GLAMming it up – Canberra in Two Days!

Old Parliament House, Canberra

The old Parliament House is now the Museum of Australian Democracy.

GLAM is an evocative acronym referring to Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums.  I had booked an extra couple of days in Canberra after attending a digital humanities ‘unconference’ (called THAT Camp Canberra), so I GLAMmed it up and visited some of our national cultural resources.  I had a ball, but there was a more serious motive behind it all.  Aside from generally opening my horizons, I wanted to become more familiar with the work of those cultural institutions of relevance or potential relevance to my work. Continue reading

Musings on Democracy – Part 1

Write about democracy my supervisor said.  I immediately felt overwhelmed.  Democracy is such a big concept, developed over centuries since the Ancient Greeks.  It is a also a loaded term – wars have been fought over it and it has been incorporated into political ideologies.

The way to cut this task to size is to recognise that democracy is but a word.  It only develops meaning if we choose to give it meaning by discussing what it is, what practices contribute to it and practice democracy in action.  It is what what we define it to be and therefore over the ages it changes.  We change, our circumstances change so the practices of democracy will naturally change also.

Two Party System

In answer to the Resident Judge’s question, the Federal election is cited as the first Federal election of the two party political system that Australia has practiced for a century.  The non-Labour groups had united federally in 1909.  This move was called fusion.  If you want to learn more about the thinking behind Alfred Deakin’s decision to join the new anti-Labour party I thoroughly recommend Judith Brett’s account in Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class.

The Labor party won the 1910 election.  The Sydney Morning Herald (29/4/1910, p8) attributed this to the ‘education, agitation and organisation’ undertaken by the Labor party.   After the election Alfred Deakin called on the Liberal party to give greater attention to this (Sydney Morning Herald, 15/4/1910, p 7).

‘How to Vote’ Cards

The names of political parties were not printed alongside candidates’ names until after 1983.  This made it important for the political parties to distribute ”How to Vote’ cards (Hughes:  1992, p 96).    The Brisbane Courier noted with satisfaction that ‘many of the fairer sex’ were seen entering a booth carrying the ‘model ballot papers’ published in the newspaper for the Liberal supporters. (Brisbane Courier, 14/4/1910, p 5).

Women

What really interests me is the participation in political processes outside parliament.  The role of women was particularly noted in The Brisbane Courier and not just for registering to vote, they were involved in the campaigning too.  In the Federal electorate of Oxley,

… it was noticeable that outside every booth the work embraced in the general term “canvassing,” including the turning up of voters’ names on rolls, and the direction of who to vote for and how often, was left almost entirely to the women… (Brisbane Courier, 14/4/1910, p 5).

The women’s organising committee of the Labor party in New South Wales were noted for their ‘herculean efforts’ in canvassing (Sydney Morning Herald, 29/4/1910, p 6).

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The Federal Election – 1910/2010

It was the 2010 Australian federal election that finally motivated me to create this blog, something I have wanted to do for several months.  During the day of the election I was reading newspaper accounts of the federal election held 100 years ago in 1910.  I have been in the habit of writing e-mails to my supervisor with odd snippets from my research and wrote one about the 1910 Federal election.  During one of my breaks I checked the latest post of one of my favourite blogs, The Resident Judge of Port Phillip.  The 2010 election had inspired the Resident Judge to share some stories from the New South Wales election of 1843.  Well I just had to share, so I posted some comments about 1910 on her site.  The Resident Judge asked if I was researching this for my blog.  I started to write another comment with excuses for the fact that I did not have a blog, when I thought, this is it.  I have got to stop being a ‘gunna’ (going to do it) and commit words to web.  So here ’tis…

In 2010 the polling booth staff and counters are largely anonymous, not so in 1910.  Not only were they named in the newspapers in 1910, but polling staff were assessed on their performance in counting the votes.  Mr. H. L. Archdall, returning officer for Rockhampton, had been ‘so complete’ in his organisation that the count was finished in ‘almost record time’.  “Mr. Archall certainly deserved credit for his smart performance’ said Rockhampton’s The Daily Record (14/4/1910, p. 6).  Pity the hapless presiding officer in Fortitude Valley.  The Brisbane Courier (14/4/1910, p. 5) said that the counting of the Valley votes were finalised at the Home Office, ‘Mr. Thornhill Weedon, the returning-officer being somewhat slow.’

This has made me ponder the organisation that goes behind elections in Australia.  If you are also curious, check out the Australian Electoral Commission website.  They explain how votes are counted here.  Unfortunately the only time we get to hear about the administration of elections is when something goes wrong, like it seems to have in the seat of McEwan on Saturday.  Yet the impression I have is that 99% of the time the Australian Electoral Commission does a good job of organising elections in Australia.

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