The Workingman's Paradise

An Australian Labour Novel

William Lane


The appearance here of The Workingman's Paradise is the first Internet production of William Lane's crucial work. Its appearance in easily-accessible form was a necessity, not merely because it contains those mythic references to the Promise implicit in the idea of Australia, but because the totality of the work of William Lane can only serve to inspire as appropriate intellectual and cultural-emotional stimulation, a new generation of Australian nationalists.

It is truism to say William Lane was a giant in the history of the Australian labour movement and that his life has been mythologised. He was born in Bristol in 1861 and came to Australia in 1885 after a period in the United States. Lane worked in a variety of labouring occupations. In Brisbane in 1888, he became the editor of The Boomerang and later The Worker. These papers, which articulated the philosophy and politics of the nascent Queensland labour movement, advocated that peculiarly Australian synthesis of nationalism and socialism. It was this wild political brew that incited the nationalist, White Australia and labour political struggle; it underlay the early Labour Party and lingered long in Australia.

The Workingman's Paradise was Lane's second book. His first was entitled White Or Yellow? A Story Of Race-War A.D. 1908. In that work, Lane predicted a malicious alliance of Australian capitalists and instrusive Chinese in Queensland. This alliance, brought about at the price of the suppression of democracy and the Australian working class, was dealt with by the direct struggle of the ordinary people. Lane appreciated the power of the political novel in mobilising public opinion and he sought to popularise the notion that it was only by determined struggle, could social and political change become a possibility.

The present work was first published in 1892 under the pseudonym, John Miller. It was composed to raise funds to assist the families of those Australian workers imprisoned for the participation in the great Shearer's Strike of 1891. The shearers, whose armed camps in Clermont and Barcaldine were broken up by soldiers, were made subject to political repression. A show-trial of the leaders was held in Rockhampton and lengthy prison terms were handed out. William Lane, dubbed by bourgeois commentators as the "most dangerous man" in Australia, was held up as the spiritual leader of the strike. Indeed. It was in the strike of 1891 that the Labour Party was born and the Southern Cross (Eureka) Flag flown to symbolise social justice and freedom. And for Lane it was a great drama that heralded a social revolution. He had his suspicions of parliamentary action, yet he was painfully aware that the moment for ultimate change had not arrived. Lane could not determine the hour, but considered preparatory action a necessity.

The Workingman's Paradise is a story of a man's journey to 'socialism'. It is held that all the characters of the tale were drawn from life. Lane takes his readers through the bohemia and poverty of 1890's Sydney to make the point that the promised land of Australia had, under the rule of the wealthy classes, fallen far below the vision of a paradise for the common man. The title of the work owed much to Lane's religious and cultural origins. His background in dissenting variety of protestantism, pointed him to MiIlton's great classic Paradise Lost, and thus his vision of a new commonwealth of social justice owed something to the Cromwellian revolutionary period in England. The idea of losing the opportunity for justice and the prescription of adventurist action to restore the opportunity - are interwoven themes.

Lane makes much of the 'communist' origins of our Indo-Germanic ancestors. He worked on the notion that the tribal communism of the past lived on in the organic democracy of the Anglo-Saxons prior to the Norman Conquest and that, in the English revolution, an attempt was made to restore this pre-Norman order. Whether this notion was absolutely true was not the point; it was considered so by many in that time and subsequently, and the idea entered the poetry of Henry Lawson. In the socialism of his day, Lane detected these older yearnings for the armed community exercising power directly and gaining full reward for labour. We may detect a soft hum of these theoretical postulates in the early programmes of the Labour Party: the civilian militia, direct democracy, equality before the law, learned enlightenment, ownership of property, legal equality for women.

The Workingman's Paradise identified the common oppression under capitalism of men and women. Like the others involved in the republican, nationalist and socialist movements of the day, Lane urged female suffrage and a common-sense equality."You can't raise free men from slave women", he said. It is this spirit of enlightened logic that flowed in the writing of Lane.

Of course, it is a matter of record that Lane led a peculiar experiment: the establishment of an Australian colony in Paraguay. The failure of the strike movement and the waning of the avant guard nationalism in the 1890's, were body blows to optimism. It was conceived that a new racial community of working people far from corrupting civilization could achieve what Australia could not deliver. Interestingly, Lane imagined the project in revolutionary terms: the preparation of a new human type for the challenge of forging a new world. It was too ambitions, indeed almost fantastic, and ultimately the Australian colony failed to prosper. Lane himself left Paraguay a disillusioned man.

So we are left here with Lane's most substantive contribution to the cultural and political life of Australia, his veritable manifesto for social reform. We are introduced to Australian Socialism. For Australians of the twenty-first century, the nineteenth-century term 'socialism' can hardly signify much by way of a solution to the economic and social problems of the present.The term is lifeless, and in so far as it is pushed about the Australian political discourse, it is effectively owned by those feral Trotskyist ranters who hardly enjoy much popular confidence. However, if we reconsider what it was that Lane meant by the term, we can appreciate the old ideal and learn from it, refer to it, and draft our programmes with the vision-splendid of Australian Socialism in mind. Most of all, it seems that Lane understood this unique Australian Socialism to mean the extension of property rights and the fruits of labour to the working people, in a commonwealth whose economy therefore was geared for the many - and not for the few. The abuses of capitalism would fade into memory.

The reader will find The Workingman's Paradise rich in philosophy, racial history, religious debate and Australian social history. It is a window onto the Australia we wish to 'recapture', not the yesteryear as it was, but as it should have become. It is not necessary, and indeed is impossible, for us in this century and given our collective experience of the last century, to agree with the pure-sentiments of a man the century before that. That is impossible. Rather, we must reduce Lane to spirit, the hand that wrote the paper, and thence move forward, secure in our Australianity!

Without further ado, we commend The Workingman's Paradise.

Table of Contents


Part I. The Woman Tempted Him

    1. Why Nellie Shows Ned Round
    2. Sweating in the Sydney Slums
    3. Shorn Like Sheep
    4. Saturday Night in Paddy’s Market
    5. Were They Conspirators?
    6. "We Have Seen the Dry Bones Become Men"
    7. A Medley of Conversation
    8. The Poet and the Pressman
    9. "This is Socialism!"
    10. Where the Evil Really Lies
    11. "It Only Needs Enough Faith"
    12. Love and Lust

Part II. He Knew Himself Naked

    1. The Slaughter of an Innocent
    2. On the Road to Queensland
    3. A Woman’s Whim
    4. The Why of the Whim
    5. As the Moon Waned
    6. Unemployed
    7. "The World Wants Masters"
    8. The Republican Kiss
    9. Ned Goes to His Fate

The Workingman's Paradise Part One

The Workingman's Paradise Part Two