Frederick J Riley, unionist, politician and collector of political ephemera, was born in South Australia in 1886. Leaving school at 13, he worked as a 'billy boy' and blacksmith's assistant before travelling around Australia and picking up jobs as a shearer, wharfie, trammie and newspaper correspondent.
Fred first joined the Australian Workers' Union in 1904 and stayed a union member for the rest of his life. He settled in Melbourne in 1915, and became secretary of the Manufacturing Grocers' Union in 1922 – a position he held for 39 years.
A polished speaker, Fred often addressed crowds, soap-box style, from the banks of the Yarra on topics such as conscription.
He became heavily involved with the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and in the 1919 federal election stood as the ALP candidate for Flinders, losing to the National Party candidate (and future prime minister), Stanley Bruce. He became increasingly concerned about Communist Party infiltration into working-class movements and in 1955 was expelled from the ALP. He then joined the Democratic Labor Party and remained a staunch member for the rest of his days.
From 1956 to 1969, Fred deposited some of his political and union ephemera with our Library. He insisted that donations were acknowledged punctually. If not, a stern reminder ensued, questioning whether the Library valued his documents. The collection continues to evolve as we add contemporary items.
The Library also has many Riley-related items outside the Riley & Ephemera Collection, such as a taped interview with Shirley Wallace, an ebook on the history of the Australian Labor Party, and history journals and books like the Recorder and The Pope's battalions: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor split.
You can find items in the Riley & Ephemera Collection by searching the catalogue.