Union History newsletter from Sydney Trades Hall January 2021

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Trades Hall Press

Union History newsletter from Sydney Trades Hall
January 2021


'Tis the holiday season and Trades Hall has been lucky enough to enjoy holidays. Some of it was spent at a former trade union holiday spot at Pittwater in Sydney northern beaches area Almost missed out because of the lockdown that happily ended not long before our break.

Paid holidays are a win in trade union history, and the end of World War II coincided firstly with the gaining of two weeks paid leave (Annual Holidays Act 1944) and the establishment of the 40 hour week as standard in NSW.

Trade unions saw their role as helping workers to have a good holiday as well as a fair days work with fair pay and conditions. Some unions and the Labor Council of NSW acted on this by setting up holiday camps and cabins in a few locations, usually on the NSW coast.

Currawong was established by the Labor Council of NSW and is heritage listed, as is the Eureka Camp in Victoria set up by the CPA. The CPA camp at Minto was given to Tranby College when the CPA disbanded in the 1990s but retains cabins used by various groups.

Barrie Blears wrote of the Eureka Youth League in The Hummer that “One of the main activities of the EYL during its existence was the operation of youth camps in all states. North Queensland had facilities. on Magnetic Island while the Seaman’s Union allowed the League to use a site at Springwood in the Blue Mountains. South Australia had a camp at Second Valley and Victoria had the largest and most long running site at Yarra Junction. Thousands of young people attended these over the years but by the 1960’s increasing mobility of young people led to less interest in camping.” (see also his Together with Us)

The Australian Railway Union established facilities at Sussex Inlet, within the Booderee National Park was opened with some fanfare by Premier McGirr in 1948. Now known as the New Generation Holiday Camp, it is still union-run (now by the Rail Bus and Tram Union) and was entirely refurbished with new cabins in the 1980s. The Electrical Trades holiday camp at Nambucca Heads now offers two contemporary mobile-home style cabins for rent.

The United Services Union has the Riverside Resort and Caravan Park on the river at Port Macquarie

Other union run camps included:

The Newcastle Trades Hall Council leased land at Barrington Tops for a holiday camp during the 1950s but it remained undeveloped and the land reverted to Barrington Tops National Park' (quoted in Design Plus, 2003)

The Miners Federation had Bushy Tail Caravan Park in the Shoalhaven (c.1940)

The Seamen's Union had a camp at Springwood in the 1950s. In 1949 the Federation of Combined Workers Clubs was formed and its Fingal Bay resort was an unplanned outcome of the popularity of an annual fishing competition organised by the Federation in the 1950s. Fingal Bay is now run by the Federation of Community, Sporting and Workers Clubsand this organisation runs resorts at Sussex Inlet and Urunga

The Seamens Union had a camp set up in Springwood that was used by the Eureka Youth League, The Blackheath camping area and swimming pool in the 1930s as well

                                          Blackheath Pool and campground 1937-8

The camps were organised by the Youth Camp Colony Assn. The CPA news Woman Today had a great feature article on the summer holidays in its December 1938 issue, where these pictures are from.


The Blackheath Municipal Council noted at their meeting that the Assn requested the camp facilities for a second time for January and pointed out that the camp was responsible for an extra £800 being spent on local services and supplies. Holidays were good for business and that has been the chief argument for paid annual leave and for leave loading. Workers were home more and on holidays and spent more than usual.

Currawong has a chequered recent history, with a protest group established in the 1990s early 200s to oppose Labor Council plans to sell or lease the place. It has now been sold to the State Government after an initial sale to EcoVillages who had plans for high end housing and accommodation that were effectively ended by heritage listing. The location has remained a holiday place with the cabins, the old homestead (Midholme) and the Conference Centre built for trade union training purposes after the closure of the Clyde Cameron College in Wodonga in 1996. All the cabins and the training centre are now holiday accommodation, run by the Northern Beaches Council and are part of the State Recreation area.

The Heritage listing was obtained after extensive research pushed by the Friends of Currawong and some great details are available here

A study of the site's importance to the Aboriginal community has not been undertaken but it is likely that there may be sites within the Currawong property that are important to indigenous culture. An easy walk (after you get to the top of the headland over Mackeral Beach) takes you to some well preserved carvings). Grace Karskens notes in her People of the River (Allen & Unwin, 2020) that Governor Phillip went to Pittwater and the Hawkesbury Nepean (as we know them) searching for arable land. There were Aboriginal people everywhere. The meetings with locals were initially friendly but Phillip slapped an elder for picking up a shovel, and the people then returned as an armed party. Musket blasts chased them away. They returned the next in a fairly “nonchalant” fashion as no injuries resulted on that ocassion (Karskens p82).

Jim Kenny of the Labor Council was the key mover in purchasing the land from the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Co and building the initial cabin in 1950.

The homestead, Midholme, dates from around 1916 as far as is known, and Jim Macken’s histories of the general area detail the vegetable growing, dairying and fishing industries that operated in the area, which was remote in those days. As our November newsletter pointed out, Jacob Garrard used to holiday in the area before it was a union owned spot, and had to travel via train to Hawkesbury station and then take a ferry around to Pittwater to get there, Hence local trade between the various bays an beaches was pretty important.

Labor Council financed the purchase by selling land at the 2KY broadcasting site in Frenchs Forest, according Marilyn Dodkin (Brothers Eight Leaders of the Labor Council of NSW, UNSW Press 1999)

The UK had Butlins Holiday camps and perhaps that was the basis of such union plans, but Kenny resisted the regimented idea that Butlins had (“Blue residents will have your dinner at 6.00pm”)

              Midholme at Currawong 1950s

      Currawong Beach probably 1970s


The camp claimed to be able accommodate 500 people in 1950, which seem unlikely now, but camping on the flat would have fitted a lot of people and the youth camps of the 1930s did attract such numbers according the Workers Weekly, at camps in Katoomba, Austinmer, Stanwell Tops and Blackheath.


The first cabin Kenny built was made by him and others using donated building materials. Later the Vandyke company was the supplier of kit homes some of the first such prefabricated dwellings in Australia (“Hudson with an H” as the advertisements used to say) was the company Vandyke set up and Chris was close to Premier McGirr and Minister for Housing Clive Evatt.

                                  cabins in the 1990s


Neville Wran stayed in the Blue cottage (or Blue Tongue as it is now known) when he was Premier.

See the fascinating history with information on oral histories of Currawong held at Mona Vale Library at this heritage overview



Annual leave with pay was first won in Australian awards by the Printers Union in 1935 when they got one weeks leave. The Annual Holidays Act in 1944 in NSW provided two weeks, with three weeks the standard in 1958 and four weeks in 1974. No gains since then the quantum of leave.

The way we are paid enables us to use such place and paid leave was crucial. Jeff Shaw points out (in the Legal Service Bulletin of October 1986) that leave loading was backed by employers and unions when introduced. As Shaw said “the 17 1/2 % was arrived at through widespread agreement in the early 1970s. It was not “some voodoo foisted on employers”

In 1973 over 91% of awards had no provision for leave loading. In 1974 over 62% did.

The word “holiday” comes from “holy day” and from medieval times onwards they were days on which everyone, regardless of background, could rest. Once the industrial revolution had occurred, it became common for factories to have a week’s closure, during which period machinery was repaired. This holiday (known as the Wakes Week in northern England) was a time when typically a different town closed every week over the period from June to September and this became the start of what many of us now think of as having a holiday. An agreement for twelve days’ annual leave was introduced in 1907 and this increased to fifteen in 1915. Workers would scrimp and save to escape from their place of work, often going to the seaside. Holidays were traditionally unpaid – this made life very hard for low paid workers

Following pressure from trade unions on behalf of their members, in the latter half of the 1930s, European workers were typically granted an average of one to two weeks of paid vacation. Following a general strike the French government signed the Matignon Accords in 1936, which mandated 12 days (2 weeks) of paid leave for workers each year. In the UK, the Holidays with Pay Act 1938 gave those workers whose minimum rates of wages were fixed by trade boards, the right to one weeks’ holiday per year. This was the first law on paid leave in this country, but it fell short of the two weeks demanded by the trade unions and did not cover all workers.

A TUC leaflet produced in 1939 urges workers to join unions to enforce holiday rights and better working conditions. TUC Collections, London Metropolitan University

The idea of paid leave and the importance of leisure was reiterated in 1948 by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay’ (Article 24). In 1970, the ILO convention recommended a minimum of three weeks’ annual paid leave (No. 132).

By the 1970s, there was growing international recognition of the need for a statutory paid annual leave. Many countries in Western Europe passed new legislation concerning minimum paid vacations of two to three weeks.


Shaw continues and notes that the Federal Commission had rejected a Clothing Trades claim in 1973 for such a loading but did include the words “at this time” in its denial of the claim. Subsequent events overrode this decision including a Qld decision on state awards and then Clyde Cameron introducing the loading in the Federal public service in 1974.

Then in 1974 the Labor Council of NSW, the Employers Federation of NSW, the Chamber of Manufacturers of NSW, the Retail Traders Assn and the Metal Trades Industry Assn reached an agreement on the loading. It was consented to and imposed on rural employers as well by the NSW Cmn in 1974. Later that same year four weeks leave was made the standard and the loading was applied to all that leave. By the end of the year major federal awards, including crucially the Metal Trades Award contained the loading.

All the proceedings in the various commissions accepted the argument that employees had extra expenses in holiday time that were on top of ordinary lifestyle expenses.

The loading was compensation for employees who would earn above award rates in their normal course of employment through overtime and shift allowances and who thus would not receive that income whilst on holidays.

As we see employers put the boot in now to workers. cutting loading, casual rates, allowances, extension of ordinary working hours framework (from a span of 8 to 6 to 7 through 7 for example) that cuts overtime pay by making “ordinary hours: anytime of the day and night, we need to remember and argue for such apparent “indulgences”. Work Plus Life seems to exclude life in some employer views.

As Eve Swidler, environmental political economist and social historian says the fight for shorter hours has not been a success since the end of World War II, although in Australia we have gained a theoretical 38 hour week, but the way work ins now organised and done means for many this is not a reality.

“True leisure does require some money, and more equally distributed money. First, leisure requires freedom from want. Starvation, homelessness, or cold, as well as the fear of these privations, preempt any possibility of more than momentary leisure. Second, the current levels of extreme inequality drive consumption and credit card debt, make public and communal efforts towards sustainability less likely to succeed, and reduce social support for environmentally motivated decision-making. Because adequate money and new patterns of distribution are essential to leisure, it is clear yet again that workers must lead the way to the largely immaterial joys of life, whether they are storytelling or music or friendships or napping in the sun.” Places like Currawong, I can personally attest, are terrific for sitting in the sun, yarning, reading, swimming or fishing, without the demand to consume even from coffee shops or beachside boutiques, or from television advertising (although now the internet is available the ads keep coming). This escape is bliss, so much so that it is a bit traumatic to return to the roads and shops and general business on the other side of the water.

For a green future we need to reject the demand to labour for others at increased rates of exploitation. Let us endorse the last lines of Swidlers' article: “The working class is perhaps the last remaining reservoir of a culture of leisure. The task ahead is to breathe new life into both the past and present proletarian values of slacking, napping, and lazing. Only laborers, and the refusal to labor, can achieve radical leisure and a future for the planet."

Virtual Tours continue here and if you would like a guided real life one, please contact Neale at ntowart@unionsnsw.org.au or Reception on 02 98815999