A magic book

On republishing Injustice within the law
Christopher Sheil

The first person I must thank for the wonderful book that we have before us is Geoffrey Robertson QC, who is in London and obviously could not be here with us this afternoon, and sends his best wishes. When I say that I must thank Geoffrey, I mean for more than his inspiring and challenging introduction to the work.

The idea for this book was conceived at the Evatt Foundation's event in the Fringe Festival associated with the ALP's National Conference earlier this year. Those who were part of the full-house in the Sydney Trades Hall that night will remember that Geoffrey presented an extraordinary address on the historical relationship between the labour and human rights movements.

For many fascinating reasons, Doc Evatt featured prominently in Geoffrey's address. At one stage, he quoted from one of the Doc's books that, I must confess, I had never noticed before. As it turned out, hidden behind the Doc's 1937 title, Injustice within the Law: a study of the case of the Dorchester labourers, was, I discovered, a brilliant account of the history of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

When I went up to congratulate Geoffrey on his address; I told him that I hadn't known about this book, and he pulled out an old library copy from his great pile of papers. 'Why don't you republish it?' he said. I might add that, Geoffrey being Geoffrey, this was just one of several suggestions he rapidly plied me with about what the Evatt Foundation should do and, before I could say another thing, he disappeared into the throng of well-wishers.

Later that evening, I raised the idea with one of our board members, Frank Stilwell. 'Let's do it' Frank said immediately, and made the serendipitous comment that he had recently been looking for something on the Tolpuddles. Curiously, so had I. This was my first experience of something that has happened to me ever since we first took up the idea of republishing the Doc's account. Almost everybody, it seems, has heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. I have heard of them ever since I have heard anything about the labour movement. Everybody I have mentioned the book to has heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Just last night, I was out with members of my family, who don't share my interest in labour history, and, sure enough, they had heard of the Tolpuddles. But like Frank, me and almost everybody else, it seems, they only had a vague idea of the real story. Over the past few months, I have become absolutely convinced that the 'Tolpuddle Martyrs' occupy a rare, virtually universal place in our social memory, but the story itself has been largely forgotten. It's therefore not just a great pleasure to republish this story. This is a story that needs to be republished.

Anyway, going back to that fateful night, I also spoke to two more of our executive members, our former President, Bruce Childs, and Richard Gartrell, and they both supported the idea. Then it started to get a little spooky. The first piece of magic associated with this book, or the second if we count Geoffrey's original conception, occurred the next day, when I started digging up the Tolpuddle story. Astonishingly, I discovered, on the same day exactly 175 years earlier, the martyrs had been on the ship, bound for Australia. A feeling of predestination came, as I realised the extraordinary coincidence in the fact that the 175th anniversary of the arrest, conviction and transportation of the six labourers was also the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Evatt Foundation. I had been wondering for about 12 months how we would commemorate the occasion.

Thirty years ago, the Evatt Foundation was launched in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney, with speeches by the Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen, Premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran, Leader of the Federal Labor Party, Bill Hayden, Bob Hawke, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Bob Hawke, the leader of the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal Australians, Faith Bandler, and former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. Thirty years ago, the Foundation was established by diverse loyalists to the labour movement as a memorial to Herbert Vere Evatt, with the aim of advancing the highest ideals of that movement.

The Evatt Foundation was not established as part of the Labor Party, or as part of the trade union movement. It was established as part of something larger called 'the labour movement', which includes all the small groupings, satellites and outposts who are friends and allies, as well as the big battalions. The Evatt Foundation was established to uphold the general ideals of the labour movement; namely, equality, democratic participation, social justice and human rights. Could there be a better way to mark 30 years than republishing a book written by Doc Evatt that revisits and illuminates one of the labour movement's founding legends on its 175th anniversary?

The serendipity in the dates and meanings was enchanting. I spoke to our secretary, Chris Gambian, who liked the idea, to another executive member who always takes a close interest in our publications, Jeannette McHugh, who was similarly upbeat, as was the rest of the Evatt executive, who I thank generally for their support in producing this great little book. To give the work fresh life, we needed a fresh introduction; and who better than the man who suggested it in the first place. Geoffrey agreed to write a new foreword, which expanded into the wonderful introduction.

As if the good fairies were all on the job, the other hurdles quickly fell. Special thanks must go to Doc Evatt's daughter, Rosalind Carrodus, for immediately, generously and indeed happily agreeing to assign the copyright privileges in the work to the Foundation. Thanks to Chris' mother, Jeanette Gambian, for retyping the original script in such a timely and professional manner. In his and their absence, I must thank Geoffrey's helpers, Jennifer Robinson and Penelope Pryor, who I can say have been a delight to work with via email. Thanks to Jeannette McHugh who, as ever, was always encouraging, and worked closely with me in hunting down all the typos, and any and every other imperfection we could find in the work.

Almost finally, given all the special meanings that the work embodies, this book could only be published by Sydney University Press, the Doc's university, the launching pad for the Foundation, and the university with which the Foundation is affiliated. Like everyone else involved in every other aspect of the project, the Press immediately agreed.

At this point, I should explain that our idea was not simply to reproduce the Doc's book as a historical facsimile. We were committed to preserving the text itself of course, but we did not want a memorial. Rather, we have aimed to faithfully disinter the text from its original 1937 stylistics, and recast it as it would normally appear in 2009. As signalled by the fresh title, this is not a reproduction; it is a new edition. If we have been successful, in reading this book, you will be reading the Doc's account as if he had written it yesterday. Actually, in light of the recent history of the 1998 waterfront dispute and WorkChoices, it reads to me as if it was written yesterday. Indeed, in light of what Tony Abbott has been saying of late, it might have even been written tomorrow.

And when I say, if we have been successful, here I thank the two specialists in translating 1937 into 2009 at Sydney University Press, Susan Murray-Smith and, especially, Agata Montoya. Among the supernatural confluence of forces that have propelled this book into our hands, even its publishers were fun to deal with. If, as I do, you love the look of this book, Agata and Susan deserve the credit.

Really finally, my thanks go to Rhys Williams junior. To let you in on a secret; yesterday we were feeling a tad uncomfortable about the technical fact that we were about to publish a book with an illegal image on the front cover. Our discomfort in this was not eased by the fact that it was also about to be launched by a former Justice of the High Court.

I found the image in the State Library, where it has rested ever since it was published in the Daily Telegraph in 1955, as part of a series of drawings by Rhys Williams on links between Australia and England. The image begged to be published. We were OK with the Tele, but under the former government's un-free trade agreement with the United States, the new 70-year rule meant that Rhys Williams or his descendents still own the copyright. After an unsuccessful nationwide manhunt for the copyright owner, I smuggled the image out of the Library on the basis that I was only going to use the super-hi-resolution digital copy that I needed by urgent express for my own personal study. Of course, the cowards in Sydney University Press redrew the contract to ensure that all liability for the image rested with the Evatt Foundation.

Fortunately, the good spirits that have guarded this book from its conception had not put their feet up. Yesterday, with the books piling up at the Press, at about 4.30 p.m. would you believe, Rhys Williams junior phoned me from Moss Vale, wondering why the hell I was looking for him. After a short explanation, I'm relieved to say that Rhys warmly and generously extended his full permission to use his father's work, for which we thank him dearly.

Thank you all for coming along. In reading the book, I hope you will find at least some of the joy I had in editing it.

These are remarks in response to the launch of The Tolpuddle Martyrs: Injustice within the Law by the Hon Michael Kirby at NSW Parliament House on 9 December 2009. Chris is the President of the Evatt Foundation and the editor of the book, which is published by the Foundation in association with Sydney University Press.