In 1907, according to Emma Goldman's autobiography, Living My Life, 'Chummy' had invited her to tour Australia and had raised...money for her fare. She says that at the time she could not have faced the long journey alone, but 12 months later, deeply involved with Ben Reitman, she made preparations to go.
Ben was wild with the idea of Australia; he could talk of nothing else and was eager to start at once. But there were many arrangements to make before I could go on a two-years tour.
Their departure for the 'new land' was set for January, 1909, and 1500 pounds of literature was despatched. A struggle for free-speech in San Fransisco forced a postponement, and in the Melbourne Socialist in April, 'Chummy' announced that Emma had left Vancouver on the 'Makura' on 26 March for Australia. But she had not embarked.
A report in the London-based Freedom for May 1909 emphasises the cost of travel as the impediment to an Australian tour at that time, yet also refers to 'an ominous report that the police are striving to hunt her altogether out of the States.'
In fact, she had received a telegram at the last minute which, she claimed in her memoirs, meant allowing the Government to alter her plans and made her a virtual prisoner in the United States until those same authorities decided to deport her to Russia ten years later. From an abandoned marriage of years before she had gained what she thought was US citizenship but the Immigration Department had revoked her husband's papers on a technicality in order to declare her an alien. Thus if she had left the country she may not have been permitted to return. Not wishing to take the risk of becoming a stateless person she says she cancelled the trip.
It was a bitter disappointment much mitigated fortunately, by the undaunted optimism of my hobo manager. (Reitman)
The question here of Reitman's part in Emma's decision is an intriguing one. Recently, Candace Falk, now director of a mammoth attempt to document Emma's life, found a cache of love letters between the two in a music-store trunk in California. Falk found, in the letters, how, at the time the
Australian tour was being arranged, she and Reitman were at odds over his promiscuity and her apparent inability to cast him aside or to get him into context.
Although Emma's espousal of the ideal of free love kept her from condemning his behaviour on political grounds, her letters revealed a tortured effort to reconcile her bitter disappointment and anger with her ideology....Australia seemed to promise an escape from the forces sapping her spirit, and by considering going without Ben, she acknowledged that he was one of those forces.
Falk quotes from one of Emma's letters to Reitman as she struggled with the need to continue her public efforts and persona, while racked with a deep pessimism that threatened her life's work:
Life is a hideous nightmare, yet we drag it on and on and find a thousand excuses for it l am strongly contemplating giving up everything and going to Australia, travelling a few years alone. I can get the money tomorrow, this minute, if I can only pull up strength and go. I want to do it, as I see in that the only salvation out of my madness.
Falk concludes that it is Emma's indecisiveness and submission to Reitman's 'power to determine her emotional stability' that kept her in the United States.
On the other side of the world and well away from any knowledge of the emotional interplay, yet obviously still in contact by cable and fetter 'Chummy' continued to believe that a trip was possible. In a letter to her of December 1909, he wrote:
With regard to your visit I am doing all I can.
She clearly did not contradict him for in Mother Earth, the magazine she edited in the US, nearly twelve months later, she quoted from another of his letters:
Comrades in Sydney and Adelaide are anxious for you to come, and are organising into committees to raise funds and arrange meetings. You can look forward to a successful tour. In Melbourne, the baby of two unmarried members of a local anarchist group was named Goldman by 'Chummy' at his speaking platform on the Yarra bank. Towards the close of the ceremony, Catholic rowdies rushed the platform throwing stones, howling 'like hyenas' and attempting, as they had before, to destroy this venue for divergent opinions. In his 70's, nearly 30 years later 'Chummy' was still being roughed up by the same sorts of people.
He could not have known that at about the time he was christening the baby, Reitman was heading into probably the most traumatic experience of his life, and one which probably ended any chance there was of Emma leaving him for Australia. In 'Living My Life' she describes how, nearly three years after the free-speech fight that caused the Australian tour postponement in 1909, her lecture tour brought her back to the same area, in particular to San Diego. There, at the height of another burst of anti-radical hysteria, a group of Vigilantes abducted Reitman at gun-point, stripped and beat him, burnt the letters 'IWW' into his skin, tarred him and comprehensively humiliated him. It will be some time, perhaps never, before history can make conclusions about the consequences of such an experience on the emotional state of the two, and on, for example, their willingness to leave the United States.
But how might Australian society have dealt with the phenomenon of Emma Goldman in its midst, urging birth control and free love, opposing conscription and joining forces with the antipodean scourge of religious bigotry and labor opportunism? Would Australia have been a means to refresh her spirit, would it have proved equally as brutal, or would she have quietly slipped into a far less controversial and far more private role, seeking as she said in 1909, to give up everything.
from Brief Biography of 'Chummy' Fleming, 1986