"Labour of Love": Hunter Worker's Library

Samantha Dagg with HWL's collection of pins.

15 June 2022

Hunter Workers Library is a small, special labour library and museum located in Newcastle, NSW. Samantha Dagg and Stephen O’Brien share how this unique resource for unionists, labour historians, academics and the general public connects people with the region’s extensive history of labour and radical activism.

Hunter Workers Library (HWL) is attached to its parent institution, Hunter Workers (HW), formerly known as Newcastle Trades Hall Council (NTHC). HW is the peak union organisation in the Hunter region and Australia’s oldest continuous regional labour body. Newcastle has an extensive history of labour and radical activism, going back to the first contacts between the Awabakal and Worimi peoples and the European settlers and convicts, and HW has been a central organising force for workers in the region for over 150 years. HWL was originally conceived of by Daniel Wallace, former HW Secretary (2014–2020), as a way of uncovering HW’s unique collection of literature and memorabilia, much of which was secreted away in various nooks and crannies within the HW building for many years.

The library is inspired by the nineteenth-century tradition of mechanics’ institutes, places of learning and education for working people. It aims to combine library and museum elements to promote the local labour movement’s achievements. HWL is also helping to redress the neglect of historic preservation endemic across much of the labour movement, where historically important records and artefacts are often discarded after a campaign. In the case of Newcastle, this situation has been compounded by the destruction of the old NTHC offices, when the then Newcastle Workers Club collapsed during the 1989 earthquake, with many items being lost under rubble.

HWL’s print collection consists of around 900 books and 400 historic pamphlets, covering left and labour history and politics, industrial relations, activist fiction, Indigenous affairs, environmental and green ban movements, the Communist Party of Australia, the peace and nuclear disarmament movements, and the women’s movement. These reflect the involvement of the local unions across a broad spectrum of radical activism. Other items held in the library include banners, posters, badges and pins, flags and pennants, stickers, postcards and other union ephemera. The library also acts as HW’s institutional repository and has implemented a collection program to archive material relating to HW’s contemporary campaigns. It has also partnered with Trove and has plans to digitise its unique items.

Developing the HWL has been a labour of love for many. It is run almost entirely by a small team of dedicated volunteers, who are supported by the staff at HW, along with many others who have provided invaluable advice, including librarians, academics and unionists alike. The collection is being developed predominantly through donations from the personal collections of labour historians and union members, supported by a modest budget from HW.

Yet to be officially opened, the library welcomes visitors by appointment. Research enquiries can be made by phoning Hunter Workers on (02) 4929 1162 or emailing the library directly at library@hunterworkers.com.au.

SAMANTHA DAGG
Library Officer & Administrative Assistant
Hunter Workers

STEPHEN O’BRIEN AALIA (DCP)
Librarian
TAFE NSW
CPSU/PSA delegate to Hunter Workers

Article from INCITE, Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association