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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Graham Alcorn:A Working and Politicial Life


Graham Alcorn who died on August 9 1998 at the age of 84. These interviews were done in June1998 at Queen Victoria Nursing Home in Wenthworth Falls in the Blue Mountains. Graham was a Wartime leader of the Communist Party in West Australia and a Painter & Dockers delegate at Cockatoo Island Dockyard.

Graham Alcorn: My parents sent me to Auckland and have another go at getting my matriculation which is the university entrance.

Togs: Did you achieve that?

Graham Alcorn: Yes I did. I went to university for a couple of years

Togs: And what did you study at university?

Graham: Dairy farming. I was very keen to become a dairy farmer and my father was very keen that I should have an education. So they had a two year diploma course at Massey Agricultural College which was the agricultural branch of the University of New Zealand.

I didn't want to go at first but I loved it. The knowledge it opened up of biology and genetics I didn't know existed and finding all this new

knowledge was very thrilling. A very good social life too.

Togs: How old were you when you went to university?

Graham Alcorn: I think I must have been about 18.

Togs: And meeting people about the same age from the rest of New

Zealand at university, what was that like?

Graham Alcorn: It was mostly men. Farmers sons and that. They had a farm attached to the university and we used to have to do one day a week in the field, practical and four days a week in the lecture room. And then for two months in the summer we worked on the farm all the time.

Togs: That sounds an interesting sort of background.

Graham Alcorn: Oh it was great.

Togs: Did you get much work after doing that?

Graham Alcorn: What happen whilst I was there my parents went to live in Australia. They left me with the family car which was very handy and very unusual of a man of my age to have a car in those days.

Togs: What sort of car was it?

Graham Alcorn: It was a Nash Sedan, Nancy Nash we used to call her.

Togs: Was that like an American car?

Graham Alcorn: American car yes, like the Dodge. That family around

about 1927 model say.

Togs: What year did you go to university?

Graham Alcorn: 1932

Togs: When did your parents go to Australia?

Graham Alcorn: They went to Sydney for a while. My father's business

completely collapsed after going very well.

Togs: Was that because of the Depression?

Graham Alcorn: Oh yeah, but business rivals moved in on him. He wasn't a very practical man. He always had very advanced schemes. A whole lot of things he initiated. He started the whole pine forest industry in New Zealand and he introduced Friesian cattle which are now the predominant breed in New Zealand. He was always about fifty years ahead of his time. He would drop one idea and rush into another.

Yeah well what happened. It was the Depression you see and work was hard to get. What they sent me to Massey College for was `to learn practical farm management so I could become a farmer. That was my dream as a young man because I had Uncle Jim who had a dairy farm. i I used to go out to his farm nearly every weekend and helped him with the cows and do the ploughing and all that. I loved it you know. After I came out of Massey College I went and worked on a couple of dairy farms and then my Auntie Madam Winnie Fraser who was a great opera singer, her husband had been a stock and station agent and he was killed in a motor accident. They had a sheep station called Ashridge in the Hunter Hills which were the foothills of the Southern Alps in the South Island of New Zealand. Aunt Winnie reckoned I should have some sheep farming experience before I decided so they sent me down to her station and I was a cadet. A sort of a jackeroo for three years. I thoroughly enjoyed that.

The work was so much more pleasant and less demanding than dairy farming I gave up the idea all together. But in the meantime my parents had no money. The main thing was to get a job. So eventually I saved up and for a fare from New Zealand to Australia.

The ship was about twelve pounds. My brother reckoned it was three but it cost me twelve. He'd gone over several years before me. I went over by ship the Arangi to Sydney and then I got on the Duntroon and went round through Melbourne, Adelaide and joined the family in Perth and they were struggling.

My father never seemed to produce any money and my brother had a job as a costing clerk. I think he used to get about thirty bob a week and he was giving a pound to my parents and keeping ten bob for himself. But you could buy a lot with a penny in those days.

Well, I couldn't get a job. I had good references and good qualifications and went to the department of agriculture and they couldn't offer anything without a degree.

So I sort of get odd jobs in the country and took a technical college course as a wool crasser and got a bit of work. I went away with one shearing lot into the country as a wool sorter‑piece picker and got a job in a wool scourer for a while in Fremantle. It really looked as if things were going to come right but I had a girl that I met in Palmerston North where I went to university at Massey College. She moved to Australia and she sent me a letter saying that I don't think we're ever going to get married and so I sent her a telegram. 'Can't live without you. Come over we'll get married.' because I thought I had a steady job then for five pound a week. She came over and we got married much to my mother's distress and I used to give half my wages to mother. She got a job as a kindergarten teacher for about two pounds a week and I had this job for about five pounds a week. It was a big difference between men and women's wages in those days. It was before the days of equal pay or any of that sort of thing. Then within a month of being married I got the sack because all the top wool sorters and classers came down from the stations seeing the season was over. And I was a bit of a militant then. I used to stir things up a bit.

Togs: What union were you in? The Australian Workers Union? Graham: No, the Shop Assistants strangely enough and they were the Shop Assistants and Warehouse Men's Union and they covered the big wool stores. If you were in any union you paid a shilling to the Labour Council and you could get a ticket to go into what they called the casual yard on the wharves and if there was any work over from the Wharfies. They used to call it the Wharf Lumpers Union in those days in Fremantle. And the really hard jobs they'd reject like there used to be coal come over. The whole hull of the boat would be full with coal and you had to shovel it into baskets and then the cranes would put them to shore and get them into railway trucks. And it was so uneven getting a bloody squaremouth shovel into this, no floor to shovel off or anything was one of the most difficult jobs I ever had.

Togs: You get covered in dust?

Graham: Of course you would but then you got a couple of days pay out of it.

Togs: How long you do that for?

Graham: Only about a year I suppose or maybe less cause the War had started by then and as the War heated up a bit a lot of workers went into the Army and so there were jobs available. I got a job then as at the Shell Petrol Depot where they've got the great big tanks and they used to refine and mix up the oils and do all sorts of things connected with supplying fuel to the service stations. They offered me a foreman's job there strangely enough but by this time I broke my foot. I had a terrible accident. I was off work for nine months and I was unfit for the Army. My foot was smashed to smithereens. And I went and worked in munitions, a state engineering works making track legs for Bren Gun Carriers because at that time Rommel and Desert Campaign was going on in the Middle East. And they had these Bren Gun Carriers that run like a caterpillar tractor you see, we were making the track legs that made the tracks on which they run.

Togs: Did you join the Communist Party in 1940?

Graham: What had happened I was a bit of an innocent in New Zealand but working on the sheep station I came in contact with shearers and musterers and working men whose sympathies were with the Labour Party. It was the first time I heard political discussion.

Mother was a great campaigner for Suffragettes. She marched in London with the contingent in 1910. New Zealand was the first country to get votes for women and my mother was one of the campaigners of that struggle. You see women didn't have the vote in 1900. I think it was 1905 the first vote for women in South Australia but the first actual country that got it was New Zealand. Fancy women not have the vote? Half the population. It's unbelievable when you think of it isn't?

Togs: Yes.

Graham: She was very militant on that aspect and very, very intelligent and open minded woman who I learnt a terrible lot off but she was conservative in the main in her politics. There is a whole great history there. A whole great history by my two grandfathers. Grandfather Alcorn had been a gold miner and he came back friends with Dick Simple who became the prime minister of New Zealand and my mother's father was a parson but a very liberal open minded one Par Nickson and they reckon when they had a practice in Wellington members of the cabinet used to go around and meet at his place and in those days the Liberal Party was the left wing one you know. I don't think the Labour Party was even formed back in the early 1900's in New Zealand. In the 1890's in Australia the Labour Party was formed.

Togs: Getting back to 1940 what made you join the Communist Party

instead of the Labour Party?

Graham: There was several factors. My wife had become a communist.

Well she wasn't my wife then. She went to university in New Zealand. She got a B.A. Degree in Education and it was during her university years that she run into the left wing and joined the Communist Party and she moved to Australia. We were going to try to go to London on a wheat ship. In those days you could work your passage on a sailing ship The Thermopylae and Cutty Shark. All those ships used to sail to England full of wheat and they used to take crews. They didn't get any pay but they got their trip payed for but that didn't come off because of my family's poverty. On the way to Australia I stayed with Joy in Sydney for three weeks and we arranged to get married eventually and I went off to West Australia with high hopes.

But they didn't eventuate. I was unemployed for two years. I used to write to Joy and the whole situation I was in created a mental awareness that things were not what they should be. I'd been there quite a while before the War. The first part of the War was a Phoney War anyhow. They just sat and looked at one another. I did jobs in the country working. I go and work on a farm for a couple of months and then the work would cut out and I met a bloke called Bill Hatfield.

He'd written a book about diverting the waters across the East Coast of the Great Divide to irrigate the Inland. He was a great bloke Bill. I met him through a nurse I used to go out with a bit. He lent me a book called The Theory and Practice of Socialism by John Starkey....was a English Labour member of parliament but he'd written this marvellous bloody book. Oh I shouldn't swear should I?

Togs: That's alright.

Graham: It outlined in simple terms Marxist Theory. That socialism was an inevitable evolution of society. We had tribal society and feudalism, capitalism, arising from each of the society the germ of the new was there according to Marxist theory. It seemed to me to be very sensible. I was always an intellectual so it was this very well written book convinced me that this was an inevitable social process and that the working class was the force that would bring about this change in society as the all other changes had been brought about by the oppressed class in the past and also that changes came about by revolution. Which had happened in the past with other societies. The French revolution was a capitalist revolution and Cromwell's revolution was a capitalist revolution over throwing the feudal lords and so on. Anyhow I became a very enthusiastic, very convinced communist and the War was hatting up a bit by then and I used to go to the Esplanade where they used to have speakers on all sorts of subjects. A bit like the Domain and there I would buy The Workers Star which was the weekly paper of the Communist Party.

Togs: For West Australia?

Graham: Well the West Australian weekly. The national weekly was The Tribune or for New South Wales and Melbourne had The Guardian. The Party was growing in those days. And I would buy it and read very religiously. It had all the political news in it and trade union news. News about the strikes and the War, theoretical articles also. It was a good paper. So I asked a bloke called Bill Dean who used to be one of the speakers on the stump if I could join the Communist Party.

He said he would put it before the appropriate committee. The next week he was arrested and put in jail for six months.

Togs: Was this when the Communist party was made illegal by Bob

Menzies?

Graham Alcorn: About three days after I applied to join it was made illegal by Bob Menzies.

Togs: What was it like when the whole question of legality of the

Communist Party was wiped out by Menzies?

Graham: What actually happened was in my case from a personal point of view. We hadn't got married. My wife hadn't come over. She was in Broken Hill. There was six leaders of the party in West Australia who were all put in jail for six months for threatening the overthrow of the government or some bullshit. So I didn't see Bill Dean for six months. In the meantime my wife came to West Australia. We got married. I'll never forget our marriage I suppose it was quite funny. I had got this job in the wool scourer and getting a job was so precious. You couldn't take any risks. There was a hundred blokes waiting outside the gate. If you were late or missed a day and the foreman used to take advantage of this situation and treat us like bloody dogs. We arranged with a bloke called Bill Cutherison, Cuthy we used to call him. He was a Methodist Parson but he was very left. Cuthy married us and I didn't know I had to pay him 2 pound 10 and that was a whole lot of money in those days. And he said we're entitled to our wages just as much as you blokes are. I said oh yeah fair enough. We only got married because my mother having first said, "Why don't you just live together and see how it works out". Within in a week she said. "We must get married."And I remember my father laughed and laughed. My wife had become quite a capable communist in New South Wales and was on the DistrictCommittee of the Broken Hill area.

She went straight onto the illegal leadership. Communist parties always work it out. You expect to be made illegal at anytime. So you always have an alternate leadership that could just step in and take over and she was put right onto this alternate state committee which used to meet secretly. So she was quite a big shot you Glee end I was just a beginner. Well I wasn't even in the party but she got me admitted and I remember one day running into Bill Dean in the street after he'd been let out jail and I said, "Hey Bill what about my application for membership?," and he laughed.

The War intensified and then the situation changed whereby the Middle East Campaign and Menzies collapsed you see. The Menzies government collapsed. Menzies had this Brisbane line and he was going to defend Australia. Draw a line north of Brisbane and that was going to be the place where they stop the Japs.

Togs: What did you think of Menzies when he outlawed the Communist Party?

Graham: Oh we all hated Menzies. I mean he was a real fascist you know. Pig Iron Bob we used to call him. In his day they exported pig iron and scrap iron to Japan from Wollongong and the wharfies and all of them wouldn't handle this and Menzies intervened with the law and all the rest of it. He was known as Pig Iron Bob by the whole of Australia. He was hated. A real fascist. This Brisbane Line, well, he was thought of as a sympathiser of Hitler. That was the general feeling about him. So the situation in the country was burning over this Brisbane Line and there was a chap called Coles an independent. I think he owned Coles Stores and he held the balance of power and he crossed the floor and they voted Curtin the Labour leader in as prime minister. And what Curtin immediately did was recall our troops from the Middle East which was not our battleground at all and put them straight into New Guinea to defend and totally threw this Brisbane Line out. That is when the whole thing hatted up in this part of the world. In the meantime as the anti-communist climate eased because Russia had entered the War by then. We had a front which we called the Democratic something or other and we had an office without any interference from the government, eventually we were made legal by the Curtain government.

Curtin had withdrawn the troops[from North Africa]. The track link contract for the Gun Carriers had cut out because of Curtain bringing the troops back. I lost my job in the armaments factory. I was a union delegate whilst I was there. I became an active communist, formed a production committee to do a better job of the track links. I used to write articles. They put me on because I was an intellectual, I suppose.

They put me on the editorial committee of The Workers Star which used to meet once a week to decided what would go in each week's issue. They had a full time worker on it and I used to just assist and write articles. Bob Finely who was a wonderful communist from the Goldfields knew the Office of the Manpower officer who had been a mate of his up in the Goldfields. He requested that I be Manpowered to be the editor of The Workers Star because every newspaper was entitled to an editor. I mean how could they carry on. So I got Manpowered and I moved into the Communist Party office. I was nominally editor. I used to write a lot of the articles. A journalist from The Daily News taught me layouts and all this mechanical and journalistic knowledge.

Togs: How big was the Communist Party around that time during the war?

Graham: It started of small and then it grew and grew to thousands of

members and influential people.

Togs: Why do you think the Communist Party grew so much during the

War?

Graham: It was obvious, Russia was putting up such a magnificent battle against Hitler. Not only the socialist world was threatened by Hitler but the whole world was threatened by Hitler. We threw ourselves into the War effort and raising money. You know bonds and these sort of things and supported the War one hundred per cent. We were no longer Reds under the Beds and Bolsheviks, people out to ruin the country for a while.

It was about six of our leaders got six month sentence at the Fremantle jail. They left some documents carelessly around which the police used in trial and they reckoned they were subversive trying to overthrow the state.

Togs: How big was the Communist Party in Perth back then?

Graham: I was never sure but it wasn't very big. We were pretty active. Those depression years produced a lot of militants and they were really good militant people. A militant core of the left movement that made an impression beyond the numbers involved. For example the communists were so dedicated and such capable people that in the trade union movement that many communists came to the leadership of trade unions. Jim Healy in the Waterfront Workers Union, Edgar Ross in the Miners Union, Paddy Troy, who was a great mate of mine. A wonderful man Paddy Troy, Freddie Weymouth who led a big demonstration of unemployed and there were these splendid people and they had an influence far beyond their actual numbers. They had the answer that no body else did.

Togs: Can you tell me a bit about your mateship with Paddy Troy?

Graham: Well Paddy Troy was one of the ones sent to jail. He was not a full time worker for the party. He worked on the waterfront in the Docks, Rivers and Harbours Union and that became a branch of the Painter and Dockers Union. Paddy came from the Goldfields where he'd been a militant in the struggle there. He was a great man Paddy Troy a really outstanding person, Irish of course. Escaped Catholic. With these outstanding individuals. The effect they had in an atmosphere. The soil was ready if you could say so. People couldn't get jobs and the Labour Party didn't seem to have the answer.

Togs: What did you think of the Labour Party at that time?

Graham: I thought they were capitalist serving and opportunist. During the illegal period I joined the Labour Party branch in the district I was living in. They had all sorts of people with the different ideologies like the Henry George League. They had some idea I never really understood. Thev had all these different types in the Labour Party but they had this opportunist streak which was very evident. I used to move motions through the branch but they never do much about it. They didn't have that real total dedication. If you became totally dedicated in those days with Communist Party you faced the question of jail. Even your life because there were these basher gangs who used to attack us personally. They came after the War when Churchill started the Cold War and the leader of them was an ex‑member of Mosely's New Guard in England and the name of this fells was Cushier.

Togs: He came over to Perth did he?

Graham: Yes he was an immigrant from England and there was quite a few blokes who had jail records and a publican who used to fill them up with grog and send down to bash up our Esplanade meetings. I became a regular speaker down the Esplanade we had quite good crowds there. There were other stumps with different ideas. I developed a speech which I explained the nature of socialism and how it could solve all the problems of mankind and it was a very popular speech actually. During the War we were enormously popular, membership of the party leapt ten‑twenty fold but then it started to shrink again after the War and then there was the Miners Strike which we since considered a great mistake. The party should have never given support to it while there was still a Labour Government in office. It split the country in half the Miners Strike. There used to be a lot of people come to the Esplanade to hear about the Miners Strike. Anyhow during this period in which there was a drive to make the party illegal again and in which the Chifley government was defeated largely a result of the Miners Strike. Menzies was put back into power and there was an atmosphere created by Menzies of virulent anti‑communism and the usual political stunts of blaming the communists for everything which they pulled out of the bag again. They were very good at it. So there were continual attacks on us in the paper, radio and this publican in the main street of Perth. He organised this gang of thugs. There was about a dozen of these blokes. One Sunday they

attacked. They used to come along and heckle. And every Sunday they get more vicious until they charged the stump.

A stump is a sort of a platform and you go up about three steps and then you've got a rostrum/table top to lay your papers on. You stand on the stump and talk down to the crowd. So thier idea was to rush the stump and tip it over which they tried. In the meantime we organised a defence squad and we had some pretty tough fellows. There was a chap called Jim Kelly an ex‑seaman. He was about six foot four. He only had one eye and could fight like a thrashing machine and there was a Or Jolly who had a doctors practice out in Midland Junction. A railway workers town. He was a great boxer too. These two Kelly and Jolly organised from among the workers a gang of twelve or so who would be trained in fighting and defence. So every time the blokes attacked which was nearly every Sunday they got done.

Togs: You'd start off and they came at you.

Graham: There's the stump and I'm standing on it introducing the speaker. Our fellows formed a semi‑circle. There was a tennis court or bowling green, it had a wire nets about six foot high so we used that as a backing. Then there was the big lawn of the Esplanade 20‑30 acres or lawns that led right down to the Swan River. Perth is a beautiful city. It has the Swan River just at the foot of the business area is all this lovely water. It's a tidal river. We had this background of the fence which was very handy because they couldn't get behind the stump so we just had a semi‑circle of the defence squad with their arms folded and then the speaker would be on the surrounds the stump. And all these bloody fascists would be shouting and yelling, every now and then they'd charge and get repulsed. Knocked back.

It worked to a crescendo. I think they were all filled up with grog by this publican. They would finally get themselves so worked that they would charge. They never overthrew the stump. They never got through our defenses but they came pretty near to us. Some good fighters amongst them. I hate violence and hate fighting and it took a lot of courage for me to take part in this. Thank goodness they made me the chairman so I didn't have to take place in the fighting.

What would happen then was the police would be there and they would stand back. It was a Liberal state government in office and they backed these bastards. So the whole of the state was on the side of these drunks and criminals. The police would stand off until the fascists looked like being nearly defeated. It was every time just about. We used to get huge crowds of two thousand watching.

Togs: How many fascists were there?

Graham: About a dozen.

Togs: So there be two thousand people listening to you and other speakers and these fascists would attack?

Graham: Well you know, people like a bit of violence. They started coming along to see the scene and in the meantime they got good lectures from me on socialism, good talks from Paddy Troy and various other speakers and we were protected by the semi‑circle. In the end it became almost a pattern every afternoon the fascists would rust the stump.

When I say fascists they were fascists. When they looked like being defeated the police would step in arrest the leaders from both sides and take them away and charge them with creating a disturbance. The first time they did it they put them all in the same paddy wagon.

Togs: That would have been fun.

Graham: So they had a terrific fight inside the paddy wagon bashing into one another. So the next Sunday they bought along a red paddy wagon and a black one. They put the communists in the red one and the fascists in the black one. It was a very tense time. The state government which was on the side of the fascists banned the use of loudspeakers on the Esplanade. So previously all speakers on the Esplanade had been allowed to use amplifiers and the state government for no reason. Oh, the reason was obvious to put us at a disadvantage banned the use of loudspeakers and so we just had to throw our voices. I was pretty good at that and most of our speakers were used to speaking at union meetings. Say the meeting started at two o'clock the crowd would all be gathered around waiting for us to appear and on one occasion we hired a launch. We had a loud speaker with battery power and everything and I was the chairman, Paddy Troy was the main speaker and Kevin Healy the three of us on this launch. It was right across the other side of the river which would be three quarters of a mile away. We met over there in the launch and picked up the equipment from one of our feller's cars and put it in the launch. We anchored from the shore and all the people were waiting on the other side. We yelled out through the loud speakers, "Over here folks." and they came over about two thousand of them. The police couldn't interfere because we were on the river. The bloody fascists were wandering up and down tearing their bloody hair out, absolutely furious. Finally they went and hired a boat and they started rowing out towards us.

But they must have decided they didn't have enough men so they rowed back ashore and put a couple more in it, this row boat. By this time we talked for about an hour and a half. What the people did not know was that the boat had a motor in it. It was anchored. Paddy Troy being a seaman was in charge of all that. As these blokes came closer and closer with their row boat. Obviously intending to board us and tip us out into the water. The tension mounted up you see. With perfect timing Paddy Troy pulled up the anchor, I was speaking at the time and he said well thank you ladies and gentlemen for your attention and started the engine, it was inboard he must have just had to press a button and away we went. The bloody roar that went up from the crowd was tremendous because no one expected that would happen. For all they knew it was a row boat we had because they hadn't seen it arrive and it was only a small boat but it had a inboard motor. It was a great triumph.

Shortly after that the Bishop of Perth. I think he was Church of England. A man of considerable influence who often wrote to the papers, quite a big public figure wrote a stinging letter to the Herald condemning the state government for allowing this bunch of hooligans to disrupt a meeting that was supposed to be free. We were entitled to it. It was such a good letter I suppose they couldn't very well ignore and not publish it. Then the heat was taken off. So we won a victory and we made inquires about the members of the gang. Several of them were criminals. They had criminal records, petty sort of records for bashing up people and robbing them of what was in their pockets. They even bashed a bloke up in the lavatory in the Esplanade and stole nine pence off him or something ridiculous like that. They were just the scum of the earth.

Togs: Were you still in the Communist Party when Menzies tried to outlaw the party again?

Graham: Oh very much so. I was a functionary for years in Western Australia on very low wages. What we could live on. And my marriage split up. My wife moved over to Sydney in about 1948‑9. Menzies had brought in the bill to outlaw the Communist Party and we organised a tremendous campaign against it.

And in the midst of this campaign I left Western Australia and wound up my affairs there and went to Sydney with the hope of resuming my marriage which didn't come off because we had one daughter who was about five by this time. I missed her very much.

I remember I stayed a fortnight in Melbourne and we had this great campaign against the Anti‑Red bill which was the core of the campaign by the Communist Party with all their experience but it was the leadership of a people's committee. We used to have factory gates meetings and I spoke at a lot of them in Melbourne and there was this great campaign to vote against the bill. Sure enough the referendum was held and it was lost.

It was a great victory and then I went and worked at Garden Island for a couple of years and then I went to New Zealand to see my mother and when I came back, I went to Cockatoo and I was there for about nine years. I was delegate of the Painters and Dockers Union and secretary of the Cockatoo branch of the Communist Party.

Togs: There was a branch of the Communist Party at Cockatoo? How many members did you have?

Graham: They had an active branch. They had about fifteen members.

Togs: Were they from all sorts of trades?

Graham: Electricians, Boilermakers, Fitters and Turners and Painters and Dockers.

Togs: What was sort of work did you do as a Painter and Docker?

Graham: There was two divisions in the work of the Painters and Dockers. There was the work in the dock. They had three docks; the big dock, little dock and floating dock. And the ships would come in with all this growth on the bottom. There be this sea growth about six inches long which slow the ships up to billy‑oh. They come into dock and we had this casual yard in Balmain and the employer would say we want fifty men for a days work or two days work or whatever and they would get them, something like the wharfies. And they would come over and scrape all this stuff off the bottom of the ships with sort of hoe things on long handles and paint it with anti‑fouling paint and remove all the rubbish and out would go the ship. There was a lot of scaffolding that had to be built to work on the side of a ship, other trades boilermakers doing a bit of welding and we had the other section of the union. I was in the stage hands which was permanently employed at Cockatoo. There was a docking gang that actually used to dock the ships and the stagehands who built the scaffolding with the docking gang. We also worked on the ships they were building the Vampire and erecting scaffolding for the boilermakers and that to work off. We had all the scaffolding on the island and crowed the Titan when it was needed. And they brought in a rule that we had to have Riggers tickets so we went to tech (TAFE). I got a Dogmans ticket which allowed at that time to ride the hook. You could go with load or just ride the hook on the crane. We worked with a whistle. A Crane Chaser ticket. You had to be in sight of the crane driver and you worked with signals. The Riggers ticket was more complicated ad dealt with erecting cranes and shear legs and all sorts of lifting arterial.

Togs: What are your fondest memories of Cockatoo?

Graham: Oh the Titan.

Togs: The floating crane.

Graham: I loved the Titan. We'd been working on the island and sometime the work was boring. You wouldn't get called on to do anything. They would be standing by and if somebody wanted a stage. You build it and erect. A scaffold what we used to call a stage. A platform you erected up the masts or various places. But then you go on Titian and you left the island and whiz off down the harbour with two tugs. And you were tied along side of a ship. They only used the Titian for loads over 80 tons there was another crane called the Hawk.

Togs: And that was another floating crane too was it?

Graham: Yes and it could lift up to 80 tons. So it got most of the work. It was owned by another company. Occasionally it would cover a generator or something for the Snowy Mountains Scheme and they weigh up to a 150 tons so they had to get the Titan to lift these out of the holds and put them on a specially built railway truck and sometimes on a specially built motor truck which used to drive at 5 miles an hour with a police escort up to Lithgow or where ever.

And a generator was needed, huge things these special trucks. It was good fun. The work was interesting. You had to be pretty cluey. You had to be pretty capable and you were fiddling about with equipment that if you dropped it the thing would go through the bottom of the ship. And you could go and have a beer at lunchtime that was always very pleasant. There was nearly always a pub nearby. Yeah, the Titian was good. And another thing that was good we used to provide an alternate crew to move ships around the harbour. A lot of ships when they came in for a refitting. The crew would either be paid off or given leave. We used to shift them which meant tugs and mooring the ropes.

Togs: You worked there when the destroyers Vampire and Voyager were ding built. What was it like when you went on the sea trials?

Graham: Oh it was good fun because they put them through their paces. Chat I remember was we just stood around maybe we moored them when they came back into the island again. They go flat as fast they could go and swerve to the right and the left. Be a great bow wave. It was quite exciting.

Togs: Did you have any thoughts that your going out with the Navy on these warships, like your this well know communist?

Graham: I just had a feeling of amazement about because I was the delegate for about eight years of the Painters and Dockers which was the most militant union on the waterfront by far. We used to have strikes galore. And I was a well known communist everyone knew that, the management. When it came to taking the ship on the trial each union who had taken part in building the ship had the right to have a representative on the trial. The representative would generally be the delegate. I never expected to be invited but I was, mind you I always think I was a very reasonable man. I was a very good delegate. I wasn't a mad militant who'd go on strike at the drop of a hat. I know I had the respect of the management even though we didn't agree a lot. When I left the island one of the engineers called me into his office and shook hands and said goodbye. Which I thought was pretty good.

Not really enemies, but as opponents, respect as opponents.

Togs: When you left the dockyard was that when you first came up to the Blue Mountains?

Graham: What happened was I took up with another woman and lived together for twenty years and we raised an adopted child. She was in the Communist Party and used to look after our office in William Street [Kings Cross] and she did dress making and we had a flat in Surrey Hills. It was a very precious thing to have a flat and the old landlord was a good old landlord, he'd only charge us a pound a week rent. This was in 1966 and incredibly hard to get lodgings in Sydney at that time. There was advertisement spread out through the party that they wanted two people to do a jobb in the country for them and it would involve having a house but their was no details about what the job was. Well Flo said,” Why don't we apply?”, so we did. We thought it would be in Canberra, but it was in the Blue Mountains and at that time it was a Liberal government and they were bringing in a white paper against the Communist Party and it look as if we were going declare us illegal again. It turned out the party wanted to set up a illegal printery so they could continue publishing The Tribune and leaflets. The party excepts just to be illegal and keeps going on with its' propaganda secretly.

It turned out they wanted a caretaker for the house in which they were establishing the printery and that was in Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains. So we had to adopt a new personality and life style. My health was not very good at the time so we made that an excuse. I just left Garden Island where I was working and we just disappeared from all our friends and establish ourselves up there as Mr and Mrs Alcorn. We joined the Conservation Society and we completely dropped any communist connections because we were caretakers of this underground printery which was never used by the way, because the bill died a natural death.

Togs: Did you have a printing press up there?

Graham: They had started to assemble one but they never finished.

Togs: Where about was it in Meadlow Bath Graham?

Graham: Rutland Road. I don't know if you better make it to exact?

Togs: Did you start working for the council then?

Graham: Wel, first of all I got odd jobs and then I got a job as gardener for the Hydro Majestic Hotel for a couple of years.

Togs: What was it like working there?

Graham: It was a difficult job because there were so many bloody bosses. There was a manager and the owner Foy and Foy's wife. I put a lot of myself into that garden. I really made it into a magnificent garden eventually.

It took a while though the soil was run right down. It was very poor. In the end I got the sack because the Hydro went broke which it does every couple of months so they dispensed with me and they've never had a decent gardener since. But anyhow I'm glad they gave me the sack because it was the best turn they ever did for me in my life. I was thinking of thanking them for it because within a week I had a job as a Ranger for the council. The council had tens of thousands of acres of what were called State Scenic Reserves and they we established before the National Parks were thought of. They were established back in the 1890's when people used to come up here by train and have their annual holidays here.

Togs: How many kilometres of walking tracks?

Graham: We reckoned 200 kilometres of tracks. That was a great thing to go for a bushwalk on holiday up here.

Togs: What was it like working as a Ranger for the council?

Graham: I always considered that the best job in my life. I love nature and I do a lot of bushwalking. It was liked being paid for what you would voluntarily do on the weekends anyhow. It was a wonderful job. Working in the gardens at Hydro‑Majestic was a nervous sort of job because their was always financial crisis. It would depend on how many guests they got if they made a profit or not. They had to employ a permanent staff. They finally decided they could dispense with a gardener and just have shrubs instead of flowers. I made a very good garden there. I won prizes at the local show and all. I put a great deal into that garden. I had earlier applied for a job as a gardener for the council and I went in there and there was a fellow on the counter. He said there was no garden jobs going but there is a peoples committee that employs a ranger and I hear that the last one has

been sacked. He told me where to apply and I had to apply to the secretary of this committee which I did. I had a good friend in the Conservation Society, Elizabeth Bowden, who was very, very respected in the mountains and knew the secretary, she gave a good reference and I Just got the job like that.

The fellow who had it before me. They'd t reckoned he read about sixty wild west novels instead of working on the walking tracks. It is not a job that is easy to supervise because these tracks go right out to Mount Solitary and right down below the Three Sisters, in the Valley of the Waters they go right down. Unless the Rangers are dedicated people the engineers and supervisors haven't got a hope of keeping an eye on what they're up to. I loved the work and I got my brother [Wilson] within a couple of months a job with me. And we worked together my brother and I for about nine years. And he became a very dedicated conservationist also. We were called Rangers. We worked for the Blue Mountains City Council on what they called State Scenic Reserves which were formed in the last century. A lot of the tracks we worked were commenced in the 1890's because in those days people used to come up by train for holidays in the Mountains and they'd stay for a fortnight. Bushwalking was one of the organised activities. So there was this great track system. Jim Smith who has done a lot of historical work says it is one of the greatest track systems in the world. Amazing, steps cut into cliff faces. Terrific track system and it was a very inspiring job. Fortunately a lot of the area has been passed over to the National Parks which is a good idea because once a reserve is in the National Park it really needs almost an act of parliament for it to be alienated for the developers to get it. So it's much safer being in the National Park. But in those days we had an allowance from the state government and the three of us used to keep the tracks open. We had a lot of picnic grounds. We had to look after the look‑outs. The Leura, Katoomba and Wentworth Falls Cascades were all in our area. The Leura and Katoomba ones were floodlight at night of course and they, I suppose, received the most visitors. They were just short walks. One of the major problems was drainage because most of the tracks were on steep slopes. You get a period of heavy rain and the tracks themselves become creeks and rivers, they get washed out. You have to run the water off them every twenty yards at an angle so the water doesn't gain momentum because every foot that water travels down a slope it doubles the momentum and the biggest problem was the tracks washing away. There was plenty of other problems you get a big tree fall over the track. At first we had a cross‑cut saw that high the shows with his hands a meter in height.] which we used to wrap in sacking and take down the valleys and saw these trees and we had sharp axes. Then we finally persuaded them to give us a chainsaw. We didn't have much in the way of funds. Togs: What sort of funds did you have? Graham: We had a little chainsaw and that made a hell of a difference to clearing these trees off the tracks. It was quite common for a big tree to fall right across the track and block it off all together so you had to cut a passage through. When you think of 200 kilometres of walking tracks you know it takes a bit of maintaining.

Togs: What was it like around Mount Solitary?

Graham: There is track to the Ruined Castle which is a heap of rocks that looks like the battlements of a castle. That track well it was an easy one to maintain because it was flat and it went right out along the bottom of the escarpment, five miles I think it was right out Mount Solitary and it had been made in the last century or earlier this century. It had a little railway line that used to bring the coal and shale in from the coal mines up there. We maintained it as a tourist track as far as the Ruined Castle but there was a bushwalking track that went on from there right on to the top of Mount Solitary and right over to the end of it but it was not maintained but the bushwalkers used it a lot. I myself with a lady friend spent the night on top of Mount Solitary and walked over and finished up here actually [The Queen Victoria Hospital] at nine o'clock at night.

Togs: What, here on Kings Tableland ?

Graham: At the Queen Victoria Hospital and I rung up my brother and he came and picked us up. We miscalculated the time. It was nine o'clock when we got here and they were all worried about us. It was a lovely walk though.

Togs: What years are we talking about when you worked on the council?

Graham: I would say 1968‑9 to 1978. Nine years I worked for it. They gave me a letter under seal when I retired and they don't usually give these unless people have worked fiftteen years. They were very generous. They gave me ‚ letter under seal which is a formality, the mayor signs it, you go to the council meeting. I attended and the letter is read out. My service to the council and then you handed the letter and shook hands with mayor and you got a chance to make a speech yourself which I did and stressed the importance of the environment and the ecology. Although the Rangers job was sort of an orphan. It was a glorified labourers job of which you never heard much about. The heyday of the Rangers was the period before the motels.

Togs: Before the motor car.

Graham: Before the motor car became an access and that was after the War. Before the War the tracks were very important because the Mountains was a major holiday resort. People came here year after year and stayed for a couple of weeks. By the time I got the job there was a resurgence of interest in the bush and the tracks became important again and there was a lot of bushwalking done, families and kids on school holidays. But what I did and my brother. I made it into an ecology sort of job because I happened to be well educated and knew a fair bit of ecology. We would poke our beak in to burn offs to prevent bushfires. Always had a lot of say with Mr. Kopperberg as to where they do the burn offs in our reserve and managed to protect most of our reserves from these pyromaniacs who want to rush around burning everything.

Togs: What was their attitude?

Graham: It was more my membership of the Conservation Society which was constantly dealing with environmental and ecological problems. The necessity to protect the hanging swamps in the Upper Mountains which are very delicate protectors and suppliers of water and a whole lot of things like that. I arrived at a position that I could just go into the chief engineers office and make demands. He was a good bloke John Metcalfe splendid man and we were involved in the first environmental plan for he Blue Mountains.

When the Whitlam government was in power and hev had funds under the Red Schemes. He got fifthteen workers for three months and I divided them into two gangs and put my brother in charge of one and another ranger in charge of the other. I was a sort of general supervisor and we got a terrific amount of work done on the tracks in that period. He also hired some postgraduate university people from Canberra who did ecological surveys, very, very good stuff which I feel the council ignored. All they do is go on bringing new environmental plans and it goes on forever. Whereas the stuff they had during that period. When was the Whitliam years.

Togs: December 1972 to November 11 1975.

Graham: Yes well that supplied the answer to their request.

Togs: Let's get back to the burn offs. What was the attitude of Phil Kopperberg at that time? [Phil Kopperberg was the Blue Mountains head Bushfire Control Officer before he became the Rural Fire Commissioner for New South Wales.

Graham: It changed over the years. The first attitude was burn everything in sight. He had this idea of aerial ignition and he used to send helicopters over the Jamieson Valley dropping ignition bombs and burning out remote areas of bush. The idea being to reduce the fuel load.

We were always taking deputations to the council from the Conservation Society over this. We developed our own Bushfire policy. It was not one of my departments. My department was land use but they had a Bushfire Advisory Committee on the society and we got out a leaflet. Got the council to pay for it and distribute it. What to do when a Bushfire Comes. There's a terrible lot a householder can do if he stays in his own house to protect it. He can generally save it from being burnt down by filling the gutters with water and making sure there's no rubbish under the house that will catch fire, having buckets with mops in, buckets full of water

because there is no water when the Bushfire blokes connect with the mains. They use all the water. Filling your gutters with water (very important and things like that. We had all this in the leaflet we got fit, how to save your house and I think we distributed about ten

thousand of them in the mountains was interesting in the last major Bushfires that they had in Sydney.

Togs: Are you referring to January 1994?

Graham: It was a very serious one. The worse they ever had, Mr. Kopperberg over the wireless and TV advanced these very ideas we had in our original leaflet. I was quite amazed at that. Togs: In your time as a ranger did you study the after effects of bushfires?

Graham: Yes we did out at Erskine Swamp in the National Park on Kings Tableland. The swamp was burnt out and we took say twenty square meters blocks and about once every three months you count the seedlings and study the regeneration and there were quite a number of other studies done of the same sort. One thing that was certainly established was too rapid a fire regime denuded the bush of certain species. There is a whole lot of Australian species that revive from the roots, just spring up again, Waratahs and Tea Trees and a lot of the Banksias and the plant can be completely wiped out and then new shoots come up as an adaptation. The Eucalypts they send out epidermic buds under the bark that provide leaves until the tree grows new branches, marvellous adaptations but there are some species like Banksia Ericfolia for instance which is a very important source of food for I Honeyeaters in the winter. It is a winter flowering shrub and they are killed by the Bushfires. They don't have any recovery. What happens is the heat pops open all the seed cases which sit on the plant for years, twenty years maybe and a Bushfire comes along and they all open. If you want to get the seed from Banksia Ericfolia you've got to put the seed cases in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit and they pop open. After a Bushfire a great mass of seedlings coming up for this. For the studies that have been made it's about five years before the new plants produce fertile seeds. So if your going to have all these preventive burn offs every couple of years or so your'e going to lose that plant altogether from that particular part of the bush. There are all those factors to be taken in and we used to have several discussions with Mr Kopperberg about this. My own feeling about Mr Kopperberg is that he has learnt a lot from the last few years. I was really quite impressed with his generalship in that last awful fire in Sydney.

Togs: 1994

Graham: Yes.

Togs: And the ones we had in 1997-98?

Graham: He did pretty well. That's just my personal feeling.

Togs: How much do you feel that Australians know much more about the bush now than when you took the position as a park ranger? Do you think that people are far more aware about what the bush is?

Graham: I think yes. In the last few years quite a large growing awareness. Here in the Blue Mountains in particular the conservation societies have fought persistent and doggedly and never given up in preserving the bush. And this is pretty widespread throughout the country even among the farmers there is a movement to replant trees on slopes that have eroded away I took part in some of it myself at the Capertee Valley replanted about a thousand trees on a slope that was just eroding away from being cleared, too much clearing. There does seem to be a realization now that denuding the land of vegetation just lays it open to erosion. Another that is very positive in the mountains is when I started I worked for this committee, later on the council took over the whole operation but the government was paid to the committee in the first place to pay our wages. It was just this one committee. I started this campaign and other things I did as ranger was the incursion of weeds into reserves, Blackberry and Broom were the two worst. We used to get this plant sprayed for fortnight once a year and work like mad on these weeds. Now there is a whole network through the mountains, I think there is about ninenty of them of peoples committees, [bushcare groups] who go out on the weekend weeding whatever happens to be in their suburb. The council employs at least one full time weed eradication officer.

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