Author: Mason, Robert
Publication: Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History
Positioned at the intersection of studies in gender, labour history and migration, this article is anchored in both Australian and Hispanic scholarship. 1t analyses the Hispanic communities of rural northern Australia during the first half of the twentieth century, and integrates local responses with those of the broader Hispanic world. 1n particular, it demonstrates that Hispanic women used their political experiences from Spain and Argentina to assume public positions of community leadership in an Australian region frequently characterised as highly masculinise. As migrants, they applied Hispanic culture and precedent to the Australian industrial context. 1n doing so, the women defied characterisations of passivity and, instead, exemplified female participation in political activism based on transnational experience.
In 1915, the diminutive Spaniard, Trinidad Garcia, led a sit-down protest on the quayside of the Melbourne docks. Garcia was one of a group of Spanish-speaking women who refused to reboard their vessel, S.S. Kwantu Maru, until food and living conditions onboard were significantly improved. The women were part of a sizeable group of migrants on their way from Argentina to the Northern Territory. Tensions had existed between the captain and the Spanish-speakers during the voyage, with the women repeatedly taking the initiative and challenging the captain. In Melbourne, Garcia spurned her husband and the other male migrants who had remained on the vessel in order to lead the group of angry Argentine women ashore to purchase much-needed groceries. It was not the first time the women had defied the captain by going ashore; they had taken similar action when the ship had stopped in Chile and New Zealand. When the ship docked in Australia, the women successfully goaded their husbands to action, shaming them to restrain the captain and crew physically in order to achieve their demands.
Despite the significant resistance by these migrant women, the extant police records marginalise the women's role and position the Argentine men as protagonists. Knowledge of women's roles in radical Hispanic culture can frame the disparate and fragmented evidence to recover a coherent narrative of female action. This article derives from Spanish settlers' memoirs and interviews with male and female community members. More problematically, it also uses Anglophone newspapers and Australian government records: government documents, such as police files and immigration records, frequently imposed male-dominated Anglo-Celtic frameworks on migrants and often misinterpreted Spaniards' intentions. Yet, cross-referencing Anglophone sources with Spaniards' memoirs, personal correspondence and Spanish-language newspapers reveals the presence of a rich and vibrant radical community. Whilst Australian historians have probed multiple aspects of this country's immigration the interaction of gender, ethnicity and political action remains largely unexplored. Historians have rarely focused on Australia's Hispanic population, (1) and Spaniards are most frequently considered as an interesting aside to the more numerous Italian migrants. (2) This focus on Italians is particularly pronounced in analyses of migrant politics as scholars often discuss allegations of fascism and transnational sentiment. (3) There has been broader research regarding the radical politics of northern Australia, but this has rarely viewed migrants as part of the Anglo-Celtic mainstream. (4) Scholarly discussion of the role of migrant women in politics is very limited, and analyses have generally viewed female migrants through Anglo-Celtic frameworks rather than those operating in the women's countries of origin. (5) This piece seeks to correct this lack of research through investigation of migrant women's activities using frames of analysis from both Australia and the Spanish-speaking world.
This article analyses the Spanish-speaking communities of rural northern Australia during the first half of the twentieth century. It traces the arrival of the first Hispanic groups to northern Australia, demonstrating the women's central role in the vulnerable community. The women's capacity for political action and organisational leadership, as they responded to overseas events such as the Spanish Civil War, is demonstrated in an Australian region that is frequently characterised as highly masculinised. Through their actions, the women defy characterisations of passivity and, instead, exemplify female participation in political activism based on overseas experience and an awareness of transnational context.
The first sizeable group of Spanish-speakers to settle in northern Australia arrived in 1907, and was entirely male. (6) Almost all of these men had been born in the industrial suburbs of Barcelona, and had travelled to the north to make their fortune cutting sugar cane. Despite being sorely disappointed at the standard of living, most settled in north Queensland. Many waited several years before bringing their partners to Australia, but by World War I a sizeable community had grown in South Johnstone and the Innisfail surrounds. (7) A second large group of Hispanic migrants entered the Northern Territory in 1915. (8) Among this cohort was Trinidad Garcia. While several dozen of the newest arrivals settled in the suburbs of Darwin, most moved to north Queensland after hearing of their compatriots' settlement. Chain migration was quickly established as individuals used their farms to provide the necessary financial security to support their relatives' move.
Patterns and periods of settlement were strongly influenced by developments overseas. Male migrants were swift to respond to political and economic circumstances in their home countries. (9) In contrast, women often lacked the financial means to travel independently and rarely moved overseas without male prompting. Nonetheless, the women's presence had lasting consequences for political identity in Australia's Hispanic community. By 1921, for example, men continued to outnumber women but, outside the cane cutting region of Cardwell, the ratio amongst settled migrants had stabilised at two to one. (10) The increasing numbers of women enabled cultural expression that more closely replicated Spanish and Latin American social spaces and networks.
Garcia, who led the quayside protest in 1915, had been born to a mining family in the mountainous Spanish region of Asturias in February 1892. (11) She married in 1910, and stayed with her natal family while her new husband left to make his fortune in Uruguay. Within a year, however, Garcia resolved to leave Spain and followed her husband, Jesus. With thousands of other recently arrived Spanish emigrants, the couple settled in the teeming metropolis of Buenos Aires. The pair struggled to find regular work in the Argentine capital, and within a year they moved south, where Jesus joined one of the many teams of Spanish migrants then constructing Argentina's expanding railway network. (12) Buenos Aires and the Argentine railways were at the centre of Latin America's emerging radical networks, and Spaniards who had fled lives of rural hardship in Spain quickly immersed themselves in left-wing activism to improve living conditions. (13) Trinidad and Jesus were no different, and worked in the radical centres of Bahia Blanca and Rio Negro. Both cities supported militant and industrialised regions that clearly evoked the Asturias of the Garcias' birth. (14)
Unlike the Garcias, most migrants in northern Australia's Spanish-speaking communities came from either Andalusia or Catalonia. (15) Many had spent a decade or more in Argentina, one of the main destinations for Spanish emigrants in the early twentieth century. (16) All three regions were politically radical, and noted centres of libertarian socialism. By the time the migrants arrived in Australia they were highly politically literate, and had been exposed to anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, socialism and a variety of millenarian social protest movements. Although mostly pragmatic in their response to the various ideologies, the majority of Australia's Hispanic migrants were sympathetic to working-class movements and hostile to government and capitalist elites. The political economies of Spain and Argentina were both characterised by cartels and large landowners, who had captured the machinery of government and excluded the majority of the citizenry from political participation. (17)
While Garcia had departed Spain from the port of Barcelona, many migrants remained in the Catalan capital. Workers' exclusion from institutional politics increasingly focused tensions on industrial workplaces, which became sites at which workers violently protested a rapacious capitalism. 'Lock-outs, gun battles and severe repression' became the normal methods of Catalan industrial dispute resolution. (18) Barcelona's working-class world was defined by conflict with management and by unions that maintained power through coercive membership. General Strikes in 1902 and 1907 signalled workers' estrangement from institutionalised politics, but it was not until the seismic events of the 1909 Tragic Week (25 July--2 August) that the working-class rupture with middle class politics was formalised. (19)
Anarchism exercised a preponderant influence on Spanish radicalism, with lasting implications for the northern Australian communities. Radical social clubs flourished as spaces where politics could be freely discussed, and large numbers of periodicals existed to bind disparate sympathisers. (20) Faced with government and employer intransigence, workers viewed anarchism as one of the few options available to escape entrenched poverty. Anarchism, as Chris Ealman explains, thrived in Barcelona, deriving its strength from successful integration with local communities:
Fed by the collective memory of police repression and transmitted by a strong oral tradition, [suburban Barcelona] was a highly inclusive culture, uniting young and old, migrant and non-migrant, male and female alike, and affirming a profound sense of community identity. (21)
Anarchists' centres were embedded in neighbourhoods' social spaces, and became points of reference for communal responses to economic and political challenges. Together with debates in cafes and parks, the anarchist networks provided exposure to political debate for both men and women.
Women's conditions were rarely given lengthy consideration by contemporary anarchists, and were generally viewed through the prism of wages and conditions, rather than 'the specificity of women's oppression'. (22) Mikhail Bakunin had urged 'equal political, social, and economic rights, as well as equal obligations for women', claiming the oppression of one human impinged on the freedom of all humanity. (23) His exhortations to equality were intended to evoke liberation from oppression caused by capitalism, rather than the authoritarian and patriarchal attitudes of working-class men. Women's exclusion from decision-making power became entrenched as anarcho-syndicalism gained popularity, and emphasised (masculine) industrial unions as the organising unit for revolution. (24)
Anarchists continued to view the family as the natural unit of society, believing it demonstrated a perfect sublimation of selfish interests. (25) Women could not be detached from family life, since their 'natural' sentiments provided the guiding force to steer society towards a harmonious natural state. (26) Although anarchists proudly supported women's right to an equal education, they could provide only limited means to achieve this. A lack of appropriate health care, child support or quality employment limited the amount of time women could devote to education. The psychological tension imposed on women was profound, obliging them to negotiate an uneasy balance between their identities as radical agitators and 'feminine' mothers.
Generally, men viewed unfavourably any independent political organisation by anarchist women. This hostility was due, in part, to anarchists' focus on industrial organisation, but was also linked to the male perception that independently organised women were suggestive of sexual availability. (27) Spanish women were unable to organise into self-conscious groups until the radicalisation of public life that followed the 1936 coup. (28) Groups such as Mujeres Libres (Free Women) immediately focused their efforts on teaching illiterate women to read and carry out skilled labour. Global anarchist discourse remained pre-occupied with women as victims of capitalist oppression, however, maintaining the role of women as virtuous models for future Utopian society.
Social Welfare Concerns
The historical experience of Australia's Hispanic population undermines characterisations of women as routinely disempowered, and emphasises the specificity of the Anglo-Celtic analytical framework. Sociologists have demonstrated that male concepts of female worth and social production can be powerful determinants of female migrants' freedom. (29) Male anarchists' perception of female social production had provided women with an opportunity to acquire a high degree of political literacy, although socio-economic structures had denied them the opportunity to take advantage of this. Hispanic women in Australia moved beyond private space, invigorated by enhanced social welfare concerns at a time when males were temporarily unable to support their families.
The women viewed their migration within a global framework and a continuum of radical Hispanic opposition to capitalism. Garcia was not alone in following her husband to Argentina, and a number of future Australian women settled temporarily in the Latin American country. (30) The country's Atlantic ports had provided the industrial landscape to support their radical inclinations, as well as the social networks to provide practical support. Ports and industrial centres contained extensive networks of mutual aid societies and informal contacts that provided basic services and replicated the communal identity that had characterised the women's urban Spanish homes. (31) Nonetheless, the women remained tied to their husbands, unable to maintain themselves independently without risking their moral integrity.
The women's family life remained at the centre of their role as radical agitators in Argentina. Many future Hispanic Australians settled in the southern Patagonian region of Chubut. Children were sent to local schools, but families soon realised this education would have to be supplemented if their children were to be able to engage in radical Hispanic culture. Diaries recount how families (with both males and females present) would gather around lamps late in the evening as their children read the latest text that had been received from Europe. One migrant later recalled that, as a child, he had 'already read about all the isms--nihilism, anarchism, socialism, communism, syndicalism. Actually I was very much engrossed in reading a writer by the name of Karl Marx'. (32) Such socialisation ensured children could participate in the global networks of Hispanic radicalism that crossed much of Latin America, Europe and, albeit faintly, Australia. Ensuring their children's political fluency was at the centre of the maternal role, which bound radical and ethnic cultures together within the domestic sphere. (33)
The families in Chubut were not happy with their situation, and felt victimised by both the Argentine government and the more established Welsh settlers, with whom they competed for land. (34) In 1913, the Australian government had made overtures to the Welsh Patagonians seeking to encourage their emigration to Australia. Few Welsh proved interested in the move but, unknown to the Australian government, their places were quickly filled by Spanish-speaking settlers. Had the Australian authorities known of the change, they would have most likely vetoed the operation. A request by Italian Argentines for passage one year later was rejected on the basis that the group had been implicated in radical social protests in 1912. (35)
The sea voyage to Australia on board the S.S. Kwantu Maru demonstrated the women's refusal to submit to authority, and their increased importance in securing social welfare. The period of enforced inactivity proved particularly disorientating for the males, regardless of their ethnicity. Ethnic tensions between the Welsh and the Spanish-speakers caused serious friction, and the Welsh successfully monopolised positions of authority, such as the ship's cook. (36) In the tensions surrounding access to resources, it was the (largely-Spanish) women who rose to prominence. Faced with concerns regarding food distribution and profiteering, it was the women who lobbied most effectively for change. While Hispanic males had physical altercations with the Welshmen, the women lobbied the captain for improved food and tobacco supplies to be delivered to them directly. (37) They successfully delayed the ship's departure from Chile until a doctor was secured to care for a pregnant woman. Although the Hispanics elected two males to represent their interests, the men were confined for brawling with other nationalities. In contrast, Trinidad successfully assumed the role of a reasonable mother, bargaining for practical benefits. (38)
The women refused to acquiesce to any decision for which they had not voted, and disregarded any orders that impinged on the provision of social welfare, including those from the captain. On their arrival at Wellington, New Zealand, the Hispanic men chaffed at the enforced inactivity caused by the authorities' refusal to permit disembarkation. In contrast, the Spanish-speaking women took a lifeboat and deftly reached the harbour undetected, from where they immediately moved to collect fresh groceries and more varied food. Disregarding the captain's fury, the women repeated their actions on arrival at Melbourne. This time, as previously noted, they refused to return to the ship until their demands were formally recognised.
[The] gangplank was just starting to be hauled up when the women decided to walk off the ship. And, sure enough, they did walk off. One of the sailors tried to stop one of the women but she hit him with her handbag. Whatever she had in it, she knocked him unconscious. There was a hell of a turn-up. The women and kids were on the wharf and the men aboard. (39)
Only when the captain threatened to leave without the women, did their husbands take action to protect their partners. The women showed no hesitation in securing their families' social welfare needs, and the men proved willing to defer to the women on the matter. Such division in responsibility proved to be a precursor for later independent action by women in the north of Australia.
On their eventual arrival in the Northern Territory, the Hispanics were shocked to realise that they would not be provided with farms as they had believed. Whilst their savings were frozen by the federal government, (40) the migrants were moved to work on the railway being built to the south of Darwin. Families were housed in inadequate tents near Pine Creek, and most of the men were moved from the encampment to the railway itself. The men argued with the appointed supervisor and, instead, elected their own supervisor, refusing to work at their designated site. (41) The Commonwealth Railways responded angrily, cutting off the women's credit at the shops in Pine Creek. Panicked and angry, the women recalled the men to the camp.
One blew the telephone wires to Darwin with a shotgun. The rest marched on the only constable stationed in the town and told him that, unless he forced the engineer to release food for the people, they would hang the engineer. (42)
Although no punitive action was taken, the group continued to feel cheated and vulnerable. (43)
The group returned to Darwin to find work, with the women again dependent on males' employment status. The end of World War I contracted the employment market sharply, and the community was left destitute on the outskirts of Darwin. Conflicts within the group increased as men began to fight to secure access to scarce water resources at the makeshift camp. Evidence suggests that, in such circumstances, it was the women who mediated between the men. In 1918, when Lorenzo Duran argued with his neighbour, Daniel Martinez, shots were fired and a number of men were hit. Immediately Juana Duran and Dolores Martinez intervened. Although the memoir of Emilio Duran recalls the women 'howling', 'screaming' and 'crying', it is clear that they mediated between the families to diffuse tension before the Anglo-Celtic police could arrive. (44) The men's enforced inactivity propelled the women to positions of community influence as they sought to protect the families' collective welfare.
The move from the Northern Territory to Queensland increased the potential for female involvement in social and political activism. After considerable pressure was applied to the Territory Administrator, the Spanish-speaking group was given the option of free passage to the cane cutting region of northern Queensland in 1919. (45) The women's response to the cultural landscape of northern Queensland was to be more clearly informed by radical socialism and, more specifically, by the pragmatic application of anarchist principles.
On arrival in Queensland, the community was horrified by the cane fields, saying 'the work done there was done in Cuba by the blacks. [Lorenzo Duran] said we might as well try to get back to Argentina and live like white people'. (46) The families lobbied the federal government in order to secure their passage back to Argentina. It is noteworthy that whilst the decision about whether to return to Latin America was taken by men, Trinidad Garcia assumed the role of principal negotiator once a meeting with the minister was secured. Her position was a consequence of her literacy, fluency in English and her status within the community (shared with Jesus). Her abrasive and confrontational style of negotiation is unsurprising given her background, but it did not suit the Australian political landscape. Garcia failed to secure passage to Argentina. Her inability to lobby successfully on this issue made her vulnerable to significant community criticism, and she was ostracised for a number of years. (47) The failure to return to Argentina meant the majority of the group drifted north to settle with their compatriots in Innisfail. The reinforced and stabilised community began to reach out into the local Anglo-Celtic radical movement, simultaneously re-establishing contact with global networks of Hispanic radicalism.
Queensland's cultural and industrial landscape provided the women with new opportunities to express themselves publicly. Queensland's political culture was characterised by a proclivity for left-wing radicalism, fuelled by the monopolistic industrial practices of the sugar mills. The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) would garner significant support in Queensland in the 1930s, but the Hispanic community initially gravitated to the anarchist-inspired Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The migrants had spent time during their journey to Australia in Valparaiso, Chile, where the IWW had an established presence. Many men, who had worked on the Argentine railways, helped spread radicalism whilst labouring on Queensland's own expanding rail network. Men like Jesus Rosende worked on the railways with well-known IWW sympathisers, helping to develop cells that staged a series of disruptive strikes in the early 1920s. A number of Australian migrants were deported to Chile for their participation in illegal IWW activities. (48) Spaniards used their previous anarcho-syndicalist experiences to assume leadership positions in the IWW, and maverick Australian strikers regularly sought the advice of Spanish 'expert agitators'. (49) Yet, women were again marginalised by the emphasis on industrial sites of protests.
Hispanic women sought to negotiate roles in the context of local stereotypes of radical motherhood. The Spanish-speaking males fully endorsed the Anglo-Celtic campaign for a family wage, which would have institutionalised women's dependency, but conformed to anarchist constructs of gender. Rather than being able to easily communicate as in the tightly knit consolidated communities of Spain and Argentina, however, women were often isolated in remote rural locations that were several days ride from their nearest compatriot. Many women suffered depression as a consequence of their isolation, and were forced to beg their partners for financial support that would more usually have been supplemented by the tight-knit urban networks of Spain and Argentina. (50)
Newly arrived women, whose husbands did not yet own farms, lived with their husbands in barracks in the sugar cane fields. Responsible for feeding whole cutting gangs, the women's working day was hard and long. Yet, the barracks introduced the women to the collapsed boundary between domestic and industrial spaces that was to prove decisive in their willingness to assume public political roles. Although few Anglo-Celtic women debated with men publicly, it was not considered abnormal for women to be fully versed with the industrial debates of the time. For radical Hispanic women, the blurred boundary between the domestic and industrial spheres conformed neatly with their role as the moral custodians of the social revolution.
Over time, the Spanish-speaking community established a permanent presence in the townships surrounding Innisfail. Continued immigration from Spain meant large numbers of peripatetic cutters required regular accommodation and food when they arrived in the town at weekends. One Spaniard described Innisfail's 'two or three Spanish eating houses, which served food for their compatriots, as well as for the general population'. (51) Such cafes became central to Hispanic cultural expression, replicating the spatial and social contexts that enabled the debates in the cafes and clubs of Spain and Argentina. (52) Unlike the commercial enterprises of the cities, the cafes were family enterprises providing employment for women and retirees. Marina Goni, who had been born on the voyage from Argentina, ran a club in Innisfail's Ernest Street, whilst a retired farming couple, the Escuders, operated another Spanish Club in Innisfail during the 1930s. (53) A similar Spanish Club existed in Ayr, and was a noted political centre during the Spanish Civil War. All key guest house and cafe owners were in regular receipt of the anarchist periodical Cultura Proletaria, imported from Spain and distributed freely to guests. (54)
The cafes provided another locale where domestic and public spaces merged, and which women could attend without social approbation. Radical women's participation was further facilitated by the close relationship between ethnic and political identities, and females' vital legitimating role in both. Social situations such as picnics and cafes remained gender segregated, but were open to both sexes. Women and men would often arrive together, separate to socialise and then come together at the close of the event. (55) Whilst space remained strongly gendered in local Hispanic communities, men were unwilling to forbid female participation in private discussions without contradicting the egalitarian philosophies they vehemently proselytised.
The more ideological males viewed Innisfail's large numbers of prostitutes with distaste, regarding them as a symptom of the repressive institution of loveless marriage. (56) For others, however, periodic access to brothels and gaming houses were an integral part of social life, and locals boasted that Innisfail's red light district was famous throughout Australia. Emilio Duran estimated Innisfail possessed seven to eight brothels at any one time, although he recalled 12 existing at one stage in the 1920s. (57) Spanish-speaking women were not immune to the risks that caused women to become prostitutes and at least one Spanish woman turned to prostitution. The fact she was arrested in Brisbane suggests she was ostracised by family in both Australia and Spain as an unworthy example of Hispanic femininity. (58)
Few of the weekend visitors to Innisfail or Ingham had homes in town, and boarding houses were important points of contact. They also served as information hubs, placing the female managers at the centre of the distribution of local and international news. Maria Martinez ran a boarding house in Innisfail's China Town, whilst another was operated by the Sorli family in Innisfail's Ernest Street. (59) Police reports recorded that Gabriel Sorli was 'a good citizen, [and] not inclined to associate'. (60) Unbeknownst to police, the Sorli household regularly received the anarchist newspapers, and guests were routinely involved in anarchist associations locally and in Argentina. Sorli accosted Spaniards on street corners, proselytising political radicalism with men such as Salvador Torrents. (61) Limited evidence remains for women's role in the radical boarding houses, but inferences can be made through comparison with Basque boarding houses situated to Innisfail's south. Basque women, such as Teresa Mendiolea, fed and cared for migrant males, acting as surrogate wives and mothers. Mendiolea was at the centre of decisions regarding newly arrived migrants' employment or social relations with other ethnic groups. (62) It can be inferred that radical women's location at the hub of information networks embedded them in similar positions.
Women sought to employ their knowledge to support their political and social obligations. Using their legitimate presence in both private and industrial spaces, radical women conformed to the stereotype of the virtuous woman, emblematic of community justice. Hispanic radicals were active in Queensland's industrial and political disputes, despite Anglo-centric labour history's tendency to marginalise migrants. A commitment and understanding of anarcho-syndicalism initially directed the men towards trade unions. Men such as Salvador Torrents withdrew once Anglo-Celtic prejudice became clear, whilst others, such as Jesus Rosende, tore the compulsory union tickets in officials' faces. (63) Hispanic women were accustomed to having an important voice in industrial relations, frequently marching at the head of strikes in defiance of armed police in Spain and Argentina. (64) Trinidad Garcia continued to speak at public meetings, and lobbied strongly against British Preference on both practical and ideological levels. Along with Marina Goni and Dolores Martinez, Trinidad Garcia was also at the centre of protests against mill owners during the Weil's Disease strike in 1934.
Organisation of Women
The CPA had become the dominant force in radicalism by the early 1920s, and viewed the organisation of women as an important aspect of community engagement. Social welfare became more politicised in Anglophone discourse during the Depression, particularly regarding the provision of food and domestic security. Jean Devanny, the Sydney communist and author, regularly proselytised in northern communities and actively organised local women. Devanny also had sustained contact with the Spanish-speaking population, at one stage being despatched to remonstrate with Hispanic CPA members who were urging greater responsiveness to local circumstance. (65) Garcia was well aware of the role model Devanny provided, and had met the activist at a meeting regarding Weil's Disease, which had itself been chaired by a community member born in Argentina. (66)
As Popular Front strategies gained momentum in Australia, Devanny was instrumental in exploiting women's position in the northern industrial landscape. On directions from Sydney, she organised northern Women's Progress Clubs and local cells of the Movement Against War and Fascism (MAWF). Once the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, the pre-existing contact between groups of Hispanics and sympathetic Anglo-Celtic women proved to be vital. Indeed, the members of the Women's Progress Clubs and MAWF were generally the same women that would lead the establishment of Spanish Relief Committees (SRCs). (67)
Northern Australia's Hispanic radicals had been understandably excited by the declaration of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931. Reinvigorated correspondence occurred between community leaders throughout the Spanish-speaking world, whilst other migrants sent their children back to Spain to experience the new era first hand. (68) The rhetoric of change and dynamism that reached migrants reinforced the ties between the migrants' ethnicity and their commitment to social justice and revolution.
Celia Zamora of Tully had been sent to Spain at the start of the Second Republic by her antifascist and pacifist father to learn how 'to become a Spaniard'. (69) On the generals' coup, she was trapped in Spain, but after her return to Australia she provided first-hand accounts of Republican life. Celia was in Madrid during 1936, and recalled the excitement of attending political meetings to hear the legendary communist 'La Pasionara' debate freely with other radicals. On the advice of the British Embassy, however, she was evacuated in the first few months of conflict. Celia continued her passion for left-wing politics on her return to northern Australia, publicising her experiences in Republican Spain and deliberately provoking Australian Catholic priests, before becoming active in the Tully Spanish Relief Committee. (70) Her description of women's new-found freedoms in Spain proved to be of great interest to the northern Australian community.
Hispanic women in Australia were in regular contact with friends and family throughout Spain. Many of the migrants remained deeply connected to the spaces of their youth, and their memories were transformed by the imminent threat posed by fascism. Energised by the outbreak of civil war and eager to garner additional information, families imported increased numbers of radical Spanish-language newspapers. Garcia wrote immediately to her friends on the outbreak of war, and established contacts to acquire independent information from a small group known as New Antifascist Spain. (71) Maria Ruiz wrote to her sister in Queensland about the dangers facing her son as he fought for the Republicans. The letter's language displays the typical belief that the Spanish Civil War was part of a global bipolar struggle between fascism and proletarian emancipation: Maria's heart ached 'for our noble and heroic people who are defending the freedom and liberty of the world'. (72) The women's status was elevated by their position at the centre of information exchange, as the Spanish Civil War became an issue of direct and vital importance.
Northern Australia was integrated into the women's broader knowledge of events throughout the Hispanic world. Women Against War and Fascism had spread rapidly throughout 1930s Spain, and shared communist origins with Devanny's MAWF. Primarily designed to oppose fascism, it also strongly championed women's right to receive an education and participate in public life. (73) The anarchist organisation recalled Spanish society at the time of the women's youth more closely than the communist Women Against War and Fascism, and was characteristically more focused on social revolution. Recognising the impediments caused by education and the domestic economy in a capitalist state, Free Women focused on childcare provision and evening classes in an attempt to place women's oppression at the centre of anarchist struggle. Discussions between Australian Spanish women and their anarchist friends in Barcelona recalled these models and led to their replication in the Australian community.
The conflict had a momentous impact on broader Australian life, and was perceived as a microcosm of the global struggle against fascism. (74) Whilst Australian Catholics quickly rallied around the Nationalist rebels, the CPA led a number of organisations to support the Republican government. The Spanish Relief Committees were the most prominent of these groups, and relied heavily on female participation to raise funds and public awareness. Key figures in the SRCs, such as the liberal author Nettie Palmer, were in extensive and prolonged contact with the Spanish-speaking community in Queensland, and proved formative of the campaign. Through her 20-year correspondence with Salvador Torrents, Palmer was regularly exposed to an alternative, Hispanic interpretation of global events.
A number of male migrants returned to Spain to fight for the Republic. Palmer provided young men such as Raymundo Jordana with the social contacts necessary to raise funds to make the trip. (75) Jesus Garcia also returned to fight for the Republicans, and became a political commissar in their army. Other northern Australians who departed included: Bartholomew Blanchart, Angelo Plaza, Rosendo Sala and Salvador Barker. (76) Although a number of Anglo-Celtic nurses returned to Spain, no Hispanic women enlisted as nurses. Garcia's status was immediately elevated, however, as she assumed the moral stature of a soldier's wife. Such status empowered her to move beyond the mill committees to public political roles in which she contested the Anglo-communist monopoly on radical discourse.
Ennobled by her status as a soldier's wife, and empowered by her independent contact with Spain, Garcia moved confidently into the union meetings normally reserved for men. Hispanic women were increasingly uncomfortable with the strictures of communist presence in the MAWF, and lobbied directly in the mills. Such women were protected from ridicule by the blurred boundary between domestic and industrial space. Garcia's status as a soldier's wife gave her particular authority over the men who had not volunteered, and she persuaded mill workers to donate a tithe of their salary to the Republican cause. (77) Her actions displayed a willingness to distance herself from Devanny's MAWF, instead deriving inspiration from the Spanish Free Women. One unit of Free Women supported male troops on the front line, whilst other anarchist women enlisted to fight directly. (78) Their actions were widely publicised in Spanish-language newspapers, and Garcia clipped such papers and distributed relevant articles to Australian sympathisers. (79)
The CPA sought to limit Garcia's independent activity, which it correctly viewed as an alternative source of authority. The CPA had initially supported her establishment of the Innisfail SRC network, but she quickly established a reputation as a 'Trotskyist', being 'recalcitrant', and unwilling to submit to Sydney's dominance. (80) Garcia, and other founding members, insisted that the Spanish community choose where its money was sent, and refused to surrender funds to the Sydney branch. Instead, Garcia helped to establish a rival group in the international anarchist umbrella organisation, the International Antifascist Solidarity (IAS). The group raised the very considerable sum of 270 [pounds sterling] in 1938, (81) which it sent directly to anarchist organisations in France and Spain. The group raised in excess of 88 [pounds sterling] in the next six months, making it one of the most effective fundraisers in Australia. (82) Garcia sought to expand the IAS in Australia when she read about Barcelona's May Day Riots, in which anarchist and communist supporters had clashed. In response, the prominent communist Lawrence Sharkey attacked the Hispanic anarchists in the press, and the community was left to seethe at the accusation they were supporting Fifth Columnist elements. (83)
Garcia's success, and the support she derived from the Hispanic community, relied on her ability to balance her roles as both wife and radical activist. Whilst the Anglo-dominated SRCs used formal public talks and information sessions to disseminate information, Garcia ran community dances and a Miss Spanish Relief competition (the latter won by her daughter, Lily Garcia). Such events reiterated the stereotypical image of the radical woman, charged with facilitating the social revolution through support for the family and her status as an exemplar of natural femininity. The women's virtuous roles as devoted wives and daughters placed them beyond reproach, rendering communist attacks ineffective and counterproductive.
The Republicans lost the Spanish Civil War, and the community perceived itself as excised from the Spanish nation. Unable to return to Nationalist Spain, the radicals were cut off from the spaces and people of their youth, and became fearful as their old friends disappeared in Spain without explanation. (84) Many Hispanic women retreated from political participation, as men assumed the mantle of maintaining the diminished radical presence in Australia. Those women who remained politically active found themselves constrained by the paradox of aspiring to emulate Spanish role models in the local Australian context. (85) Garcia continued to lobby federal ministers and demand reduced censorship into the late 1940s, undaunted by police raids on her home. (86) Her protests returned to the domestic sphere, however, and her only contact with the broader Hispanic world was through the traditional anarchist media of newspapers and correspondence between believers who were increasingly elderly and isolated.
Trinidad Garcia can be viewed as an example of an exceptional Australian migrant woman, whose experiences differed markedly from the norms of her Anglo-Celtic counterparts. Garcia had already spent many years in the cultural and industrial landscapes of Spain and Latin America by the time she arrived in Australia, and had been strongly influenced by the perceptions there of femininity, politics and place. Analysis of her actions in Australia must acknowledge the accumulated experiences and memories that connected her to the broader Hispanic world.
Yet there was a tension in anarchist femininity, as women sought to negotiate meaningful roles as both virtuous mothers and radical agitators for a social revolution. Migration was one opportunity when male inability to provide for the family increased women's symbolic importance in social welfare, and simultaneously accentuated the women's role in ethnic continuity. Spanish-speaking migrant women could use their situation to lobby, threaten and cajole authority figures without threatening their femininity. Queensland's cultural and industrial landscape provided an ideal environment for these women to organise bodies that possessed both practical and mnemonic contacts, integrating Australia and the broader Hispanic world.
The extent of Garcia's political organisation was unusual but not unique, and other Spanish-speaking women were also embedded in the centre of ethnic and political groups. Garcia's presence in memoirs and archives is a product of her forthright personality, which rendered her memorable to male chroniclers. Yet, given women's important role in ethnic groups, and the high levels of politicisation amongst Spanish-speakers, it is likely other migrant women were similarly positioned at the centre of community knowledge and social organisations. Political fluency, social norms and awareness of global events facilitated the women's movement beyond stereotypes of the passive migrant wife in assuming independent political agency.
Robert Mason *
* This article has been peer reviewed for Labour History by two anonymous referees.
(1.) For examples, see William A. Douglass, Azucar Amargo: Vida y Fortuna de los Cortadores de Cana Italianos y Vascos en la Australia Tropical, Servicio Editorial Universidad del Pais Vasco, Bilbao, 1996; Michele Langfield, and Peta Roberts. Welsh Patagonians: The Australian Connection, Crossing Press, Sydney, 2005; Robert Mason, 'Anarchism, Communism and Hispanidad: Australian Spanish Migrants and the Civil War', Immigrants and Minorities, vol. 27, no. 1, March 2009, pp. 29-50.
(2.) William A. Douglass, From Italy to Ingham: Italians in North Queensland, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1995.
(3.) For an important example, see Gianfranco Cresciani, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia, 1922-1945, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1980.
(4.) Diane Menghetti, The Red North: The Popular Front in North Queensland, Studies in North Queensland History, No. 3, History Department, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, 1981.
(5.) The main exception has been published interviews with Italian women which prioritise the women's sense of isolation and rarely address political views. For examples, see Elizabeth Weiss and Anna Maria Kahan-Guidi (eds) Give Me Strength = Forza e Coraggio: Italian Australian Women Speak: A Bilingual Collection, 2nd ed., Women's Redress Press, Broadway, New South Wales 1990; Tonina Gucciardo-Masci and Oriella Romanin. Someone's Mother, Someone's Wife: The Italo-Australian Woman's Identity and Roles, Catholic Italian Renewal Centre, North Fitzroy, Victoria, 1988.
(6.) List of Passengers Onboard the Wakefield on Arrival in Townsville, 12 July 1907, National Archives of Australia, Brisbane (hereafter NAA B), J721 Roll 3.
(7.) Robert Mason, Agitators and Patriots: Cultural and Political Identity in Queensland's Spanish Communities, 1900-1975, PhD thesis, Department of History, University of Queensland, 2009, p. 97.
(8.) List of Passengers Onboard the Kwantu Maru on Departure from Chile, National Archives of Australia, Canberra (hereafter NAA C), A3 NT 1916-165.
(9.) Mason, Agitators and Patriots, p. 89.
(10.) Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1921, Volume 1, Tables 5 and 6, pp. 839-847.
(11.) Application for passport, Case file--Trinidad Garcia, NAA B, J25 1941-14251.
(12.) Application for passport, Case file--Jack Garcia, NAA B, J25 1949-14248.
(13.) Jeremy Adelman, 'State and Labour in Argentina: Port workers in Buenos Aires 1910-1921', Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 25, no. 1, 1993, p. 76; For details on the anarchist presence in Bahia Blanca from 1906 to 1909, see 'Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in South America', Fanny Simon, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 26, no. 1, 1946, p. 43.
(14.) For details on the Asturian political culture, see Sandie Holguin, Creating Spaniards: Culture and National Identity in Republican Spain, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 2002, p. 31.
(15.) A significant number of Basques also lived in Queensland, but are not considered in this article.
(16.) Jose C. Moya, Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850-1930, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998, p. 13.
(17.) Natalio R. Botana, El Orden Conservador: La Politica Argentina entre 1880 y 1916, 5th ed., Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, p. 154.
(18.) Robert W. Kern, Red Years, Black Years: A Political History of Spanish Anarchism, 1911-1937, Institute for the Study of Human Issues, Philadelphia, 1978, p. 4.
(19.) Colin M. Winston, Workers and the Right in Spain, 1900-1939, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1985, p. 102; Cesar M. Lorenzo, Les Anarchistes Espagnols et le Pouvoir, 1868-1969, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1969, p. 44. The week saw riots as the workers resisted government attempts to impose conscription, and directed their ire at vulnerable symbols of state oppression, such as churches.
(20.) Victor Alba, Catalonia: A Profile, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1975, p. 98.
(21.) Chris Ealham, Class, Culture and Conflict in Barcelona, 1898-1937, Routledge, Abingdon, 2004, p. 33.
(22.) Mary Nash, cited in Martha A. Ackelsberg, 'The Popular Front: Women and the Politics of the Spanish Popular Front', International Labor and Working-Class History, vol. 30, Fall, 1986, p. 4.
(23.) Mikhail Bakunin, cited in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), Bakunin on Anarchy: Selected Works by the Activist-Founder of World Anarchism, Allen and Unwin, London, 1971, p. 76.
(24.) Roberto P. Korzeniewicz, 'The Labour Movement and the State in Argentina', Bulletin of Latin American Research, vol. 8, no. 1 (1989), p. 25.
(25.) Temma E. Kaplan, 'Spanish Anarchism and Women's Liberation', Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 6, no. 2, 1971, pp. 101-110.
(26.) Kirwin Shaffer, 'The Radical Muse: Women and Anarchism in Early Twentieth-Century Cuba', Cuban Studies, vol. 34, no. 1, 2003, p. 145.
(27.) Frances Lannon, 'Women and Images of Women in the Spanish Civil War', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, vol. 6, no. 1, 1991, p. 220.
(28.) Martha A. Ackelsberg, '"Separate and Equal"? Mujeres Libres and Anarchist Strategy for Women's Emancipation', Feminist Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, Spring 1985, p. 64.
(29.) Caroline Wright, 'Gender Awareness in Migration Theory', in Katie Willis and Brenda Yeoh (eds), Gender and Migration, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, 2000, p. 16.
(30.) For select examples not discussed elsewhere in this article, see: Lorenza Martinez, Personal Declaration, NAA B, BP9-3 Spanish Martinez L; Catalina Martinez Saez, Personal Correspondence, NAA C, A1 1930-24; Josefa Martinez, Personal Declaration, NAA B, BP9-3 Spanish Martinez J; Elisa Martinez, Personal Declaration, NAA B, BP9-3 Martinez de Morentin E; Blanca Martinez, Case file, NAA B, J25-190 1949-13659.
(31.) Peter de Shazo, 'The Valparaiso Maritime Strike of 1903 and the Development of a Revolutionary Labor Movement in Chile', Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, May 1979, p. 146.
(32.) Emilio Duran Memoirs (hereafter EDM), Robert Mason Collection (hereafter RMC), p. 12.
(33.) Marie de Lepervanche, 'Working for the Man: Migrant Women and Multiculturalism', in Kay Saunders and Robert Evans (eds), Gender Relations in Australia: Domination and Negotiation, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Sydney, 1992, p. 90.
(34.) EDM, RMC, p. 6.
(35.) Michele Langfield, 'Filching the Argentine Colonists: The Encouragement of Patagonians to the Northern Territory in the Early Twentieth Century', Journal of Northern Territory History, no. 13, 2002, p. 35; Francisco Netri to the Minister of State for Commerce, 22 April 1915, NAA C, A2 1916-1711.
(36.) AWU Secretary Nelson on behalf of Eduardo F. Molina, 17 December 1915, NAA C, A3 NT 191i>48; Investigating Officer of Department of External Affairs to Spanish Consul, 9 July 1915, NAA C, A3 NT1915-4577.
(37.) EDM, RMC, p. 21.
(38.) 'Report Upon the Argentine Immigration to the Northern Territory of Australia', translation of original complaint by Eduardo F. Molina, NAA C, A3 NT 1916-48; Investigating Officer of Department of External Affairs to Spanish Consul, 9 July 1915, NAA C, A3 1915-4577.
(39.) EDM, RMC, p. 21.
(40.) 'Report Upon the Argentine Immigration to the Northern Territory of Australia', translation of original complaint by Eduardo F. Molina, NAA C, A3 NT 1916-48.
(41.) Spanish Consul to Minister of External Affairs, 13 January 1916, NAA C, A3 NT 1916-503; Commonwealth Railways to Department of External Affairs, 28 January 1916, NAA C, A3 NT 1916-503.
(42.) EDM, RMC, p. 28.
(43.) Department of External Affairs to King O'Malley, Minister of Home Affairs, 1 December 1915, NAA C, A3 NT1916-287.
(44.) EDM, RMC, p. 41.
(45.) EDM, RMC, p. 58.
(46.) Ibid., p. 53. Such comments demonstrate the importance of the Hispanic framework, referencing the complex racial relations of the Hispanic Americas.
(47.) Ibid., p. 61.
(48.) Investigation Branch to Home and Territories Department, 16 February 1923, Mackay, NAA C, A435 1946-4-6645; Frank Cain, 'The Industrial Workers of the World: Aspects of its suppression in Australia, 1916-1919', Labour History, no. 42, 1982, p. 60; Report by Boyland of Waterside Workers' Federation, undated, Innisfail, Queensland State Archives (hereafter QSA), RSI 13214-1-586.
(49.) Douglass, Azucar Amargo, p. 148.
(50.) Ray Jordana, interview with Prof. Alan Frost, Innisfail, 1984, tape one, by kind consent of Prof. Alan Frost. For details of one woman's legal battles to extract support from her husband, see Innisfail Bench Records and Summons Book, 1921-29, QSA, RSI-1120; Nominal role of Spanish Aliens Resident in the State of Queensland as at 9 March 1943, NAA B, BP242-1 Q30582 (part 4).
(51.) 'Memorial de un Obrero: Costumbres de los espanoles, en el Norte de Queensland (Australia)', S. Torrents, James Cook University, Special Collection (hereafter JCU-SC), ST 5-3.
(52.) Judith Keene, '"The Word Makes the Man": A Catalan Anarchist Autodidact in the Australian Bush', Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 47, no. 3, 2001, p. 314.
(53.) Maria Trapp and Vince Cuartero, interview with author, 31 August 2007, Innisfail, RMC.
(54.) Police List of those receiving Cultura Proletaria, 21 November 1940, NAA B, BP242-1 Q25027; Diane Menghetti, 'North Queensland, Anti-Fascism and the Spanish Civil War', Labour History, no. 42, 1982, p. 71.
(55.) Ramon Ribes, interview with author, 27 November 2004, Mossman, RMC.
(56.) 'Cuento: El Honor en la familia', Torrents, unnamed paper, 20 February 1925, JCU-SC, ST 5-18.
(57.) Dorothy Jones, Hurricane Lamps and Blue Umbrellas: A History of the Shire of Johnstone to 1973, G.K. Bolton, Cairns, 1973, 301; EDM, RMC, 65.
(58.) Bench Book for Petty Courts, July 1944, QSA, CPS1-AM54.
(59.) Trapp and Cuartero, interview with author, RMC.
(60.) Innisfail Police Station to Criminal Investigation Branch, 11 January 1941, NAA B, BP242-1 Q25027.
(61.) Alien Registration Form, NAA B, BP4-3 Spanish Marti B; Trapp and Cuartero, interview with author, RMC; Torrents to Palmer, 30 June 1949, Mena Creek, National Library of Australia (hereafter NLA), 1174-1-7702.
(62.) Dolores Larrazabal, interview with author, 21 June 2007, Townsville, RMC.
(63.) Police Report, Mackay, 18 March 1940, QSA, RSI 13214-3-46.
(64.) Holguin, Creating Spaniards, p. 31; Simon, 'Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in South America', p. 42.
(65.) EDM, RMC, p. 112.
(66.) Ibid., p. 110.
(67.) Spanish Relief Committee Minutes, 1937, Noel Butlin Archive Centre (hereafter NBAC), P15-3-1.
(68.) Gallego, interview with Diane Menghetti, North Queensland Oral History Project (hereafter NQOP).
(69.) Eliseo Zamora, interview with Amirah Inglis, Tully, undated, NBAC, Q47-2.
(70.) Celia Gallego, interview with Diane Menghetti, 1976, NQOP. For further details on women's exposure to political debates, see Judith Keene, 'Strange Bedfellows: Feminists, Catholics and Anticlericals in the Enfranchisement of Spanish Women', Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 17, no. 38, 2002, p. 167; Celia Gallego, interview with Amirah Inglis, undated, NBAC, Q47-3.
(71.) 'Australia: A los Camaradas de Francia y de Espana', Trinidad Garcia, 1936, unnamed paper, JCU SC, ST 5-18.
(72.) 'They Shall Not Pass: Spanish Patriots Write While Bombs Fall', 30 October 1937, North Queensland Guardian, p. 1.
(73.) Ackelsberg, 'The Popular Front', p. 8.
(74.) For details, see Amirah Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1987; Menghetti, The Red North.
(75.) Nettie Palmer Diary, 11 November 1936, NLA, 1174-16-18; Nettie Palmer Diary, 7 April 1937, NLA, 1174-16-19.
(76.) Identity card, Jack Garcia, Republican Armed Forces, NBAC, Q47-4; Alien registration application, NAA B, BP4-3 Spanish Plaza A; Alien registration application, NAA B, BP4-3 Spanish Sala R; Len Fox and Nettie Palmer, Australians in Spain, Current Book Distributors, Sydney, 1948, p. 28.
(77.) 'South Johnstone: Monthly Meeting of the AWU', 12 August 1938, North Queensland Guardian, p. 6.
(78.) For more details, see Ackelsberg, 'The Popular Fronf, p. 8; Kaplan, 'Spanish Anarchism and Women's Liberation', p. 106.
(79.) Marta Iniguez de Heredia, 'History and Actuality of Anarcha-feminism: Lessons from Spain', Lilith, vol. 16, 2007. Available at http://lilith.org.au/the-journal/lilith-16-2007/article/ historyand-actuality-of- anarcha-feminism/ accessed June 2010.
(80.) Ken Coldicutt to Phil Thorpe, 26 October 1938, NBAC, Q47-3.
(81.) 'Desde Australia', Torrents, undated, Cultura Proletaria, JCU-SC, ST 5-17.
(82.) 'Australia', Torrents, undated, Cultura Proletaria, JCU-SC 5-13, ST 5-18.
(83.) 'Rise of Spanish Communist Party', L. Sharkey, Workers' Weekly, 16 July 1937; 'El Partido Comunista nos llevara a la catastrophe', 1937, unnamed paper, JCU-SC, ST 5-17.
(84.) Torrents to Nettie Palmer, 16 April 1943, Mena Creek, NLA, 1174-1-6324.
(85.) Gina Herrmann, 'Voices of the Vanquished: Leftist women and the Spanish Civil War', Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, 2003, p. 12; Mercedes Yusta Rodrigo, 'The Mobilization of Women in Exile: The Case of the Union de mujeres antifascistas espanolas in France (1944-1950)', Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, vol. 6, no. 1, 2005, p. 44.
(86.) Innisfail Police Station to Criminal Investigation Branch, 4 January 1941, NAA B, BP242-1 Q25027.
Robert Mason is a lecturer in History at the University of Southern Queensland, where he is also a member of the Public Memory Research Centre. He has published a number of articles on Hispanic Australia, and on Australian multiculturalism and migration histories more broadly. He is particularly interested on the effect of democratic transition and remembered social trauma in migrant communities. <email@example.com>