Working Together

The exhibition was an affirming shared effort. The collective commitment evident actually began decades before, when the banners were first made.


Banners displayed largely represented two periods of cooperative banner making – the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries encouraged by 8 Hour Day campaigns and first win in 1873; and Art & Working Life programs of the 1980s & 90s.


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, union members donated hard earned pennies so that a banner for their union could be made by an artist or signwriter, and behind which they could march proudly. They combined to create beautiful works that stand the test of time. The exhibition showed banners from the beginning of the twentieth century still held by unions. (Earlier fragile banners are now held in state heritage collections).


In the 1980s and 90s the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and state Trades & Labour Councils, with funding from the Australia Council, supported Art & Working Life programs, including for the International Year of Peace. In South Australia, additional funds were provided by the Department for the Arts and S.A. Jubilee 150 Board. This enabled the employment of successive UTLC arts officers and artists, and the production of spectacular new union banners. Banner making generally involved enthusiastic union members in workplaces across the state. The majority of banners in the exhibition came from this exciting period. Unions and the Working Women’s Centre are thanked for their loan of these precious items.


The initial idea to have a trade union banner exhibition, to coincide with 2021 May Day celebrations in Port Adelaide, came from Michelle Hogan, spurred on by her union activism and work with the Port of Adelaide National Trust (PoANT). Previous official and labour historian Jude Elton agreed to curate the exhibition. PoANT member and activist Chris Gates recruited and co-ordinated the wonderful group of volunteers. In the first instance, this trio contacted unions to establish an inventory of banners still held. Banners were photographed and measured, and union approval for their loan obtained. Michelle’s family ute was commandeered for banner collection. Previous UTLC arts officer Kathie Muir provided further information and images. PoANT sponsored the exhibition.


The Maritime Union of Australia freely gave of its large meeting room to house the exhibition and supported it in a myriad of ways. Secretary Jamie Newlyn, followed by Brett Larkin, were generous and tolerant of the invasion of the union’s premises during working hours and at weekends. Office manager Chelsea West created stunning exhibition publicity. Organiser Campbell Duignan provided invaluable assistance with setting up and dismantling the exhibition.


Dilemmas about how to effectively display the large number of banners were solved by MUA members. Retired member Andrew Mahar generously made the frames on which banners could be hung in the centre of the room. Seafarers Chris (Grouse) Richards and Cesar Soltis contributed their knotwork skills to hang banners around the walls. Grouse also helped with taking down banners.


As well as contributing to May Day/History Month events in Port Adelaide, Lindl Lawton at the South Australian Maritime Museum gave advice on exhibition information panels and loaned panel stands. Local artist/designer Danica Gacesa McLean designed the panels and individual banner plaques.


SA Unions and the Port Adelaide Enfield Council donated funds to enable exhibition production and publicity. SA Unions also loaned publicity A frames. PoANT treasurer, the redoubtable Pat Netschitowsky, managed the funds.

Throughout the exhibition, a two hourly roster of volunteers kept an oversight on banners and assisted visitors. PoANT members, local supporters, long time activists and unionists generously contributed weekend time to assist the exhibition. It could not have happened without them.


Set up and dismantling each took a week. In addition to those already mentioned, Don Jarrett, Terry and Virginia Paterson eased the load of exhibition dismantling and return of equipment. Dogged unionist Graham Warren donated his time and ute to help take down banners and transport them back to their unions.