Mar 6, 2018

The great, undervalued fight of socialist-feminist Zelda D’Aprano

The secret history of much Australian progress was that Communism and Trotskyism are at its centre. With Zelda, the two sides of the hyphen "socialist-feminist" were equally weighted.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


There is a fine art to dying on the wrong day. The passing of Aldous Huxley, writer, visionary, '60s inspiration, would have been more marked had he been visionary enough not to go around November 22, 1963, date of a slight unpleasantness in Dallas. The evangelist Billy Graham's passing a week or so ago threw a long shadow over someone who was in the same trade of raising people up, though from somewhat different inspiration. Zelda D'Aprano, whose death at the grand old age of 90 was announced the same day as Graham's.

Graham really did one thing (roiling cheering crowds in their hundreds of thousands), and was famous for many things. D'Aprano did many things, but was famous for one. In 1969, when the Australian Council of Trade Unions refused to support a case for equal wages for women in the Arbitration Court, Zelda chained herself to the railings of the Commonwealth Building in protest. Soon she was joined by two other women, then it became a mass cause. Three years later, legal wage equality was instituted.

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18 thoughts on “The great, undervalued fight of socialist-feminist Zelda D’Aprano

  1. Rob Gerrand

    Keating made his maiden speech when he was 25; he changed his views. Who of us still holds the views we had when we were 25? And why name call him?

    1. N.A.F.

      I thought the reference to Keating was designed to illustrate how orthodox wage inequality was at the time, even in the centre-left, and how radical Ms D’Aprano’s demand was by the standards of the day. That in turn supports the view that a socialist outlook was essential to progress in this and other areas, which was rather the point of the article. A dig at PJK but not a gratuitous one.

    2. Steve

      Because … let me think … politicians should be accountable for what they say, even (or perhaps especially) deified ones?

    3. John of Alphington

      Quote him in order to powerfully illustrate the broad consensus for wage inequality at the time.

      (fwiw : My own view on gender wage inequality has been static since I was that age 3 decades ago; but – otoh – it indeed has on marriage equality! [If I even had a view on it back then?])

  2. sheamcduff

    Good article, thanks for that.
    Zelda has not been undervalued in this household. We have been admirers of this courageous and principled woman for yonks. We need more like her, and they are around, some of them youngsters.
    Vale Zelda , I might go and reread your book for a bit of inspiration

  3. zut alors

    A worthy tribute, Guy. The truly courageous dare to be different.

  4. maxcelcat

    My partner won a women’s unionist’s award a few years ago. There’s a picture of Zelda on the certificate 😀

  5. AR

    To echo others, well done grundle – a little known hero, in inverse proportion to her importance.

  6. Bob the builder

    And Crikey has filed this story under “Culture”?

    A fitting comment on our depoliticised society if ever there was one.

    1. Lorraine Paul

      Zelda was never ‘depoliticised’, neither am I.

      If you mean ‘depoliticised’ from sectarian groups pushing an anti-communist and/or anti-socialism scare agenda, you have Bronwyn ‘helicopter’ Bishop still flogging that dead horse!

      1. Bob the builder

        You misread my comment.

        I was referring to the fact the article was filed under “culture” not “politics”.

  7. [email protected]

    ‘The take-home payout from that is to ask in one’s own life what clear wrong you are not seeing; what struggle you are avoiding, not because of threat of the taser or the phone-book, but out of fear that instead of crowds and cheering, there will be only laughter, then silence.’

    ‘You hypocrites! You can interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’

  8. hector christopher

    It’s a very fine tribute, I remember Zelda well, but what I like most is your point that how much the comms and the trots did for Australia. It all got buried under a false adulation of the Soviet Union and its fall, but the truth is so many facets of Australian culture would have been so much poorer, without the work of the comrades. Who found the Aussie folk ballads? Who published Australian novels, and wonderful young readers novels that showcased Australian history? My mother and her friend were denounced at a Mothers Club meeting for pushing a resolution calling for an end to nuclear war – sure they were probably following a party directive, but they were also following their consciences and brains, and they were the ones trying to help the Eastern European refugees who moved into our area, my mother with her one year of uni german trying to translate in those pre-multicultural days. Time to re-assess comrades, we have a proud history fighting for freedom, for workers rights, against racism and for a better society. – Chris Hector

    1. Lorraine Paul

      We never forget, do we Christopher. The wonderful work our mothers did on behalf of all Australians to keep Australia democratic and stop aggressive Capitalism.

      I knew Zelda well as a child when holidaying at Camp Eureka. A lovely woman.

  9. Lorraine Paul

    I was lucky enough to know Zelda many years ago. What I remember most is her wide smile and sparkling eyes. She loved to laugh!!!

  10. Steve Watson

    Nice article Guy, but I would have thought the prize for dying at the wrong moment goes to Sergei Prokofiev, whose death went almost completely unnoticed in the Soviet Union due to him dying on the same day as Stalin. According to Prof. Wikipedia, the leading Soviet musical periodical reported Prokofiev’s death as a brief item on page 116. The first 115 pages were devoted to the death of Stalin.

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