Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sydney's radical Active Service Brigade

1893 A cryptic ad in Sydney's Saturday Daily Telegraph read:

"ACTIVE SERVICE BRIGADE ('A' Division) — Church Parade, St. Andrews Cathedral, SUNDAY MORNING, 11; to hear of 'Him who has been murdered by the Law'. Countersign, 'Silence'. By order (7)."
When some 30 members of the far-left Active Service Brigade 'A' Division marched the following day, Sunday, November 19, on the no doubt bemused congregation of St Andrew's Cathedral, they were almost outnumbered by the plain clothes police officers watching them. Later 250 ASB members and sympathisers processed through the city, following a huge crucifix, to which was nailed an effigy of 'a down trodden man' in tattered rags, smeared with red paint.

One activist we may be sure was there that day would have been Arthur Desmond (c. 1859 - c. 1914), who used to sign himself "Number 7". He was a prime mover of the Brigade, which had its office and Reading Rooms at 221½ Castlereagh Street, Sydney, up a lane that ran off the street, between WHT McNamara's Book and News Depot, and Leigh House at 223, the home of the Australian Socialist League, another gathering place for 1890s Sydney radicals ...

The ASB was urban unemployed workers organised by an Irish elocutionist, John Dwyer (1856 - 1934), and Desmond during the 1890s Depression. The Brigade ran a soup kitchen, housed the homeless and also disrupted Parliament and, as we have seen, Protestant church services. The Active Service Brigade's aim was to "change the present competitive system into a co-operative and social system" ...

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