An Australian Communist's reminiscence from World War II

Ozleft ozleft at
Sun Aug 10 22:23:31 MDT 2003

A stitch in time. Experiences in the rag trade

By Betty Reilly

Australian Left Review, September 1982


By Bob Gould

My bookshop in King Street, Newtown, is about 200 yards from what was the
piece of waste ground called the Bullring, where the circus used to play in
Newtown and where working-class public meetings used to take place.

The Bullring was the site of the famous debate during the Third Period
between the Stalinist leader Lance Sharkey and the then Langite Jack (J.R.)
Hughes, who later joined the Communist Party and became a leading figure in
it and the clerks' union.

A little more distant is Missenden Road, which runs to Parramatta Road,
passing Prince Alfred Hospital, now a centre of militancy in the nurses'
union. The corner of Parramatta and Missenden roads was the site of one of
the two fatalities in Australian trade union life. On this corner, police
killed a striker during the 1917 general strike.

All through the 1980s this corner was dominated by a deserted skeleton of a
building, which has become an elegant apartment block, like so many deserted
industrial sites around Sydney.

For nearly 60 years, this was the Bonds Athletic building, a custom-built
industrial operation for the dominant firm in the Australian textile
industry, whose ads featuring a comic figure called Chesty Bond were
ubiquitous in Australia from the 1920s to the 1960s.

In 1982, Betty Reilly, a Communist Party veteran, published a short memoir
of her industrial experiences in the CPA, including her "industrialisation"
in the Bond factory and other textile plants in World War II.

In this article, Betty Reilly is frank and regretful about the role played
by the CPA in opposing the spontaneous militancy of the super-exploited,
mainly women, textile workers fighting for equal pay at that time.

Around the same time, during World War II, the CPA strenuously opposed the
efforts of Muriel Hegny, the equal pay officer of the Melbourne Trades Hall
Council to use the crisis of the war period to press for full equal pay for

Hegny, a one-time member of the CPA, was dismissed as a Trotskyite who
didn't understand the importance of opposing such demands in the interests
of the war effort.

Betty Reilly's little memoir is politically interesting for its reflection
on the CPA line during the war, and as a warm and human memoir of the

Sometimes lightning does strike the same spot twice. About 15 years later,
the pioneer Communist novelist Dorothy Hewitt also "industrialised" herself
in the Bond's factory and based her rather romantic novel, Bobbin Up, on her
experiences there. This novel is notable for a description of the two
Communist protagonists making love with the knowledge that their love is
strengthened by the presence of the recently launched Sputnik circling the
earth. Some CPA critics regarded that aspect of the novel as pornographic.

Dorothy Hewitt's autobiography, Wild Card, is an extremely moving and useful
account of her very serious attempt to integrated creative writing with
Communist political and industrial activity.


More information about the Marxism mailing list