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Labour activism and the abuse of power (1893)


Queensland and the Vampire

When can a satirical cartoon be classified as obscene in the eyes of the law? Apparently, when (a) the image depicts female nudity; and (b) it embarrasses the establishment.

On 3 February 1893, “The Worker”, an Australian Labour newspaper, was prosecuted under the Indecent Advertisements Act. The alleged offence was to have printed a graphic depiction of capitalist greed — a vampire, with the face of the Queensland premier Thomas M’Ilwraith, and its wings emblazoned with the initials of the Queensland National Bank — drawing blood from the prostrate, half-draped body of the State.

And what was the “The Worker”‘s purpose in this provocation? To direct public attention to the fact that two million pounds of public money had been turned over to “… a handful of speculators … as a means of securing handsome dividends for shareholders at a time when the colony was teeming with unemployed and public works were at a standstill …“.

The paper’s timing was carefully chosen to coincide with public elections. As expected, the magistrate found for the Government, but this conviction was overturned upon appeal.

Lesson: Promoting the interests of the underdog is never a popular sport; but good sense may sometimes prevail.

(1) “The Worker” January 28, February 4, 11, 25, 1893 
(2) “Brisbane Courier” February 3, 1893
Accessed on: Trove Newspaper Archive