Civil unrest in the Great Depression

Such…is not the reply that can be accepted from Labor Representatives…

Sydney in 1931 was in the depths of the Great Depression. High levels of unemployment and limited benefits meant that some poorer families were unable to keep up their rent payments, and faced eviction from their homes. This led to protests and disturbances in a number of suburbs, in particular at Bankstown on 17 June 1931.

Seventeen men were arrested for riot and serious affray, and were remanded in custody without bail. During their incarceration, the government received petitions with 10,000 signatures demanding their release and an inquiry into Police action. This appears to have had little effect, as sixteen of the seventeen were eventually found guilty and sentenced to hard labour for terms of three to eighteen months.
Organisations such as the International Class War Prisoners Aid were very active in lobbying on behalf of prisoners in these situations. As the tone of the correspondence indicates, the association was decidedly unimpressed with the response from a Labor government to their request to receive a deputation. These records provide a glimpse of the volatile political and social climate of early 1930s Sydney.

Source: NRS 333 Attorney General and Justice: Special bundles, 1874-1984. Demands by various organisations for the release of Tighes Hill and Bankstown eviction and class war prisoners, 1930-32; selected documents: Request to the Minister for Justice to receive a deputation from the International Class War Prisoners Aid National Office 10 December 1931; Copy of response from Under Secretary of Justice, 20 January 1932; Further letter from International Class War Prisoners Aid National Office, 30 January 1932 [5/7784.1]

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