community in which there are none but workers in which all are equal?

‘IF YOU DO, JOIN THE “NEW AUSTRALIA”


  ― [38] ―
MOVEMENT.note But the industrial model was never developed in New Australia or Colonia Cosme. ‘Socialists whose conception of the truer life is a Looking Backward city have no place with us,’ John Lane wrote in 1900.note Cosme Monthly declared ‘The life within reach of our outstretched hands is the heaven of which William Morris dreamed and Sir Thomas More saw afar off.’note

Looking Backward postulated that socialism would be established with absolutely no violence, by the natural process of take-overs and monopolization, culminating in one big, state monopoly. The final episode appeared in The Worker for 13 December 1890. The next issue, 10 January 1891, carried the first reports of the beginnings of the shearers' strike. Events undercut Bellamy's theory of social change. The defeat of the maritime strike of 1890 and of the shearers' strike of 1891 made it quite clear to Lane that monopoly capital was not going to happily surrender its power and wealth to a socialist ideal. In his earlier political writings he had preached moderation and co-operation;note but it became clearer than ever before, that any thought of co-operation now with capital was absurd. Lane introduces into his novel the ‘managing director of the Great Southern Mortgage Agency, a big concern that owns hundreds and hundreds of stations. At least, the squatters own the stations and the Agency owns the squatters, and he as good as owns the Agency’ (p.26). Historians have calculated that by 1890 about half the pastoralists of N.S.W. were mortgaged


  ― [39] ―
clients of banks or other financing agencies.note Strong, the managing director, ‘is Capitalism personified' (p.207). His encounter with Ned at the novel's end is a precursor of Wickson's encounter with Ernest Everhard in Jack London's The Iron Heel (1907) and of Winston's encounter with O'Brien in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949).note Strong sums up the unrelenting, unbending attitude of capital, the imperative of power:

“Rich!” sneered Strong. “What is rich? It is Power that is worth having and to have power one must control capital. In your wildest ranting of the power of the capitalist you have hardly touched the fringe of the power he has.” (p.204)

Ned initially has had a sort of admiration for the abstemious disciplined Strong. He even shakes hands with Strong after the encounter as they both declare ‘war’ (p.205). But any sentimentalism about Strong as the noble gentleman warrior is immediately dispelled as Strong, having shaken Ned's hand, sends a coded telegram to arrange for Ned's arrest on his way back to Queensland. Power, not honour, is Strong's characteristic.

Bellamy, rejecting violent revolution, argued that the nineteenth-century anarchists ‘were paid by the great monopolies to wave the red flag and talk about burning, sacking, and blowing people up, in order, by alarming the timid, to head off any real reforms’.note Lane was to have his


  ― [40] ―
own experience of agents-provocateurs in Paraguay; they were not a concept foreign to his world. But he rejects utterly Bellamy's identifying the anarchists with the instruments of repression. Nellie introduces Ned to the amiable anarchist Sim, one of ‘the dynamiters’ (p.40) as she calls him, at Paddy's Market. Sim announces, ‘Jones vows that there is only one way to cure things and that is to destroy the rule of Force’ (p.41). Ned's education is continued by Geisner. ‘ “The Anarchist ideal is the highest and noblest of all human ideals … Anarchical Communism, that is men working as mates and sharing with one another of their own free will, is the highest conceivable form of Socialism in industry.” ’ (p.112) Though Geisner himself is not an anarchist but a communist. He explains

I freely admit it is the only form of Socialism possible among true Socialists. But the world is full of mentally and morally and socially diseased people who, I believe, must go through the school of State Socialism before, as a great mass, they are true Socialists and fit for voluntary Socialism. Unionism is the drill for Socialism and Socialism is the drill for Anarchy and Anarchy is that free ground whereon true Socialists and true Individualist meets as friends and mates, all enmity between them absorbed by the development of an all-dominant Humanity. (pp.112–13)

Geisner recognizes the idealism of the anarchists. But his own programme is a conventional communist programme, accepting the necessity for the period of state socialism, the transitional stage before the withering away of the state.

The extent of Lane's knowledge of and commitment to Marxism has always been a matter of dispute. As Lloyd Ross remarked, ‘Considerable time could be spent in showing the contradictory views held by Lane at different times on the reforms to be advocated and in showing the


  ― [41] ―
inconsistency between his Socialistic drive and his immediate steps’.note A. St Ledger, a Queensland senator, had no doubt about Lane's revolutionary Marxism: in The Worker leaders Lane ‘endorsed all that Karl Marx had written against capitalism’note wrote St Ledger in 1909. ‘The A.L.F. under his guidance founded a library of Socialistic literature, in which Bellamy and Marx were the Bible and Shakespeare to its new recruits. Thousands of leaflets were distributed to all its branches.’note Lloyd Ross argued that ‘Marx certainly influenced him less than had Bellamy’.note Henry Mayer mentions Lane only in passing, as a teetotaller, in Marx, Engels and Australia.note Bruce Mansfield does not mention Lane in ‘The Socialism of William Morris: England and Australia’.note Grant Hannannote and Humphrey McQueennote have denied that he was a Marxist at all.

Lane discussed Marx in his Worker series, ‘Books Well Worth Reading’.note

Karl Marx is the father of modern Socialism, that is to say he is the man who in his famous work “Das Kapital” first


  ― [42] ―
systematized into the nationalization of land and machinery the previously crude theories that somehow or other every man must get what he produces in order to be not a slave. He reaches the bed-rock principle that “interest is usury and usury is robbery” and propounds in scientific and convincing method the economic truths which now begin to win recognition throughout the civilized world. For we workers are all Socialists nowadays, though some of us are so ignorant that we don't know it. We follow Marx in the contention that Labour's rightful share of Production is all.

But Marx is a recondite writer, a man who reasons algebraically and with pitiless disregard for the dryness of mathematical demonstration.

The difficulty of Marx's work meant that ‘to the every day man, Marx is unreadable’. For the immediate propagandist work of converting the union movement to socialism, Lane had found the works of Bellamy and Henry George more accessible: Bellamy, George and Olive Schreiner were discussed in ‘Books Well Worth Reading’ before Marx. Moreover, copies of Capital were hard to acquire, ‘so, very few have got copies and it is very dear’; neither Boomerang nor Bulletin could direct Twomey, a Charters Towers radical, to a copy when he inquired. Though he did acquire a copy — as did Queensland premier Griffith and Worker Secretary Seymour. Lane remarked, ‘There are probably others in Queensland but not many, though with Socialism becoming fashionable it may soon expect to be bought for ornament if not for use. I doubt if there are a thousand men who have Marx at their finger's ends in the whole world.’ But though like William Morris, Lane stressed the difficulty of reading Marx, he also, like Morris, recognized that Capital was the basic text of socialism.

Yet Marx sways the world. From his epoch-making work all modern economic writers draw as from a well of learning,


  ― [43] ―
pure and undefiled. There, “Das Kapital” — “Capital” — is laid out on the dissecting table of enquiry; its very marrow is laid bare by his piercing intellect. From the time when he safely gave his two immortal volumes to the thinkers the cause of the toilers was won. With the divinity stripped off that had cloaked “Property”, with the brand of theft stamped indelibly upon the exactions of Capitalism, with Labour set up on high as the sole producer of all the wealth which was and is and can be, and all done with the cold logic of a matchless logician — it was only a question of years till to the masses below the truths acquired by the genius on the mountain tops would waft slowly down. It is mainly because of Marx that the world sees its way to a remedy for the social ills that oppress us — and Marx, also, was a Jew.

Lane was also in communication with the Morris circle. John Lane recalls

One of the most highly-placed educationalists then in Queensland was a friend and correspondent of William Morris, the English socialist, poet, and reformer. He used to meet Lane in secret, and with him discuss politics and literature.note

Another contact was A. G. Yewen, as E. H. Lane recalls:

A personal friend of William Morris, Yewen assisted him to form the Socialist League (1884) in a breakaway from the S.D.F. [Social Democratic Federation], whose high priest was H. M. Hyndman … Owing to ill health Yewen was ordered to go to Australia. He had a letter to W. Lane in Brisbane and Will sent him up to Umbiram, Darling Downs, where my brother John was school teacher. Yewen stayed with John for six months and in improved health, went to Sydney. There he threw himself into the work of the Australian Socialist League, of which McNamara was secretary.note




  ― [44] ―

Yewen, W. A. Holman and Henry Lawson later got painting work in Sydney through another former member of the SDF, G. Chandler.note

Marxist ideas were current. The English socialist writer, Francis Adams, a friend of Lane's in Brisbane, addressed a sonnet to Marx: ‘We praise you, worker, thinker, poet, seer!’. And Lane persuaded Sir Samuel Griffith,note the then premier of Queensland, to contribute to the Christmas 1888 issue of Boomerang. Griffith wrote an exposition of Marx's theory of surplus value. ‘There are only two sources of wealth; the gifts or products of nature and human labour’, Griffith began.

In order that additional wealth of capital might come into existence, labor must be applied to raw material in such a manner that the value of the resulting product is greater than the value of the raw material together with that of the things consumed in the process of production … Such new value created should, however, belong not to the employer nor to the owner of the raw material, but to the labourer himself. In practice, the employer expropriated a large proportion of the new value created; hence arises the unequal distribution of wealth within the community.note

In The Workingman's Paradise Geisner explains to Ned how the employer expropriates the new value created. The worker

must bargain for the owner of machinery to take the product of his labour for a certain price which of course isn't its full


  ― [45] ―
value at all but the price at which, owing to his necessities, he is compelled to sell his labour. (p.107)note

And, as Marx points out in Capital

The fact that half a day's labour is necessary to keep the labourer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him from working a whole day. Therefore, the value of labour-power, and the value which that labour-power creates in the labour process, are two entirely different magnitudes: and this difference of the two values was what the capitalist had in view, when he was purchasing the labour-power.… The seller of labour-power, like the seller of any other commodity, realises its exchange-value, and parts with its use-value. He cannot take the one without giving the other.… The owner of the money has paid the value of a day's labour power; his, therefore, is the use of it for a day; a day's labour belongs to him … The daily sustenance of labour-power costs only half a day's labour, while on the other hand the very same labour-power can work during a whole day … consequently the value which its use during one day creates, is double what he pays for that use.note

A reading of The Workingman's Paradise in the context of Capital and The Manifesto of the Communist Party indicates the extent to which Lane used his novel to expound some of the basic principles of Marxism.

Geisner explains to Ned that unionism is no answer to the system.

How can you get what you want by unionism? The evil is in


  ― [46] ―
having to ask another man for work at all—in not being able to work for yourself. Unionism, so far, only says that if this other man does employ you he shall not take advantage of your necessity by paying you less than the wage which you and your fellow workmen have agreed to hold out for. You must destroy the system which makes it necessary for you to work for the profit of another man, and keeps you idle when he can't get a profit out of you. The whole wage system must be utterly done away with. (p.108)

The Communist Manifesto is in the background here:

The essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the bourgeois class, is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage labour. Wage labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers.note

Competition amongst wage labourers is inevitable under the capitalist system. Geisner points out

The fits of industrial briskness and idleness which occur in all countries are enough to account for the continual tendency of wages [to keep] to a bare living amount for those working, as many of those not working stand hungrily by to jump into their places if they get rebellious or attempt to prevent wages going down. (p.108)note

These ‘fits’ are the ‘epidemic of overproduction’ as the Manifesto calls them.note Engels explains them in Socialism Utopian and Scientific.

Since 1825, when the first general crisis erupted, the whole


  ― [47] ―
industrial and commercial world, production and exchange among all civilized peoples and their more or less barbarian appendages, have broken down about once every ten years. Trade comes to a standstill, markets are glutted, products lie around in piles as massive as they are unsalable, hard cash disappears, credit vanishes, factories are idle, the working masses lack the means of subsistence because they have produced too much of them, bankruptcy follows upon bankruptcy, forced sale upon forced sale.note

From the increasing pool of the unemployed, strike breakers and non-union labour are recruited by the Queensland pastoralists. Nellie reflects on how ‘the scum of southern towns and the sifted blacklegs of southern “estates” were to be drafted in hordes to Queensland to break down the unionism that alone protected the bushman’. (p.132) The Manifesto has already provided the analysis of this process, together with the term ‘scum’:

The “dangerous class”, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigues.note

Lane presents such a ‘bribed tool of reactionary intrigue’ in the anonymous ‘burly man of unmistakably bush appearance, modified both in voice and dress by considerable contact with the towns’ (p.195). Strong hires him to ‘start another union against the present one’ (p.196)—a tactic the pastoralists did indeed employ, just as the CIA did fifty years later.note Lane's suspicion of the urban proletariat and


  ― [48] ―
lumpenproletariat and his preference for the bushmen had its Marxian analysis behind it.

Geisner elucidates the developing monopoly stage of capitalism. ‘It takes more and more capital for a man to start for himself. This is a necessary result of increasing mechanical powers and of the economy of big businesses as compared to small ones’ (p.107). As the Manifesto put it

The lower strata of the middle class … sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production.note

Geisner explains the proletarianization of the lower middle classes to Ned; ‘more and more go round asking for work as what we call civilisation progresses, that is as population increases and the industrial life becomes more complicated. … This system operates for the extension of its own worst feature, the degradation of the working masses’ (p.107).

It is not only in Geisner's dialogue with Ned that Marxism is expounded. The language of a Marxist mode of thinking runs through the novel—capital, capitalists, working masses, labour, even scum. And the leitmotiv of prostitution has its specific Marxist resonance. Marx concluded volume I of Capital with an examination of ‘The Modern Theory of Colonisation’. Prostitution is specified as one of the direct consequences of the capitalist exploitation of Australia.

The shameless lavishing of uncultivated colonial land on aristocrats and capitalists by the Government, so loudly


  ― [49] ―
denounced even by Wakefield, has produced, especially in Australia, in conjunction with the stream of men that the gold-diggings attract, and with the competition that the importation of English commodities causes even to the smallest artisan, an ample “relative surplus labouring population,” so that almost every mail brings the Job's news of a “glut of the Australian labour-market,” and prostitution in some places there flourishes as wantonly as in the London Haymarket.note

When Nellie takes Ned around Sydney they encounter the prostitutes near Town Hall, the recognized beat in the 1890s: ‘the sad sisterhood were out in force where the bright gas-jets of the better-class shops illuminated the pavement, swaggering it mostly where the kerbs were lined with young fellows’ (p.39).

This realistic observation also has its iconographical significance. The Communist Manifesto declares

On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.note

It is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e. of prostitution both public and private.note

Prostitution turns up metaphorically at the Strattons in a discussion of journalism under capitalism. ‘ “Why, we're nothing but literary prostitutes,” said George,


  ― [50] ―
energetically. “We just write now what we're told, selling our brains as women on the streets do their bodies” ’ (p.87). It is a traditional analogy, but it takes on a force here from the literal prostitution shown before and after the Stratton episode. On the way back from the Strattons there is the episode in which Nellie ‘kissed the sleeping harlot on the cheek’ (p.100). The Victorian fear that venereal diseases were transmitted by such contact as kissing provides the frisson of horror here for Nellie's gesture. Later, in Nellie's account of the fate of her sister, prostitution is never named but it is implied throughout the story. This episode, ‘Nellie's Sister’, appeared separately, before book publication, in the Christmas issue of the Worker for 1891.note Part of a realistic portrayal of urban life, prostitution, as the stress on it in the Communist Manifesto makes clear, is one of the central expressive emblems of industrial capitalist society.

Lane was one of the major advocates of women's rights in the Australian labour movement, and one of those pressing for womanhood suffrage. He wrote a weekly letter in Boomerang and later in The Worker about women's issues, under the name of ‘Lucinda Sharpe’, supposedly an American woman resident in Queensland. He adopted the pseudonym ‘A Mother of the People’ in The Worker and New Australia. These female impersonations have led P. J. Bruce to speculate on Lane's ‘androgynous nature’, and he notes, too, the recurrence of the ‘idealized mother figure’ in Lane's writings.note But Freudian interpretations cannot


  ― [51] ―
depoliticize Lane's radical vision. Geisner tells Ned of the

two great reforms which must come if Humanity is to progress. … One reform is the Reorganization of Industry. The other is the Recognition of Woman's Equality. These two are the practical steps by which we move up to the socialistic idea. (p.123)

The women's issue is of central significance in The Workingman's Paradise. As Geisner stresses, it is a practical and a political issue. Nellie expounds the women's movement at the Strattons. The tour she gives Ned is one that emphasizes the situation of women—the struggle of the housewife and the mother in the slums, the exploitation of women workers in the garment trade, in restaurants, and in prostitution. Lane is in advance of most of his contemporaries in his awareness of and stress on the women's issue. And he recognizes that it was for women to determine their future role in society, not for men to interfere yet again. As Nellie points out ‘ “What women really want is to be left to find their own sphere, for whenever a man starts to find it for them he always manages to find something else. … You can't raise free men from slave women.” (pp.72–3). And just as she educates Ned in socialism, so she educates him in the women's movement, so that he ‘began to dimly understand how it touched the Labour movement' (p.75). It is in the combination of the reorganization of industry and the women's movement that Lane sees the achievement of socialism. It is a radical, working-class women's movement that Lane stresses, a women's movement committed to the socialist ideal.

As the ‘Leading Australian Woman Critic’ who reviewed the novel for The Worker stressed

The author has recognised the fact that in woman's pulse


  ― [52] ―
throbs the secret of a nation's redemption or its degradation and his book, man-written though it be, is essentially a woman's book proclaiming aloud the gospel of redemption for her who shall thereby redeem the world.

And it is to women that the book will chiefly appeal. There are magnificent passages in it which will wring every fibre of a true woman's nature; passages where the writer plays on the chords of slumbering maternity with the touch of inspired genius, where he reveals to woman her own love-nature and love-power as she herself seldom sees it.note

And the revolution? Lane was writing his novel after the defeat of the unions, the gaoling of strike leaders, and the mobilization of troops. The expression of revolutionary sentiments had to be carefully done. But revolution was what Lane expressed. Geisner warns Ned

“there are two Socialisms. There is a socialism with a little ‘s’ which is simply an attempt to stave off the true Socialism. This small, narrow socialism means only the state regulation of the distribution of wealth. It has as its advocates politicians who seek to modify the robbery of the workers, to ameliorate the horrors of the competitive system, only in order to prevent the upheaval which such men recognise to be inevitable if things keep on unchanged.” (p.114)

Ned pledges ‘to be a Socialist of the right sort’ and Geisner continues

“It can only come by the utter sweeping away of competition, and that can only come by the development of the socialistic idea in men's hearts … Year after year the number of men


  ― [53] ―
and women who hold Socialism as a religion is growing. And when they are enough you will see this Old Order melt away like a dream and the New Order replace it. That which appears so impregnable will pass away in a moment. So!” He blew a cloud of smoke and watched it disappear circling upwards. (pp.115–16)

The puff of smoke illustrating the classic Marxist spiral ascent suggests the ease of the melting away; but it suggests too the smoke of gunfire. And when Geisner talks of the role of the unions, it is in military terms: ‘drill, organisation, drill’ (p.117).

Lane's position on armed revolution has been misrepresented by historians. McQueen, having noted that ‘Lane's Boomerang was often criticized for its militaristic utterances by the Sydney anarchist S. A. Rosa’note nonetheless later refers to Lane's ‘rejection of violence’.note McQueen selectively quotes from Lane's Worker editorial at the height of the shearers' strike: ‘tolerate still, not because rebellion, i.e. armed resistance to established authority is wrong … but because we should endure to the utmost for the sake of humanity which shrinks from violence'.note But Lane's editorial continued:

but because we should endure to the utmost for the sake of the Humanity which shrinks from violence even against the violators of human rights and which realises all the horrors and misery of civil war, and which sees how our real enemies — the absentee capitalists—escape mostly while those who have wronged us ignorantly or by compulsion suffer, with ourselves, the most. Once let us win a fair franchise, once let the bushmen march up with us all to the ballot-box, once let


  ― [54] ―
the plural vote and the revision-trick be abolished, and there will be none to blame but ourselves if the Law is wrong … And if they persistently refuse the ballot to us as they have persistently refused it in the past: if Parliament refuses to do us justice and scorns our demand to be made full citizens; then we shall have full justification for any action we may adopt, even if that action is revolution.note

And making the point quite clear, he stressed ‘A Tyranny has no claim upon us but that we should resist it’. The editorial concludes, ‘Those have rights who dare maintain them—they alone, and none others’.

Lane at no point rejects the use of force. But force for him is a last resort. Bloodshed is no proof of ideological correctness. The real enemy—the absentee capitalists, for instance,—are not the ones who suffer the most in any violence. Peaceful means of change are always preferable to violent means. And if violent means are used, they must be successful; an unsuccessful revolution is counter-revolutionary. In March 1891 ‘there were 29 officers and 509 men based at Barcaldine, with a nine-pounder and a Nordenfeld gun in the middle of the Barcaldine encampment’.note For Lane to have recommended violence at this point would have been suicidal. The shearers were not adequately armed. They were not ideologically organized. Lane was concerned to avoid provocation that could lead to the excuse for a judicial massacre on the United States' model. ‘They'd like nothing better than a chance to shoot a mob of us down like wild turkeys', Ned says (p.147).

The strike collapsed in June. In a Worker editorial in October Lane brooded on the situation, repeating the


  ― [55] ―
conclusion of his March editorial.

Once or twice, in these columns, I have alluded to the inevitable necessity for violent reform where peaceful efforts to secure what is just and right are ignored and derided and suppressed by the brutal Force of class governments. I have said, as I say now and at all times, that a time always arrives, sooner or later, where tolerance of Wrong becomes itself a Wrong, and where those alone have rights who dare to maintain them. For this, it is alleged that the WORKER preaches sedition, as if one had to preach submission to oppression and injustice in order to be law-abiding.note

A time always arrives. He expected it within thirty years. The interim was to be used preparing for it.

His early beliefs in class collaboration had vanished by the time of the shearers' strike. He saw the class war in these confrontations. And it is not the class struggle, as many Marxists phrased it, but class war. Ned says to Strong ‘ “There is war between us, only I think it possible to be a little civilised and not to fight each other like savages as we are doing” ' (p.200). By the novel's end, the pretences of civilization are dropped in Ned's vision of Apocalypse.

All the world over it was the same, two great ideas were crystallising, two great parties were forming, the lists were being cleared by combats such as this for the ultimate death-struggle between two great principles which could not always exist side by side. The robbed were beginning to understand the robbery; the workers were beginning to turn upon the drones; the dominance of the squatter, the mine-owner, the ship-owner, the land-owner, the shareholder, was being challenged; this was not the end, but surely it was the beginning of the end. (p.221)

On the last page he talks of ‘these later days’ and the new


  ― [56] ―
Messiah of the Apocalypse (p.225).

His stress is on the achieved good society, not on the violence to be gone through to reach it. He accepts that a violent confrontation will occur but until the appropriate time any confrontation would be adventurism. In the interim there is the battle of ideas, the need to reveal the truth of communism to the world, to workers and bourgeoisie alike. In New Australia he would train the consciousness of a socialist army, and propaganda would be disseminated round the world. And perhaps a change of consciousness could avert the need for a violent confrontation; or at least make the inevitable socialist victory quick and over-whelming. When he took a strong, militarist anti-German line in World War I he was not in conflict with his earlier principles. Militarism, like racism, was never rejected in Lane's socialism.

How militant were the striking shearers? At the beginning of the novel Ned's unionism is naive, unpolitical. On his return to Sydney after the maritime strike he stresses to Nellie that the ‘responsible’ unionists who went round ‘talking law and order to the chaps on strike and rounding on every man who even boo'd as though he were a blackleg’ have realized the way they were co-opted and used by the ‘authorities’.

The man who told me vowed it would be a long time before he'd do policeman's work again. He said that for him Government might keep its own order and see how soon it got tired of it. (p.144)

The voices preaching moderation are introduced by Lane only to be discounted, to show how they had been used. ‘Do you think there will be any trouble?', Nellie asks as the shearers' strike begins its slow start.




  ― [57] ―
“Honestly, I don't, Nellie. At least nothing serious. Some of the fellows may start to buck if the Government does try to break up the camps and it might spread a little, but there are no guns and so I don't see how it could. There seems to be a lot of talk everywhere but that's hard fact. Ten thousand bushmen with rifles wouldn't have much trouble with the Government and the Government wouldn't have much trouble with ten thousand bushmen without rifles.” (pp.146–7)

But it is a confrontation situation. Nellie, daughter of a selector, a subsistence farmer, reflects with anger ‘the companions of her childhood were to be Gatling-gunned because of the squatters’ (p.132).

The gunning down is all threatened from the squatters, the military and the ‘special constables’. Lane had good reason for playing down any armed militancy of the shearers now that the strike had ended. Twelve leaders had been gaoled, but the Brisbane Telegraph complained ‘it was worthless for the Government to arrest strike criminals when it was Lane who was the real criminal’. ‘The Man Behind the Curtain’ it called him.note The Courier alleged of the strike that

The details had all been considered and arranged not by the ignorant men now languishing in gaol, but by wiser men, of whom the chief plotter is a resident in Brisbane. His plans were at one time on paper, and possibly might have been secured; but it is certain that since the arrest of the first conspirators in Barcaldine they existed in black and white no longer. It was the rash precipitancy of these bush leaders which brought to confusion the carefully-planned scheme of the arch-conspirator in Brisbane.note

W. T. Stead called Lane ‘The most dangerous man in


  ― [58] ―
Queensland’. ‘In Australia’, a Victorian Cabinet Minister corrected.note

Ned sets off for Queensland at the end of the novel and is clearly going to be one of those gaoled. But the movement of the book suggests that gaoling will only raise his militancy. What was the next stage?

The unions were desperately weakened by the loss of the strike. Kenway points out that ‘the convictions for conspiracy removed from active life for over two years almost all the executive members of the Q.L.U. and the Q.S.U.’ and that ‘the cost to the unions of the 1891 strike was reckoned at £22,228, not including salaries’.note The Labour movement was preparing to move into parliamentary action. Lane correctly predicted that this would lead only to co-option and corruption. But the time was not yet ripe for revolution. He proposed to continue the strike by draining off the best bushmen to a communist settlement, New Australia, and land was acquired in Paraguay. Ernie Lane stresses

It was not merely an isolated Communist settlement in the depths of a Paraguayan forest that Will was visioning, but something far more ambitious and far-reaching. Talking to me of what the future might hold, he foresaw New Australia within 30 years from its establishment, a powerful Communist State, with a disciplined army of many thousands of Communists. “The world, then,” he exclaimed, “will be ripe for Communism. The workers in all lands will be ready to revolt and only awaiting the match that will set ablaze the crumbling world of capitalism. What is there to prevent us — Communists who are living proof of our Communist faith — coming


  ― [59] ―
forth and starting the world revolution that must inevitably come. We will write the future history of humanity on the rocks of the Andes!note

The Association agreed with the Paraguayan government to settle 400 families within two years, 800 within four;note ‘early in 1894 there should be fully a thousand people in the settlement.’note The first issue of New Australia considered the effect of 5–6,000 workers joining the movement,note arguing that since most of them did not have votes and they were spread over five or six colonies, the emigration would not seriously affect the electoral chances of the emerging parliamentary labour movement. The advertisement in the hardback edition of The Workingman's Paradise talked of acquiring land ‘sufficient to carry 50,000 people’ (p.78): 50,000 was the Worker's estimate of the unemployed in Australia.note As Lane predicted, within thirty years there was a revolutionary situation in 1917 in Russia. But New Australia had not survived.

It is important to stress that Lane's scheme was not a utopian retreat, but an attempt to produce a vanguard for the revolution.note Geisner outlines the scheme to Ned in The Workingman's Paradise. Socialism needs the ‘right conditions’ away from the corruptions and subversions of industrial capitalism.

Absolute isolation while the new conditions are being


  ― [60] ―
established; colonists who are rough and ready and accustomed to such work and at the same time are thoroughly saturated with Socialism; men accustomed to discuss and argue and at the same time drilled to abide, where necessary, by a majority decision. (p.118)

And expounding New Australia, Lane wrote

Our argument must be that if Socialism is shown to be practicable and if an energetic state springs up on sound lines, it will set such an example and excite such determination in other states that a world revolution will be speedily brought about. We can get together men who are what the average men of hundreds of years hence will be, and, with the organisation and the discipline, will be able to render possible a genuinely democratic and co-operative community.note

‘We must first show that Socialism is possible’ were Geisner's words to Mrs Stratton, she tells Ned at the end of the novel (p.211). The military discipline, drill and organization are unmistakable. Lane's vision of world revolution springing from South America prefigures Guevara's.

Geisner presents the idea of the New Australia movement as a future strategy. New Australia is not named specifically, but an advertisement in the bound edition of The Workingman's Paradise announced a continuation of the novel, In New Australia: Being Nellie Lawton's Diary of a Happier Life. It was to follow through the story of Nellie and Ned and ‘deal with the scheme for complete co-operation, on which the New Australia Co-operative Settlement Association is based’ (p.78).

George Reeve recalled

I have been told by a well-known writer who was at one time


  ― [61] ―
schoolmistress at Cosme, that the continuation of The Workingman's Paradise was actually written, but when it was submitted to her to pass opinion on, the abandonment of its publication was argued, as it was considered “washy”, with no virile touch to the characters therein depicted, and lacking all the fire of the founder's old-time burning enthusiasm and glowing language.note

Mary Gilmore, the writer in question, replied:

In regard to the continuation of The Workingman's Paradise the chapters of the book begun in Paraguay did not relate to that at all [i.e. the expulsions and the split in the settlement]. The work did not strike me as “washy” (to use Mr Reeve's word), but thin and indicative of the low state of health in which Mr Lane then was. He was still weak and bloodless from an illness that all but killed him, and in no condition to write. As he grew stronger he took his share in the colony work, and there was no time to write, even if bodily fatigue allowed it.note

William Wood wrote to George Reeve from Cosme, 3 June 1926,

Two chapters of the book of The Happier Life in New Australia were read out at Sunday night meetings at Cosme at the end of the year 1895 … I heard nothing further about it …note

The New Australia pioneers planned to leave on 1 May 1893, May Day and the anniversary of the beginning of


  ― [62] ―
the 1891 Rockhampton conspiracy trial. The N.S.W. government harassed and obstructed them in order to drain the Association's cash resources, the assembled pioneers had to be housed in Balmain, and it was not until 16 July 1893 that the Royal Tar sailed with 220 colonists and their children. One of the articles of the association was that the settlement should be teetotal. As soon as South America was reached, a group of ‘rebels' persisted in drinking and challenging Lane as chairman. One of them, believed to have been a special constable during the shearers' strike, was suspected of having joined the movement in order to split it.note When Lane expelled him and two others, 81 men, women and children left after them. The pioneers were split before the second boatload arrived; when they arrived, a further 200 of them, there were further dissensions and in May 1894 Lane and fifty-seven followers left New Australia to establish Colonia Cosme on a separate site, some forty-five miles south.

Cosme is a Commonhold of English speaking whites, who accept among their principles Life marriage, Teetotalism and the Color Line. And who believe that Communism is not merely expedient but is right.note

In 1896 Lane sailed to England to try and recruit new members for Colonia Cosme. The March 1897 issue of Cosme Monthly was printed in London to help with the


  ― [63] ―
recruiting drive and, it announced

Since February 1st, lectures on Cosme have been given in Scotland at Paisley, Glasgow, Bridge of Weir, Cambuslang, Clydebank, Galashiels, Edinburgh, Musselburgh, and Larbert; and in England at Bradford, Rochdale, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Blackburn, Bolton, Halifax, Long Eaton, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Portsmouth, Reading, Birmingham, London, and St. Leonards. These have generally been under the auspices of the local I.L.P. or Labour Church branches, but occasionally by the arrangement of private friends.

Lane stayed in Britain until February 1898, but the recruiting was not a success; few responded to the call, and of those who did, few stayed in Cosme. In May 1899 Lane announced he was not standing for further office and in August he left Paraguay for Auckland. He worked on the New Zealand Herald, returned to Australia as the first full-time editor of the Sydney Worker, but after three months resigned and was back with the New Zealand Herald by June 1900. As leader writer and finally chief editor, he continued to have a wide following. The popularity of his articles

is made manifest by the almost universal demand for their republication as soon as it was known that their author, the late William Lane, had laid down forever the pen which in life he had wielded so well.

So ran the introductory note to the posthumous Selections from the Writings of “Tohunga” (William Lane), published in Auckland in 1917 by Wilson and Horton.

Lane was an activist, an organizer, but he was also a thinker, a theoretician. He tested his ideas in practice. But until the revolutionary moment came, it was the war of ideas that engaged him. The major stress of The


  ― [64] ―
Workingman's Paradise is on the power of ideas, the necessity for a consciousness change. Connie Stratton tells Ned at the end of the novel how Geisner ‘is moulding the world as a potter moulds clay’ (p.211). She sees evidence of his ideas taking effect everywhere. Like William Morris, Lane believed in the communist aim of reintegrating man to wholeness, resisting the separating and fragmenting forces of industrial capitalist specialization. He was a journalist who had also worked as copy-boy, printer's devil and compositor. In 1890 he dropped his salary from £12 a week to £3 when he became editor of the new Worker. ‘An editor who wouldn't give up a lot to push the Cause can't think much of it’, Ford says in The Workingman's Paradise (p.87). It was no narrow cause. Lane's radicalism was a broad humanizing force. Literature was a weapon in the struggle. At the same time, writing was something that demanded its own commitment from Lane. Whatever the vicissitudes of his career and the changes in his political commitments, he always wrote. He continued to write fiction in Paraguay; at least part of The Happier Life was written and according to William Wood he also ‘started another work on Cosme to be called ‘The King's Quest'.note Neither is known to have survived.

The New Australia movement had its journal from 19 November 1892. Colonia Cosme established Cosme Monthly in January 1895; initially handwritten and duplicated, from April 1897 it was printed on the colony's own press. A large part of the surplus went in printing and in mailing the journal to other communes and to communist and socialist journals and friends throughout the


  ― [65] ―
world.note The Paraguayan experiments were enacted socialism; their journals gave the necessary commentary, interpretation and theoretical component. The Monthly ceased to be issued regularly in 1904, declaring:

had the money, time, thought and brains which have been expended on the paper during its ten years of life been put into the acquisition and care of a herd of cattle, we should now be in a very much better material position than we now occupy.note

But the thinking, the writing, the mail network were central to Lane's purpose. His essays appeared regularly in Cosme Monthly, and he had sent several ‘John Miller’ articles to Seed Time, the English journal of the American Fellowship of the New Life organization dedicated to ‘the reconstruction of society’. When he announced he would not seek any re-election for any further office, ‘W. Lane said that “apart from health reasons which alone were more than sufficient”, he wished to become entirely free to propagandize’.note He returned to a public forum again — a large circulation paper, not the newsletter of a commune of a handful of people.

Always the writer, Lane spread his range of contacts into the literary-artistic world as well as the political. The Boomerang ran a regular column called ‘Bohemia’ which kept up with theatrical news and gossip. Bohemia was


  ― [66] ―
always a part of Lane's world, and Australia had its well established Bohemian milieux. John Sibbald, who went to New Australia with Lane, recalled he was

essentially a Bohemian, to whom a fixed residence and domesticity are distasteful, and who contemns on principle all those attentions to material amelioration which result in what we call comfort.note

Julian Ashton, the Sydney painter, recalled

On many occasions [Lane] came to my studio and limped up and down talking about the wrongs under which mankind lived; for he was an idealist, but unlike most idealists he was reasonable and logical.note

In The Workingman's Paradise the Strattons are the focus of Lane's Bohemian world. According to Harry Taylor, who went with Lane to Paraguay, they were based on Agnes Rose-Soley and her husband and ‘the scene of one of the principal chapters of the book is laid in her house’.note Agnes Rose-Soley was born in Scotland, educated at Newnham College, Cambridge, and wrote under the name ‘Rose de Bohème’. A contributor to the Bulletin Storybook (1901), she wrote two volumes of poetry, The Call of the Blood and Other War Verses (1914) and Stray Chords (1923), and with her husband J. F. Rose-Soley, a newspaper editor,


  ― [67] ―
Manoupa, a South Sea novel. She founded the Sydney Lyceum Club in 1914. She wrote a marching song for New Australia,note and an account of the Royal Tar's departure for The Worker.note With her husband she wrote under the joint pen-name ‘A. J. Rose-Soley’ a widely reprinted account of New Australia for the Westminster Review. As well as the movement they discuss Lane the writer.

Speaking with a slight Yankee twang, he can write, when it pleases him, pure Yankee journalese. When it pleases him, also, he can pen eloquent, vibrating, absolutely pure Anglo-Saxon, with an old-fashioned simple grandeur which he himself attributes to the early influence of the Bible and John Bunyan. This power is nowhere more manifest than in the one book he has published, The Workingman's Paradise, a hastily thrown together, loosely constructed story, written for the benefit of the Union Prisoners' Defence Fund after the Queensland bush strike of 1891, and insufficiently revised. For some reasons Lane's friends wish the book had never been brought out, as many a line bears evidence of how much better he could have done had he given his work more leisure, for others they are glad that it saw the light with all its imperfections, as there are pages upon pages of grand, rhythmic, soul-stirring prose, such as seldom gets printed in these modern days — sonorous prose, fruitful in ideas, which the world cannot afford to lose and which leaves a lasting impression on the reader.note

The poem Arty delivers was written for the novel by Fred J. Broomfield, one of the Bohemians of the Bulletin. Lloyd


  ― [68] ―
Ross suggests ‘it is possible’ that the character of Arty, ‘the people's poet’, was based on Henry Lawson,note an identification accepted by Denton Prout.note Lawson's poem ‘My Literary Friend’ (1891) is about Broomfield's unhelpful critical suggestions for Lawson's poems. On this occasion Broomfield ‘supplied the book with a last minute verse which Lawson had forgotten to write’.note

Gresley Lukin, who took over The Boomerang after Lane resigned, brought Lawson to Brisbane for a job on the staff, which lasted March to September 1891. Lawson wrote regularly for both The Boomerang and Lane's Worker during this time. Hilton Barton stresses

This Brisbane episode brought Lawson more directly under the personal influence of William Lane, with a corresponding strengthening of ideological bonds, including the philosophy of “Mateship” as a cementing principle in trade union and socialist endeavour … Henceforward Lane, the Propagandist of Mateship, and Lawson, the Poet of Mateship, moved along parallel paths in their devotion to the cause.note

At the height of the shearers' strike, Lane published Lawson's first contribution to The Worker, ‘Freedom on the Wallaby':

So we must fly a rebel flag
As others did before us …



  ― [69] ―
They needn't say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle.note

F. T. Brentnall quoted the poem in the Queensland Legislative Council, in support of a motion thanking the military and civil officers for ‘the suppression of the late organised attempt to subvert the reign of law and order’. To Brentnall it was evidence of a political campaign for insurrection organized by the ALF and The Worker. The poem was reprinted in Hansard to Lawson's delight, and the inspiration of another poem, ‘The Vote of Thanks Debate’ in The Worker, 25 July 1891.note Lawson returned to Sydney, Jack Lang, his brother-in-law, recalled, ‘with glowing reports about Lane’.note Lawson kept in touch with Lane; he wrote a couple of poems about the New Australia venture, ‘Otherside’, which appeared in The Bulletin, 23 January 1892, and the first issue of New Australia, and ‘Something Better’, New Australia, 24 March 1894.note Years later, around 1911–12, he recalled the period of his association with Lane in Brisbane in ‘The Old Unionist’:

The fighting, dying Boomerang
Against the daily press,
The infant Worker holding out;
The families in distress;




  ― [70] ―
The sudden roars of beaten men—
O you remember that :—
Are memories that make my pen
Not worth the while to rat.note

E. H. Lane describes another of Lane's contemporaries who appears in the novel.

An outstanding figure in the Australian revolutionary movement at this time, J. A. Andrews, philosophical anarchist, poet and rebel, was a regular talker in Sydney Domain on Sundays. Clothed in an overcoat to cover his sometimes shirtless body and tattered clothes … a long pole with a small black flag attached to an overhead tree, he would deliver a two or three hours' exposition of the tenets of philosophic anarchy … a man of exceptional ability. He published a book of poems, The Temple of Death, and was a fair linguist. With true anarchic fervor, he issued irregularly a little paper, Revolt, printed by type he cut out of wood.note

Ernie Lane occasionally went round with him putting up anarchist slogans and posters in the early hours of the morning. In The Workingman's Paradise the anarchist Sim describes his fellow anarchist Jones, clearly based on Andrews.

Jones hasn't got any type, and of course he can't afford to buy it, but he's got hold of a little second-hand toy printing press. To print from he takes a piece of wood, cut across the grain and rubbed smooth with sand, and cuts out of it the most revolutionary and blood-curdling leaflets, letter by letter … Every old scrap of paper he can collect or get sent him he prints his leaflets on and gets them distributed all over the country. (p.41)


  ― [71] ―

Joe Harris reproduces a page of Andrew's paper Anarchy ‘printed in type he cut out of wood’.note

And then there was Mary Gilmore. Harry Taylor recalled ‘William Lane once told me that the very striking character of the heroine in The Workingman's Paradise was derived from a composite of Miss Cameron and another’.note Nettie Palmer wrote in 1926, of ‘Mary Gilmore, the woman Lane took for his heroine in his remarkable novel’.note But William Wood wrote from Cosme in reply to the article:

I think it unlikely. I always understood that it (the heroine) was an imaginary character, and that “Ned Hawkins” was a composite of the strike leaders in Queensland, the bush strike in 1891, of the pastoral workers there. David R. Stevenson, who knew Mrs Gilmore (then Miss Cameron) in Sydney, says that William Lane and Miss Cameron had not met prior to the book's publication.note

But Mary Gilmore always claimed to be the original of Nellie. On 9 May 1947 she wrote to Mr Fadden, leader of the Country Party in the House of Representatives, enclosing a curriculum vitae: ‘14. I am “Nellie” in William Lane's book The Workingman's Paradise. Every incident, every person, every conversation in the book is real’.note

And according to Mary Gilmore, the model for Ned was David Russell Stevenson, a bushman who went with Lane


  ― [72] ―
to New Australia and Cosme, and who was related to the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.note As for the revolutionary Geisner, Lane reputedly met at one of the Rose-Soley gatherings a San Domingo planter ‘whose father had fought in the Paris Commune and had spent twelve years in prisoned exile’, and this provided the model.note

‘Mr Hawkins, this is Bohemia. You do as you like. You say what you like’, Mrs Stratton announces in an unmistakable patrician, haut-bourgeois way (p.57). Class divisions permeate bourgeois Bohemia just as they permeate the rest of society.

Ned's thoughts were in tumult, as he sat balancing his spoon on his cup after forcing himself to swallow the, to him, unpleasant drink that the others seemed to relish so. There were no conspirators here, that was certain. (p.59)

The emphasis is on bourgeois taste and bourgeois property and conspicuous consumption, in this beautiful waterfront house on the harbour.

It was pleasant, of course, too pleasant. It seemed a sin to enjoy life like this on the very edge of the horrible pit in which the poor were festering like worms in an iron pot. Was it for this Nellie had brought him here? To idle away an evening among well-meaning people who were “interested in the Labour movement” …(p.59)

But the episode does more than contrast the middle-class


  ― [73] ―
comforts with the slums, doss-houses, and the homeless in the Domain. It introduces the topic of the role of art. The visitors discuss music and the Zeitgeist. ‘What a waste of words when the world outside needed deeds!’ Ned fumes inwardly (p.60) until he finally explodes:

Is it by playing music in fine parlours that good is to be done? Is it by drinking wine, by smoking, by laughing, by talking of pictures and books and music, by going to theatres, by living in clover while the world starves? Why do you not play that music in the back streets or to our fellows? (p.66)

It is the culmination of his frustration at conversations about environmental ‘vandalism which the naval authorities were perpetrating on Garden Island’ (p.57), and at the ease, comfort and irrelevance of the Strattons' ‘culture'.

But in a sense Ned answers his own question. Geisner's playing the Marseillaise has brought tears to Ned's eyes, to everyone's eyes. Art has its radicalizing, inspirational role; it is music that has prompted Ned's outburst. Ernie Lane reminds us the Marseillaise was ‘the then international revolutionary song of the world's workers’.note The anarchist Larry Petrie, who tried to blow up a scab ship between Sydney and Rockhampton, and later spent time at Cosme, used to sing it to attract a crowd to his street-corner speeches; he had had an arm amputated after a brawl with a non-union scab, and when he sang ‘To arms, my citizens’, waving his remaining arm in the air, the crowd was always vastly amused.note Henry Lawson wrote ‘The Australian Marseillaise, or A Song for the Sydney Poor.’note




  ― [74] ―

The discussion about whether ‘Puritanism crushed the artistic sense out of the English’ (p.63) relates directly to the book's politics. Geisner points out ‘the Puritan period produced two of the masterpieces of English Art — Milton's Paradise Lost and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress’ (p.64). The radical politics of the English revolution are here identified with the production of literary masterpieces. England may have ‘no national music’ (p.63) but there is a national literature that is also a radical, revolutionary literature.

The discussion about art is important to the novel; it validates Lane's own activity in writing the novel, it is his justification for taking time from direct organizing. The arts can be the transmitters of radical social messages; they work in alliance with the deeds of the activists. But Ned's specific question, ‘Why do you not play that music in the backstreets?’ is not answered by the bourgeois bohemians. They are shocked at Ned's ignorance in challenging a man who suffered so much for the cause. But Lane himself took up the challenge he has Ned deliver. Lane spread his ideas not through the rarified high arts and the private salons, but through the columns of The Boomerang, The Worker, New Australia, applying his art to this novel that was sold through the labour movement and reached into the backstreets. He didn't neglect the bourgeoisie — he spent considerable time haranguing Brisbane opinion leaders in attempts to radicalize them; but he reached beyond that to the bushmen and the urban workers, devoting his literary gifts to the specifics of propaganda.

Finally and ultimately there is Lane's religious sense which permeates The Workingman's Paradise as it did all his writings and activities. It was not a narrowly denominational religion; indeed, it was not narrowly


  ― [75] ―
Christian. Geisner refers to ‘Brahma and more than Brahma. What Prince Buddha thought out too. What Jesus the Carpenter dimly recognized. Not only Force, but Purpose …’ (p.76). Lane wrote in 1898 of his

absolute and unshakeable faith in what we commonly call “God”. And when I say God I mean neither the idol built of wood or stone by the crude hands of savages nor the idol built of words and phrases by the equal heathenism of higher races. I mean by God the sense of the oneness, the livingness, the completeness, of that inconceivable power which working through matter called us and all the wondrous universe we see into being. That power I know and feel is supreme beyond all conceiving. Nothing is beyond its control.note

And it was this belief that was the basis of his communism:

to me communism is part of God's law. He who tries to live for his fellow as for himself, he who strives unceasingly to be less selfish and more human, he who with all his heart and soul endeavours to be communist of himself, freely, and to mould upon communistic lines the social organization without which man cannot live on earth, he is, in so far, serving God and obeying God's law.note

The Present Text

The Worker (Brisbane), II, 33, 5 September 1891, p.4 announced as the first item in the regular ‘Smoke-ho’ column:

“The Working Man's Paradise,” written by the editor of the Worker in aid of the Prisoners' Defence Fund, will be


  ― [76] ―
published in a few weeks: price 2s. 6d. Books containing a dozen order tickets will be issued shortly to all union secretaries and others willing to help in the sale. On receipt of 2s. 6d. the Worker will forward the books to any address in the colonies.

The notice was repeated in succeeding issues. On 31 October (II, 37, p.2) it was announced ‘ “The Workingman's Paradise” will be published as soon as advance subscriptions sufficient to cover costs are received’. A reminder that ‘the book will not be sent to press until the cost of publication is guaranteed’ appeared on 14 November (II, 38, p.2), and the following issue (28 November, II, 39, p.2) announced that the novel ‘is going to press and will be out about New Year’. The Worker for 6 February 1892 (II, 44, p.2) announced it

is now in the press but will soon be out. Messrs. Warwick and Sapsford, of Brisbane, are doing the printing, and making an excellent job of it. Subscribers … mustn't get impatient, because they're encouraging native industry in the printing line, and books of that class are not often printed in Queensland.

On 5 March (II, 46, p.2) it was announced

The last proofs of “The Workingman's Paradise” have been seen as the Worker goes to press. The delay, which has been as usual the printer's fault, has been uncontrollable by anybody else. The book will certainly be out this month.

Finally The Worker of 2 April 1892 (III, 48) announced ‘The publication of “the Workingman's Paradise” is commenced this week’ and the issue of 9 April (II, 49, p.3) declared ‘ “The Workingman's Paradise” after an irritating but unavoidable delay, has been published and forwarded to subscribers’. It was reviewed on the same page.




  ― [77] ―

The Workingman's Paradise: An Australian Labour Novel by John Miller was published by Edwards, Dunlop & Co., Sydney, Brisbane and London, and the Worker Board of Trustees, Brisbane, 1892. The title page declared ‘PRICE 2/6.’ It was cloth bound.

A paperbound edition, with its title page declaring ‘PRICE 1/3’ appeared later. It was advertised for the first time in The Worker (Brisbane) IV, 113, 1 July 1893, p.2: ‘There is only a limited supply of the Cheap Edition.’

Both editions are dated 1892, and use the same typesetting. The cloth bound edition advertises The Worker and In New Australia, at the end of the text. The paperbound edition has a new, smaller advertisement for The Worker and has replaced the announcement of the novel's sequel with an advertisement for the New Australia movement.

In 1948 the novel was reissued in cloth and paper bound editions by Cosme Publishing Co., Box 675, GPO Sydney, with a new seven page preface by E. H. Lane, and some textual variation and excisions of unknown authority.

The text reproduced here is a facsimile of the cloth bound first edition of 1892.

The epigraphs to parts I and II of the novel are from Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem, ‘Our Lady of Pain’. Selected stanzas from the poem were published in The Worker (Brisbane), II, 26, 13 June 1891, p.6, with a note by Lane: ‘I used to quote these verses to Chairman Bennett of the C. D. Strike Committee, in Adelaide last February. Anybody who doesn't see how they apply to him and his mates had better read something else’.

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