Rare Russian Papers discovered in the John Oxley Library

Working as a volunteer in the John Oxley library I was lucky to find some very rare archival documents in Russian that were part of the Beckingham Family and Lane Family Collection. They are the original issues of the newspaper The Paper (Listok ) published by Konstantin Klushin (“The Russian Group of Workers”) and printed by Aleksei Lenin in South Brisbane in 1918. Three issues of The Paper and Letter of “The Russian Group of Workers” to the Comrades from Ipswich have never been translated from Russian into English.

Nataliya holding issue 1 of "Listok" June 1918.

Nataliya holding issue 1 of “Listok” June 1918.

These documents take us to the 1918-1921 years, into the life of the Russian radical socialist community in Queensland, which played a prominent role in the social life of those days. The majority of members of the Russian socialist community lived in Brisbane and exerted the strongest Russian influence in any Australian city during this time.

23 June 1918 edition of Listok, a newsletter of the Russian Group of Workers, South Brisbane. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

June 1918 edition of Listok, a newsletter of the Russian Group of Workers, South Brisbane. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Two political figures played a leading role in the disturbances of March 1919 known as “The Red Flag riots”, they were Herman Bykov (also known as Aleksey Rezanov) and Aleksandr Zuzenko. A large demonstration occurred on 23 March 1919 against the War Precautions Act. Bykov and Zuzenko were at the head of the march, carrying large red flags, in defiance of an official ban on any such display. For their part in these events, Bykov, Zuzenko and a dozen other Russians, including Konstantin Klushin, the publisher of The Paper, were deported to Russia in September 1919, five months after that event.

The issues of The Paper cover events that happened before “The Red Flag riots”, from June to September 1918. The first issue of The Paper was published on the 23th of June 1918. Konstantin Klushin tries to explain his reasons for leaving “Gruppa russkih rabochikh” and forming “The Russian Group of Workers”.

Konstantin Klushin is mentioned in Australian documents as “Kliushin”, “Klishin” or “Orlov”. He had a long history of political activity in Russia, including imprisonment in a Siberian prison. He founded “Gruppa russkix rabochikh” with Herman Bykov .  This new group was founded in the beginning of the 1918, following disagreements within the “Union of Russian Workers”.

Herman Bykov had been a leading figure in forming a new group (“Gruppa russkih rabochikh”), but by March 1919 he turned back towards the “Union of Russian Workers”. The reason for the formation of “The Russian Group of Workers” in Brisbane was the dissatisfaction of Klushin and other members of the Russian community with the appointment of Peter Simonov (also spelled as Peter Simonff in some documents) as Bolshevik consul in Australia.  Klushin wrote: “Simonoff’s appointment revealed the ideological backwardness of some members. Simonoff’s coming was the formal reason for our split, although there were other reasons.”

Another founder member and  a secretary of “The Russian Group of Workers” Vladimir Pikunoff (Pikunov) described that event in his article “Cause of the new Group in Brisbane”, published in the Daily Standard on the 27th of June 1918.

In the other two issues of The Paper No 5 (published on the 24th of August 1918) and No 6 (published on the 15th of September 1918) Klushin continues criticising Peter Simonov as a Consul General. Klushin named this issue the “Simonoff Affair”.

In his Letter of “The Russian Group of Workers” to the Comrades from Ipswich Klushin writes about the case when he was named a “spy” and talks about the role of the individual in society. The “Letter…” related to another Klushin’s article entitled “No Sympathy for You”, is held in the National Archives of Australia NAA: BP4/1, 66/4/3660.

The article “Unmajestic bombast”: The Brisbane Union of Russian Workers as Shown in a 1919 Play by Herman Bykov” by Kevin Windle helped me a lot to understand this period and characters of the key figures of the Union of Russian Workers. Kevin Windle’s analysis of Harman Bykov’s play also helped me to understand Klushin’s character.

The Paper (Listok) had been mentioned in the article by Kevin Windle. When I contacted Dr Windle he told me that he had not been able to find Listok and just knew about its existence. It was so exciting to realize how important my find was!

I am very grateful to my supervisor, manager of the Arts Porfolio at State Library, Simon Farley for editing my translation and supporting me.

Nataliya Samokhina AALIA Associate

BIBLOIGRAPHY

Curtis, Louise (2006). “First World War Intelligence and the Russian Workers Association in Australia”. In: Bennett, Kate, Jamarani, Maryam and Tolton, Laura Rhizomes: Re-Visioning Boundaries, School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland, (). 24-25 February, 2006.

Evans, Raymond. The Red Flag Riots: A study of intolerance, University of Queensland Press (UQP), Brisbane,1988.

Windle Kevin. “Nabat and its editors: the 1919 swansong of the Brisbane Russian socialist press”, Australian Slavonic and East European Studies, Volume 21, Nos. 1-2, 2008.

Windle Kevin “Unmajestic bombast: The Brisbane Union of Russian Workers as Shown in a 1919 Play by Herman Bykov”, Australian Slavonic and East European Studies, Volume 19, Nos. 1-2, pp 29-51, 2005

Posted in Brisbane, Collections, Guest blogger, People Jo Browse John Oxley Library
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  1. Angelina Bismarck

    It’s amazing to find out that this kind of documents have been kept in the State Library. They add another little drop in the ocean of knowledge about different facets of Australian history (Brisbane’s history). And every such discovery that now is translated into English helps us better understand our diverse culture. Thank you Ms Samokhina.

  2. Constantine Drozdovskii

    Just shows that we really do not know everything about our history or how many nationalities have contributed to it. One has to wonder what other important Australian historical information still lies hidden in our libraries. Well done Natalia…

  3. Jean-Claude Eono

    It is fascinating to learn about the history of Brisbane, a city of about only 80,000 people in 1919 being the place chosen for a small (although the largest in Australia) but active Russian community challenging the norms of the time. That some of this history was re-discovered in the boxes of the State Library may provide historians further insight or a different perspective on these historical events. Thank you Nataliyia for your interest in opening these boxes and bringing them back to life.

  4. Кудряшова Ольга

    Всем большой привет из России!
    С большим интересом узнала, что моя сослуживица из России , проживающая сейчас в Австралии, открывает забытые страницы мстории наших стран. Узнаю тебя, Наталия и благодарю.
    Ольга. Россия. Рязань

  5. Ryazan Regional Children’s Library

    We are very glad that our colleague Samokhina Natalia continues her work in studying and translating documents devoted to our compatriots. Her work is very interesting for us and we are proud of her achievement. We wish her good luck.
    5 April, 2012
    Natalia’s colleagues of Ryazan Regional Children’s Library

  6. Mark Feodoroff

    The article states “…have never been translated from Russian into English.”

    Given the age of the article, have the papers been translated yet? I have a strong interest to see what these papers had in them (from a genealogical perspective).

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