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Local Labor

Local Labor

A history of the Labor Party in Glebe, 1891-2003

By Michael Hogan


The suburb of Glebe in the city of Sydney is traditional, inner city, rusted-on Labor Party territory. Local Labor tells the story of the branches of the Australian Labor Party in the area over more than a century. It recounts the broad sweep of history at the small local level, the recurrent issues, the personal and political battles. It is an account of political activity at branch level such as has never before been attempted in Australia.

The history begins with the Party’s first election in Glebe in 1891 – it was successful – and ends with the suburb’s incorporation into the City of Sydney municipality in 2003. Along the way, it covers the whole range of local politics:

  • relations with the local community
  • the politics of Council elections
  • fighting State and Federal elections
  • party machine politics and the temptations of corruption
  • factional rivalry and branch stacking – eg, throughout the Lang era of the 1920s and 1930s
  • the local boss – eg, for over 50 years, local medico Dr Foley
  • the wider city politics – eg Glebe’s move into the City of Sydney in 1948 (by a State Labor government), its move to Leichhardt in 1968 (by a State Liberal government) and its move back to the City in 2003 (State Labor)
  • modern local political struggles, eg between Labor and environmentalists, between left and right of the Labor Party, and between major party candidates and politically independent local activists
  • the benefits of membership – the key question in the 21st century: why belong to a party at all?

Senator John Faulkner launched Local Labor on Thursday 10 June 2004. The text of his speech appears below as a Supplement.

Sesquicentenary 1856-2006 Responsible Government in New South Wales   A NSW Sesquicentenary of Responsible Government publication.


    Introduction: A View from Below

    A False Start (1891)

    Glebe in the 1891 election
    Ambiguous Labor candidates
    Victory in Glebe

    An Undisciplined Party (1892-1900)

    A divided party
    Single Tax in Glebe and Annandale
    The split in Glebe
    Regrouping after defeat

    A Revival of Labor Branches (1901-10)

    Local government opportunities
    Revival in Glebe – the 1910 election
    Victory in 1910
    Class and socialism in Glebe

    Achieving Autonomy (1910-20)

    Another Glebe split
    Recovering from the split

    Creating a Local Political Machine (1921-34)

    Labor leadership struggles in 1921-23
    Winning control of Glebe Council
    Branch control over aldermen
    The Walsh Machine 
    Langites swamp Glebe 
    Power tends to corrupt

    The Early Depression in Glebe (1929-34)

    Timber strike of 1929 
    Confronting social problems 
    Graft and corruption 
    Competition from the left in Glebe 
    Unseating Keegan

    Dr Foley of Glebe (1934-40)

    The Foley machine 
    Confronting the inner group 
    The Harold Park affair 
    Other allegations of corruption 
    The Nolan Report 
    A Langite irritant to Labor

    Adjusting to a New World (1940-48)

    Reviving Glebe Labor 
    Competition from the left 
    Resisting communism 
    The last days of Glebe Council 
    Labor or Lang

    Glebe Labor in the City of Sydney (1948-68)

    A whiff of corruption 
    The DLP split in Glebe 
    Branch profiles after the split 
    End of involvement in the City Council

    Battles for Control in Glebe and Leichhardt (1968-86)

    Challenge from the Glebe Society 
    Attack from the left 
    The end of the Glebe North Branch 
    The politics of stacking

    From Factions to Fractions (1984-2001)

    Losing Leichhardt Council
    Branch decline 
    Policy promotion 
    Other branch activity 
    The state of the local party 
    Names on the street

    What Use are Branches?

    A golden age of Glebe Labor?
    Participation and representation

    Endnotes/ Finding Out [primary sources] / Select Bibliography/ Index


    Hogan traces the history of the branches and factions in this inner-city suburb of Sydney, as it changed from working class industrial heartland to gentrified latte-and-chardonnay territory. Sections headed ‘another Glebe split’, Langites swamp Glebe’, ‘graft and corruption’ and ‘the politics of stacking’ give an indication of the rich cocktail which awaits.

    Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol 91 pt 2, December 2005

    As a ‘view from below’, [it] gives a different account to most recently published histories. …
    What is clear is that throughout the past 100 years in the Labor Party in the area, there have been differences of opinion, divison and the arising splinter organisations. … Although the early factions were not based around the formal factions of today, it certainly gives insight into how the modern Labor Party is able to function while people so bitterly disagree. The other constant message is that factions are not always built on political issues but personalities. … By far the most intersting part of the book is the description of Labor identities …
    The book ends with the author detailing the use of branches and their relationship to a continuing Labor Party. It is important reading for anybody trying to digest a way forward for the Labor Party in the inner city, especially with the impact of the emergence of the Greens as a viable, significant political force.

    Labor History, No 88, May 2005


    Senator John Faulkner's Speech

    At the launch of Local Labor held at the Glebe Town Hall on Thursday 10 June 2004, Senator John Faulkner gave the following speech. You are welcome to read it.


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    Published 17 May 2004
    Publisher The Federation Press
    ISBN 9781862874930
    Australian RRP $49.50
    International Price $45.00
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    Government / Political Studies

    NSW Sesquicentenary of Responsible Government

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