Inside the Ladies Lounge

The McDonald sisters ran Trades Hall for over half a century. The building can’t speak about what has gone on in that time, but Lorna and Elaine probably knew it all.

Lorna and Elaine  (Morrison and Morey respectively) ruled the roost, and before them Aunty Glad was in the office, guiding the Trades Hall secretaries in the right direction. Betty Smith and then Aunty Glad were Typists to George Rutter. Dick Worrall took over from Rutter as Secretary with Glad still in the job.

87lorna

Elaine was suggested for and got the job as typist to Dick Worrall in the latter part of the Second World War and stayed on until the late 1940s. She became engaged whilst at Trades Hall during the war. After her marriage she stayed on, despite the post-war attitude that “women were taking men’s jobs”. However, Elaine felt she had to resign when she was pregnant, although Dick Worrall urged her to stay.

Looking for a replacement, Worrall asked Elaine if her sister would like the job. At the time Lorna had a good job with a solicitor in Martin Place and wasn’t thrilled with the idea of leaving. She was on good money, and was being urged by her boss to become an articled clerk. Parental pressure told, in the form of her father, Ernest, a staunch union and ALP man, and also the hours at Trades Hall, which were 9.30 to 4.15. As Lorna and Elaine say, if the hour trends then continued, we should all be working about an hour a day now.

So Lorna stepped in and stayed on until marriage and family intervened in 1957. She came back in 1970 when George Hunt, secretary, asked her back. Mary Martin was his typist from 1957 but she died suddenly. So Lorna was back to the breach, only to have George die in 1971. Les Druce took over but he became ill in 1974 and was away for awhile. Lorna was then the typist but pretty well acting as the secretary to the Association and the committee said to her “you can’t do everything, let’s get someone in to help until Les gets better. Would your sister be interested?”

Elaine was naturally reluctant, having been away since 1949, but was persuaded to come in for 6 weeks while Les was ill.

Well, Les sadly didn’t ever come back. Elaine found she was enjoying being back at the coalface, so she stayed on while the committee sorted out who was to be the new secretary.

Nomination time came, and as usual a few men applied, but the committee said to Lorna, “look here, you have been doing the job anyway for quite a while, why don’t you nominate?”. Lorna did, not expecting it was any more than a lark on the committee’s part, but she got the job, thus becoming the first female secretary in the Trades Hall Association’s history. Elaine stayed on, as Lorna’s secretary, and her 6 week temporary job has become 27 years and counting.

room 29 library

Lorna and Elaine have lots of memories of the Trades Hall over that time, and lots of invaluable union memorabilia. They promise to tell all in a few years, if they ever retire, but in the meantime they have let us into a few snippets.

Trades Hall was the home to many more unions than it is now, before amalgamations reduced the numbers, and these small unions all had small offices in the Hall. Union secretaries then pretty well knew all their members names, and their families. Union officials were largely blokes of course (not one of whom Lorna and Elaine have a bad word to say about) but all the typists were women, and they had a tremendous social life revolving around their fellow typists in Trades Hall.

The focal point for organising for them was the Girls Lounge Room Committee. The lounge is still there in the Hall, and all the girls in the offices were members or used the lounge. It acted as a dressing room, sick bay, and a place for information exchange.

Lorna and Elaine kept an iron and ironing board in their office that all the girls could borrow to get their party gear ready. The iron is, of course, still there as part Lorna’s collection.

One thing the lounge was not for was eating lunch. There is in the minutes of the Association a few references to reprimands to some girls for misbehaviour in the lounge, and Lorna and Elaine say that this is almost certain to be referring to eating lunch there, as that was about the worst sin there was.

The roof was a popular lunch spot, but the girls were eventually barred from there too, after rubbish left lying around blocked the drains, causing a bit of a disaster inside. The caretaker lived in the flat on the roof at the time. You had a great view across a working Darling Harbour then.

The Lounge Committee had raffles to raise funds for furntiture for the lounge, and for curtains and social events. Elaine and Lorna got to know everyone pretty well as the Hall was a close knit society, and what is now the secretary’s office was then just the library (secretary was down the hall) and the girls and other union members would borrow from Mr Worrall. The cards are still in the boxes. (I didn’t see any of the girls cards but they showed me John Ducker’s borrowing record – “The Theory and Practice of Trade Unionism”).

Lorna and Elaine also used to do the banking for everyone and went round to all the offices to collect it all. The social life revolved around a busy building, and meetings and functions kept all the large rooms and auditoriums buzzing all day and most weekends. Other clubs of unionists within the building included the English Club, which hired the auditorium every Saturday night for dances. Room 27 (now the Banner Room) was also used heavily, often for male only functions (the kegs arrived for those) and concerts.

Room 27 also has the distinction of having been the function room for Lorna’s kitchen tea, and a great spot it would have been too.

Mr Worrall certainly was concerned for all the girls welfare. As secretary and librarian he used to go to Anthony Horderns to but the books. He read them all before they got into the borrowing collection, and anything he considered too risque for the girls he carefully hid in the cupboard, and put brown paper covers on them. One well know book at the time – Kings’ Row by Henry Bellamann- was in this category, and it was soon made into a film starring Ronald Reagan.

The unions were all clustered around the area as the nature of the city until the 1960s was such that most trades, supplies and services were available along the street. Any timber hardware, plumbing or whatever you needed was  in walking distance. Lorna used to walk around the area to pay the bills. No need for the post (although the postal workers union was of course, resident in Trades Hall, with Graham Richardson’s father a fixture).

Other characters of the building included the typist for the Milk and Ice Carters Union, who every morning went to mass up the road, then came in and cooked breakfast. She carefully poured the fat from her cooking down the sink which eventually blocked up the water and gas service for the building.

As noted, men dominated the official positions of the unions, but some women found there way in. Dot Chalker was one of the first, as secretary of the Mill Employees Union. Elaine and Lorna doubt that many members would have known that the D. Chalker on union correspondence was female. Other well known union women included Carmel Nyhan (who was on the Trades Hall Committee) as secretary of the Shoppies, and Betty Spears, who did so much work in the 1960s and 1970s on equal pay, child care and women’s issues generally.

Flo Davis from the Hotel, Club and Restaurant Employees and then from the Union of Australian Women (whose office closed down a couple of years ago was another well remembered by Elaine and Lorna. Audrey McDonald tells a lot about Flo in her autobiography “Intimate Union” (co-written with her husband Tom).

There were of course, faction battles within the unions, especcially through the fights between the groupers and the left in the 1950s. Grouper meetings were never put on the notice board as such. Instead a note would go around with just Room no. 43 circled.

The BLF battles of the early seventies also aroused the passions. Lorna remembers Steve Black standing outside the auditorium during a Labor Council meeting, yelling abuse at them all. Many tried telling him to shut up and go away, to no avail. However, when Lorna wnet up to him and told him that was no way to behave in the building, he apologised, went outside and continued to harangue them from the street.

All the big tough unions leaders, who were potrayed as thugs or whatever by the media, or by their factional opponents, were gentlemen as far as Lorna and Elaine were concerned. Hughie Grant from the Boilermakers wanted to dance at with Elaine at her wedding (I don’t think he got an invitation). G. A. Hudson from the Wickerworkers gave Elaine a beautifully made wickerwork pram when she was pregnant.

Disputes within the Hall were generally between the Trades Hall Association and the union representing the cleaners, the Missos, and many an argument went on between Dick Worrall and Bill Smith from the Missos. Also the Trades Hall Association executive had a few battles with the Land Trustees, given the nature of the ownership and control of the land, and the separate control of the building.

So Trades Hall has much history to tell yet, and the McDonald women are that history’s keepers. With the Hall up for redevelopment, but with heritage controls over how that is done. The memories of Elaine and Lorna, and their deep concern and love of the building and what has gone on within it, should be a guiding hand in protecting and celebrating union history and individual lives that have become a part of the Trades Hall.

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