State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 32 December 1983


The Merrifield Collection

The Merrifield Collection of labour movement material has been transferred to the La Trobe Library in several instalments. Assembled by Dr. Sam Merrifield, it includes original manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, pamphlets and books. In the September, 1980 issue of Labour history, Peter Love outlined the arrangement of this Collection and commented upon its content. Since his article, there have been some noteworthy additions to the Merrifield Collection, particularly in the areas of Alp branch minutes, trade union records, local history material and Dr. Merrifield's correspondence files relating to his parliamentary career and labour history research.
Historians researching the development of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria at the local branch level will find the now fuller Alp records a rewarding source. The minutes of the Fitzroy Alp are almost complete for the period 1905–1952; those of Essendon Alp now cover the period September 1910 — April 1918, July 1928 — February 1941 and April 1946 — July 1952. Other branch records received include Collingwood, July 1945 — July 1947; Albert Park, March 1934 — February 1945 and March 1954 — November 1970; Ascot Vale, September 1942 — January 1953; Flemington, August 1942 — August 1948 and August 1954 — April 1970; and Hotham, June 1946 — December 1952. The branch records also contain some correspondence and membership files.
The fragile condition of some of the early trade union records collected by Dr. Merrifield indicates why so much of this important documentation has deteriorated and, in some cases, disappeared. A volume of minutes from the Municipal Employees association, March 1911 — April 1913, has frayed and burnt edges which are beyond repair. It is now housed in an acid-free cardboard box. Other recently-received union records include minutes of the Federated Tobacco Workers Union of Australia, 1910, 1911 and 1921–1925. The involvement of women in this union is recorded in the first volume of minutes, when the Female Branch met separately to discuss working conditions and union problems. The records of the Victorian branch of the Shop Assistants and Warehouse Employees Federation of Australia, 1931–1949, include four volumes of press cuttings and minutes of annual conferences. There is also an extensive collection of correspondence from the Federated Clerk's Union of Australia. These letters are unsorted and record union disputes, membership challenges and organisational decisions at branch and national level for the period 1919–1930.
Not all the material in the Merrifield Collection relates to the labour movement, Dr. Merrifield was also interested in the history of the Moonee Ponds and Essendon area and the Collection contains information on local institutions and land transfers. New material in this field includes early auctioneers' maps and records of social organisations and philanthropic groups. The minutes of the Moonee Ponds Lizards Club chart its development from 1903 to 1948. It was established in 1903 as the St. Paul's Young Men's Entertainment Society to encourage young men to take an interest in the Church by providing entertainment for its benefit. In March 1909 the Society reformed as the Lizards Club and its members gathered together for camaraderie, recreation and enjoyment. There are also minutes of the Essendon district Distressed Diggers Fund which reflect the vicissitudes of returned soldiers and their families from 1930 to 1976, and a ledger of the Maribyrnong and Bagotville Returned Soldiers Reception Committee, 1915–1922.
A large proportion of this latest instalment of records concerns Dr. Merrifield's parliamentary career and his professional work as a surveyor. As Commissioner of Public Works and President of the Board of Land and Works between 1952 and 1955, he was involved in inquiries about public transport, land use and public utilities. His working
papers and related correspondence include survey plans and committee reports.
Dr. Merrifield had a long and active association with the State Library. In October 1962, with the assistance of Rollo Hammet and Bert Payne, he mounted an exhibition of labour history documents in the foyer of the Library. Recent correspondence files detailing the organisation of this display also provide information about the provenance of many items in the Merrifield Collection. Letters from Bertha Walker reveal that she presented several valuable Socialist Party photographs and pamphlets to Dr. Merrifield. Provenance details are also contained in the correspondence files relating to the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History. These files and other letters from researchers reveal the extent of Dr. Merrifield's work for the preservation of labour history records.
His persistent searching for labour movement material has resulted in a collection of records which the La Trobe Library is proud to hold.
Jennifer Feeney