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August 09 Edition Cover

Activism on the docks

04 Aug 2016

Activism on the docks Image

A new exhibition at the Library at the Dock explores the history of activism on Melbourne’s wharves.

Wharfies are recognised as having led the way on a range of social justice issues including the Indonesian independence movement, anti-apartheid and Vietnam War protests.

Nelson Mandela even recognised the support of Melbourne’s waterside workers during a speech he made in Melbourne, following his release from prison.

The Wharfies Support! Social justice activism from the Melbourne docks exhibition looks at the history of activism through photographs, archival documents and oral histories.

It also features a series of large-scale screen-printed posters by artist Oslo Davis in collaboration with designer Zach Beltsos-Russo, which provide an interpretation of the imagery and slogans used by wharfies.

Exhibition curator Monica Syrette said when many people thought of unions and wharfies, they remember protests about conditions and wages.

“What we were really interested in was some of the other actions they took which weren’t about their own jobs,” she said.

“They put their jobs on the line for idealistic reasons. The more you look into it the more you see evidence of it that goes way back to the London Dock strikes.”

As Ms Syrette explained, before the automation of the shipping industry, when wharfies went on strike they had the power to grind things to a halt.

Ms Syrette said Melbourne’s wharfies had a very international outlook.

“A big part of it was the relationships that were built through the international nature of working on the dock,” Ms Syrette explained.

“Melbourne became known as a place where you could tell the unionists and they would go in to bat for you.”

Wharfies Support! Social justice activism from the Melbourne docks is on display at the Library at the Dock until September 30.

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