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image icon 'Melbourne Gaol series' postcard, socialist boarders, 1906

'Melbourne Gaol series' postcard, socialist boarders, 1906
'Melbourne Gaol series' postcard, socialist boarders, 1906
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


This is a postcard from 'The Melbourne Gaol Series' of 1906, showing seven 'socialist boarders' in prison garb. It was published as part of 'The Fight for Free Speech' in Prahran, Melbourne.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset suggests that socialists were subject to persecution by the authorities in the early years of the 20th century in Prahran, a suburb of Melbourne - public meetings were often held by socialists, the Salvation Army and other bodies in side streets of the city, but a campaign of public persecution began in late 1906, when socialists were refused permits to speak by the Prahran City Council and were singled out for arrest and imprisonment.
  • This asset indicates that the 'fight for free speech' was an organised struggle supported by the Victorian Socialist Party (VSP) - this postcard was one of a number published as propaganda by the VSP, as part of 'The Melbourne Gaol Series'; the VSP encouraged all who were arrested to refuse, on principle, to pay fines, and continued to organise public meetings in defiance of police action.
  • This asset shows eight of the socialists who were imprisoned in the fight for free speech in 1906 in Victoria - during the three months (October to December) that the struggle lasted, over 20 socialists were fined or imprisoned, half of them refusing to pay the fine and serving periods from ten days to five weeks in Old Melbourne Gaol.
  • This asset indicates that women were in the forefront of the socialist movement and the free speech fight - four women, Miss Ahern, Mrs Anderson, Mrs Jarvis and Mrs Edwards, were arrested for speaking at public meetings and all chose to go to prison rather than pay fines; the woman in the postcard is probably Lizzie Ahern (1877-1969), who joined the VSP in 1905 and whose speeches on the banks of the Yarra River were said to have been so popular that women would happily lose a day's pay to hear her views.
  • This asset indicates that key figures in the VSP were imprisoned for their part in the free speech fight - seated middle and right are Joe Swebleses and Tom Mann, both prominent in the socialist movement at the time; Mann came to Melbourne from Britain in 1903 and conducted a series of lectures on 'social problems'; he helped to form the VSP, which advocated revolutionary socialism while still remaining inside the Australian Labor Party, and under his mentorship its membership grew to 2,000 by 1907.
  • This asset is an example of the way postcards were used for political purposes - the photograph of the 'socialist boarders' was turned into a postcard to promote the VSP and the fight for free speech; it also illustrates how important the right to free speech and the right to present differing political and social views through public meetings are to the Australian people.
  • This asset indicates that socialist ideals were popular with working-class people in the early 20th century, when conditions of employment were often poor and poverty was common - socialist theory advocated the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production, capital and land in the community as a whole, and presented a radical and attractive alternative to the inequalities and injustices many saw in their lives.
  • This asset shows clothing for men and women in the early part of the 20th century in Australian prisons.