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
Graham Alcorn: My parents sent me to
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
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
Togs: What sort of car was it?
Graham Alcorn: It was a Nash
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
Graham Alcorn: They went to
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
Yeah well what happened. It was the Depression you see and work was hard to get. What they sent me to
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
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
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
Togs: What union were you in? The Australian Workers
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
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
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
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.
Graham: Well the West Australian weekly. The national weekly was The Tribune or for
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
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
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
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
Curtin had withdrawn the troops[from
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
Graham: It was obvious,
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
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
Togs: Can you tell me a bit about your mateship with Paddy
Graham: Well Paddy
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
Togs: He came over to
Graham: Yes he was an immigrant from
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
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
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
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
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
Shortly after that the Bishop of
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
And in the midst of this campaign I left
I remember I stayed a fortnight in
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
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
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
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
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
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
Togs: What was it like around
Graham: There is track to the
Togs: What, here on Kings Tableland ?
Graham: At the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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