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‘To Revolutionise Australia’—The Surprising History of Early Working-Class Politics


Imagine a place of political violence and naked class rule. Riots are commonplace and people are killed or injured during them, some as a result of policemen and soldiers firing into the crowd. The government bans party processions and even the right of political organisations to hold meetings in pubs. From their headquarters, known as the Red House, the radicals organise the resistance. Revolutionary flags are flown, and effigies of the leading politician are burnt in the street. Agitators tell the crowd to rise up against their oppressors. Police stations are attacked and prisoners released. In the harbour, naval ships train their guns on a huge protest meeting on the waterfront. This is New South Wales in the 1840s and early 1850s, with a history of class conflict of a kind many of us never thought existed in Australia. But first, a moment to reflect on why we are told to imagine Australia’s history as ‘relaxed and comfortable’.