Monty Miller - Australian Anarchist History by Joe Toscano
Anarchist Age Weekly Review - Number 215, 2nd - 8th September, 1996
Available Writings of "Monty" Miller
The cable has broken. The Grand Old Man of Australia has crossed the bar and passed on to the land of silence. Endowed with rare gifts, he used them lavishly in the interest of truth and justice. Opportunity knocked often at his door to become rich and powerful, bribes and emoluments of office were offered him, but he remained, true to his class; battling in their interests all his long and varied life.
The writer does not ask the toiling masses to bear their heads in prayerful silence in memory of the dead. We can better perpetuate his memory by re-doubling our efforts to achieve the end for which he strove. He saw the faint glimmer of dawn in the East; ours is the task to bring to fruition the poor day of his hope and ideal - a world set free, a world in which there will be bread and roses for all the sons and daughters of men.
He first saw the light of day in that lovely little township (then), which nestles at the foot of Mount Wellington, Tasmania. His snow white head, which a young girl remarked looked like the dome of a great cathedral, always reminded one of that snowy capped mountain beaten by the winds of adversity, yet always calm and strong.
When six weeks old, with his parents, he crossed the Straits in a whaling boat and landed on the shores of Port Philip, where there were very few white people. His parents lived for a time in Port Fairy, which was the chief station of the whale oil industry. His playmates were the piccaninies; and many an amusing story he told of their escapades. The gold rush took them to Ballarat, where he was, at the early age of ten years, apprenticed to a carpenter and joiner for seven years, under an indenture that made him the veritable slave, body and mind, of his master. He did not, if my memory serves me truly, serve his full term.
All the world knows the part he played in the rebellion of the miners in the Eureka Stockade. He bore the marks of coercive government to the end of his life. Smarting from bayonet and bullet wound on that cool December morn, he registered a vow that he would ever be the enemy of coercive government, and he kept that vow for 66 years.
In his youth he carried the swag, worked as shepherd, cook, rouseabout for timber fallers - married before he was 21, "a sweet girlie of 17 on whose brow I never saw a frown, from whose lips I never heard a cross word." His was an ideally happy married life for 45 years. The death of his loved partner was a very heavy blow. The balm that soothed his stricken heart was not the parson and Heaven, but Shelly and other such writers read to him by his life-long friend, Mr Siebernhaur, who was suspended for 3 months by the W.A. Government for daring to help the prisoner Miller to get legal advice in 1916. Three daughters and one son and numerous grand-children, mourn deeply the loss of an ideal father.
He lived in Richmond, Victoria, for many years, and worked as a carpenter, builder and contractor. During the depression following the burst of the land boom and the maritime strike, he worked night and day to establish relief depots for the starving people. He lost what little possessions he had, and went to Gippsland and worked a dairy farm for a big business man, but failed and went back to Melbourne. He migrated to the West: a strike broke out in the building trade; he and one other were the only two on the strike committee that did not go to work while on strike. He was victimised, and was just about to return East when an hotel keeper, an Irishman, gave him a contract to build an hotel. He worked alongside of George Pearce, now Senator (just the sort of man, he has often said, that makes a successful politician), for Whitaker Bros.; afterwards became builder and contractor was not successful, having retained the old fashioned notions of honesty and integrity too long, and also could not grind his workmen.
He returned to Melbourne and worked, taking labor contracts to avoid a master, being then over 70 years of age. At 77, a terrible accident laid him in the hospital for weeks. Later he returned again to the West broken in health and pocket; it was then his friends persuaded him to apply for the pension, which was brutally taken from him after the 1916 trial. He built a few houses after that. The writer first met him at a meeting called to form a rationalist association. The chief instigator of it was the leader writer of the "Daily News," Perth's main evening paper. His master did not want the Party, so the advocate of free thought and Rationalism was ordered to squash it in the making - and he did. The indignation of Monty Miller was superb; he looked to me as he rose to speak like an old war horse. Scenting battle, weak and broken in body though he was, I never heard anything since that thrilled me as the poem he recited, written by himself.
Much water has run under the bridge since then, some sweet, some very bitter.
All I am, or hope to be as an exponent of working-class ideals, I owe to Monty Miller. Many young men did he nurtue and educate, but they fell by the wayside; the path he trod proved too rough. He was one of the greatest champions of woman's equality with man. It has been stated that he was trained for the ministry. That is not so. He became a doubter of the Christian religion at a very early age. It was the questions asked by the man Friday of Robinson Crusoe that set his analytical mind asking the why and wherefore. In early youth he came in contact with a chartist, who gave him a book entitled, "Method of Nature," written by a Frenchman. The story of the Chartist movement told by this man colored his ideas with Socialism. He became an atheist at 15, much to the grief of his beloved mother and the disgust of his harsh and bigoted Wesleyan father. Often in later life, when his mother found a home under his roof, he carried the "War Cry" in one pocket and "The Free Thinker" in the other. His brother, Alfred Miller, was an ordained Minister, and became a politician afterwards, but had not the same sterling character, though it has been said he was a greater orater than Monty. That I doubt. For years he fought the battle of free thought. He, with Thomas Walker (who gave the burial oration), lectured and debated in halls and theatres. As President of the Rational Association, he was fined ,many times, yet they won out in the end. For 25 years he never missed a Sunday on the Yarra bank advocating the cause of free thought, free press, free land.
He debated all the leading ministers of religion in the largest theatres that could be got. His opponents were university educated men, but they could not put it over the self-educated working carpenter for logical and analytical reasoning; and in curtesy and good conduct in debate he far surpassed these cultured brethren. He worked with the Tom Mann Socialist Party, but always opposed the political idea. He was of the anarchist school of thought, and was often mobbed for his preaching of those ideas by the mobs on the Yarra bank. His knowledge of science was remarkable as his knowledge of literature and art. He gave many lectures on all subjects, yet never expected a penny piece for his great service. When he took the place of the paid lecturer he always handed the cheque back for the building fund.
Though he never believed in politics as a method to be used by the workers, he helped to put the first Labor members into office. It is well known how many of them helped in persecuting him in later life. He took an active part in the maritime strike, was on the platform the Sunday that Colonel Price gave that famous order "To fire low and lay them out."
In the West, as in the East, on the Esplanade of Perth, for years on his own, he poured forth the richness of his thought for 2 hours at a stretch. He, with a few others, formed the Social Democratic Party of Perth in the early days, and gave freely of his mental powers. On his 7Oth birthday, the Party presented him with a purse of 100 sovereigns, as a recognition of his valuable services. Many an Irishman remembers to this day the wonderful oration he gave on the centenary anniversary of the death of Robert Emmett., and the echo of it reached to the 1916 tragedy. One man on the jury could not agree to a verdict of guilty; he remembered Monty Miller's stand for the liberty of Ireland. 'It was only when the judge sent in word "to find them guilty and I will let them off" that he agreed to the verdict of guilty.
He was always ahead of the time. When the I.W.W. was brought to W.A. he said, "This is the organisation I have waited for all my life." Full well we know how adherence to the I.W.W. brought persecution on his head.
After 8 weeks' waiting in the Perth lock-up, the trial began.. The lawyer managed to get the Magistrate to allow bail for him after the final day. "What, said he, come out on bail and leave my mates in? Never!" He straightened his then slightly bent frame and walked back to the cell. They were all bailed out between the two trials, public opinion was changing. All know how he fought till the last. Those weeks in goal certainly shortened his life by many years. We will get the history written of that time written by his own hand.
He was an absolute materialist, and had no religious kink.
His great vitality, his unlimited energy, both mental and physical, his deep sympathy, his large ideality, his wonderful flow of language, his intuitive power, his fine spiritual nature, his nervous emotional temperament, coupled with his great reasoning power, and his critical analytical brain, compels me to assert that he was the most unique character, and the grandest and greatest man of his day.
We of the I.W.W. have reason to be proud that he was a member with us in the last days of his strenuous, wonderful, pure and beautiful life. He needs no tablets of stone. The memory of his deeds are burned deep into the brain of every working man and woman by the clean and honorable fight he fought for the working-class.
Anarchist Age Weekly Review - Number 215
2nd - 8th September, 1996
Monty Miller lived an extraordinary life. He was born in 1831. He was a pikeman at the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat in 1854 and he was involved in workplace struggles all his life. He joined the Australian 'local' of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) when he was 75 and became a thorn in the side of capital and the Billy Hughes Federal government during the First World War. Monty Miller was one of the most active and spectacular members of the I.W.W. a direct action, anti-parliamentary industrial union that flourished in Australia between 1907 to the mid twenties.
Monty Miller was billed as a 'One Big Union Pioneer' and in his mid eighties and cris-crossed the country talking at Public Meetings on behalf of the I.W.W. He was imprisoned on many occasions for his trouble. In 1916 at the age of 83 he was sentenced to six months jail for sedition because he opposed conscription and the First World War. He was released after serving a few weeks of his sentence but was re-arrested in 1917 at the age of 84 and sentenced to six months jail with hard labour at Long Bay Goal because he continued to oppose conscription.
Monty Miller's contribution to the Australian Labour Movement is remembered by the Rebel Worker Group in Sydney. They established the Monty Miller Press over a decade ago to produce anarchist publications and continue to produce anarchist pamphlets.