State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 43 Autumn 1989


Sources Of Aboriginal History In The Riley And Ephemera Collection

The Riley and Ephemera Collection is made up of political leaflets, handbills, posters, stickers and badges and is one of many special collections housed in the State Library of Victoria. The interpretation of ‘political’ is deliberately a very broad one, to encompass the conventional political parties as well as the views of the many organisations and movements that work outside the party political sphere. The Collection supplements other sources of information since most of the groups represented in it do not have great access to the mass media or the mainstream publishing industry. This is certainly true of many Aboriginal groups whose views are not adequately reported in the media and who must generate their own information and publicity. The Riley Collection is thus a minor but important repository for source material on Aboriginal history and activity.
The original core of the Collection was donated to the Library between 1956 and 1969 by Fred Riley (1886–1970), labour activist, politician and unionist. The Library has built on his Collection since then and it now spans over 40 metres of files. The bulk of items are donated to the Collection by groups familiar with its scope and aims. Once a group becomes known to the Library, perhaps through a street march or demonstration, its leaflets are actively solicited for the Collection.
Some of the oldest material in the Collection dates from the anti-conscription campaigns of 1916 and 1917 in which Fred Riley took an active role. The main groups of papers he donated to the Library relate to the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the ALP and the DLP. His coverage of Aboriginal issues, by contrast, was very sparse and dated only from the 1960s. This probably reflects the labour movement's relative lack of interest in these issues before then.
These few items have since been added to greatly, by many donors, both anonymous and identified. There are currently about 20 files given to areas such as Aboriginal land rights, health, political activity, civil rights and self determination. Other files include some material on Aboriginal issues, such as the referendums file holding the booklet and how-to-vote cards produced for the 1967 referendum; the file on Liberal Party policies holding their 1975 policy on ‘Aboriginal affairs’; the May Day file holding a leaflet put out by the Indigenous People's Solidarity Committee for May Day; and the uranium file holding items about land rights and uranium.
The Riley Collection also houses a complete set of the handbills and leaflets printed by the Walker Press for many political and community groups in Melbourne between 1973 and 1983. It generated a lot of material on Aboriginal land rights particularly in the mid-1970s.
The Collection is largely arranged by subject but material is accessible also through the name of the issuing bodies. So, for example, while there is no file devoted solely to NADOC (National Aborigines’ Day Observance Committee) or to CAMAL (Campaign against mining Aboriginal land) or to KIC (Koori Information Centre), an index provides direction to the relevant files for leaflets produced either by or about these bodies. In these cases some of the relevant files are ‘Aborigines-visual arts’, ‘uranium’ and ‘land rights’.
While most of the Collection relates to Victorian events and organisations, interstate items are also included if they are distributed in Victoria as part of a national campaign. For example, there are leaflets urging support for the ‘Brisbane 3’, Lionel Lacey, John Garcia and black activist Dennis Walker, charged with conspiracy in 1975; for the Noonkanbah community in their struggle against mining companies in Western Australia in 1980; and for the Yirrkala and Gurindji people in the Northern Territory in their claims against Nabalco and Vesteys in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Riley Collection is open to all members of the public and is used by film makers, students, teachers, writers and interested individuals. Photocopying of most items is permissable. Questions about the Collection, or access to it, or the suitability of possible donations, should be directed to: The Riley and Ephemera Collection, State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanston Street, Melbourne 3000. Ph. (03) 669 9949.
Marg McCormack is a Librarian in the La Trobe Collection of the Stale Library of Victoria.
Political badges and leaflets from the Riley and Ephemera Collection are illustrated on the back cover.