“To the activists!” – a toast with a ‘Pacific Port’ bottle from Brunswick
I’m not sure why I kept the empty old port bottle, with the label describing it as “Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Port”. It goes back a long way: to my years growing up in Brunswick, Melbourne, and to my father’s involvement in the local branch of the Australian Labor Party. I certainly have a sense of the heritage value of things, and this object says a lot about how the rank-and-file members of party branches worked, and perhaps still do, in creative and humorous ways to raise funds. That it is a Labor artefact is beside the point. Back then, the branches of all political parties perhaps relied more on their members to raise funds. Bottling events were held at the homes of branch members, sometimes as part of a weekend barbeque.
‘Back then’ was around 1979 or maybe the early 1980s. It was a time when Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister and a bete noire to Labor supporters. And environmental awareness was on the rise. The French Government was persisting with nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific Ocean—in the area referred to as ‘French Polynesia’—and seemed deaf to regional protests, including opposition from Australia’s Coalition Government.
The bottle is a scarce item, possibly the only one to survive from this particular campaign. It connects a local party branch to a broader political issue. Perhaps too it can be seen as evidence of the changes in the membership of the ALP, both in the promotion of the ‘nuclear free’ issue and in the fact of bottling wine. I might be wrong, but my recollection is that the old-timers of the Brunswick branch were very much in the beer-drinking mould.
Brunswick was a predominantly low-income, migrant working-class city but, in the late 1970s, was starting to change demographically. Bob Hawke (who was described by some locals as “the Earl of Sandringham” because he had come from the other side of the Yarra) had just been elected our local Member of Parliament. He used to occasionally attend branch functions. The campaign for a ‘nuclear free Pacific’ was ultimately a successful campaign. The tests stopped when France signed up to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996.
The old port bottle that could have been tossed out with loads of other stuff when my parents sold the family home in Brunswick in 1994 now forms part of the collection of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. It is of particular relevance to an oral history project being developed at the museum, in cooperation with the National Library of Australia, which seeks to record the experiences of political party activists.
These activists were, and are, a vital component of the democratic process. Were it not for the fact that the old port bottle has been empty for about three decades, I’d suggest we use it and propose a toast to them all.