Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Two days in Broken Hill


I have been in Broken Hill for two days. Hardly enough for my research to be substantial, but I have been in archives and talking to local history buffs about professions and professionals in the town. I am working with the assumption that labour v capital acts as the 'master conflict' of industrialised society but is supplanted by professionalisation (Harold Perkin) - and am trying to identify what this means for social mobility and equity.

The structure of labour versus capital infuses the town, shaping the streets and buildings and telling the story of Broken Hill. 

Along with it is the story of the community. The unions, associations of the workers, the churches and community groups. For the professional elite, there was the Club – I need to know more about the Club – and other types of organisations. The Progress Society that became the Council, the YMCA, RSL, freemasons, professional associations in accounting or law that went beyond BH. There was the sailing club and other sports – cricket – in which they might participate. The elite were made up of the mine managers, the university-trained professionals, the wealthy. They dressed differently, often sent their children away to boarding school in Adelaide or Sydney and they were members of the club. The town remembers them thinking they were better than everyone else.

The mines put money into community activities to keep the workers happy and compliant. The miners put money and effort into community to keep solidarity, to support those sick from lead poisoning or mine accidents. The trades hall rivalled the town hall – honestly, it exceeded it – in grandeur and beauty.

When people talk about what has changed, it is the decline in community. The unions no longer have bands, though one organisation still has one. Where they used to be extremely competitive to get into, now they struggle to encourage young kids to play. They do a good job. The sailing club is gone, so are lots of the other clubs. People put it down to the decline in mining, but they also talk about a change in attitudes. Kids grow up and if they get an education, they don’t come back to town. People are focused on their own holidays rather than their community organisation – their time doesn’t go into the community anymore. There is still a lot of sport though. When people retire, they don’t volunteer for community things [though there seem to be a lot of people doing history in the archives, historical society and family history group] but move somewhere else, go overseas, make their own individual plans. There used to be x pubs [I want to say 91, surely that is too many...], now there are 19. There are empty community halls all over the place: the ANZAC hall near the line of lode is now the gym I’ve been going to this week.

It seemed to me that in the 1950s – 1970s [I think…not sure about where it develops or changes again] the community focus shifted into organisations that linked community building to professional standards. Membership of rotary seemed only slightly wider than the Broken Hill Club [when did that close…?], with esteemed guest lecturers and lofty speeches. Lions’ membership lists include many business owners, including garage owners etc, as well as accountants etc. Apex seems somewhere in between those two. The rhetoric within their weekly bulletins speaks to professional standards, making a name as a man of integrity in your work, linking your occupation to the community – to a kind of professionalisation.

Today I will try and find out if I can get membership lists from each of the organisations over time. I'm also set to look at the educational institutions.

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