This work is part of a ‘Gordon Childe’ project, started many years ago in collaboration with the late Peter Gathercole and Bill Peace. It is based on a huge collection of primary and secondary sources collected from libraries and archives in Britain, North America, Europe and Australia. In the course of the research we discovered an enthusiastic band of Childe obsessives, and there has been much sharing of sources and findings among us, and many publications have appeared as a result, including in my case an edited book with Gregory Melleuish and Gathercole, a bibliography with Margarita Díaz-Andreu and Gathercole, dictionary entries, articles and book chapters. From time to time other projects, and life, have got in the way of the Childe project, but it has now reached the stage where I am writing the definitive account of Childe’s political thinking and practice. As I expect to have to revise the arrangement of the material I am not including the footnotes in this draft for the internet.
SYDNEY 1892-1914: ‘NO, IT IS NOT RIGHT’
Childe was born in 1892, a moment of economic confusion in the Australian colonies. The bankers were panicking, and the workers - twenty-nine percent of whom were unemployed – were disaffected. Since 1890 there had been industrial upheaval and violence on the streets. Politically, it was equally dramatic, if in the end poignant – a moment when the energies of the labour movement were ‘diverted to attain the conquest of political power’, as he explained in How Labour Governs. This was Childe’s take on the formation of Labor parties and the almost immediate election of their candidates to the colonial parliaments of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. He saw it as a diversion – a strategy that, although it promised to allow the ‘proletarian democracy’ of Australia to replace the principles of liberal representative government with its own ‘novel view of democracy’, a democracy controlled by the organized working class, in the end failed to realise its promise.
To his family none of this mattered very much. They lived on Sydney’s leafy north shore, without even a bridge to link them to the gritty suburbs on the southern side of the harbour where the struggle between capital and labour was being fought out. Proper as well as conservative, the family announced his arrival in the ‘Births’ column of the Sydney Morning Herald, just one of seven listed that day: ‘Childe – April 14  at St Thomas’s Vicarage, North Sydney, the wife of Stephen H. Childe, of a son.’
The vicarage was damp and had no drainage or gas but it would have seemed a palace to the Ladies Committee for Relief to the Indigent, one of whom wrote to the Herald on the same day about her visit to the homes of married men in the working class suburbs south and west of the city: ‘No pen could describe the destitution and misery. Houses void of furniture, families without food and clothing. In many cases we had to provide immediate food to stay starvation. The men all ask for work, offering to take any wages, that their wives and children may have shelter.’
She wrote in the context of Government cuts to public works as the colony slid ever faster into depression. In February 1892 the Government opened a Labour Bureau that registered nearly 14,000 unemployed men and women in its first six months. Destitute men and women began sleeping in the Domain, but as the nights became colder and the socialists began to proselytise among them, the Government arranged for the single men to go to the Brown Brothers Stables in Castlereagh Street, where they slept amid the stench of manure and fermenting straw. On the night Childe was born another 800 were sleeping in the Exhibition Building, where the charitable ladies and gentlemen comprising the Citizens Committee were surprised to discover that the unemployed men were becoming more dissatisfied the more they were given! Six ‘objectionable’ agitators (who were telling the men to demand the resumption of public works) had to be expelled from the building that night and the Committee decided – following a logic still relied on by conservatives - to punish the men by reducing their free meals to one a day. Then it made a point of giving the men the same blankets issued to the Special Constables who helped to break the maritime strike of 1890.
As part of the colony’s small professional elite, Childe’s parents would have found little to disagree with in the line adopted by the Herald. Almost certainly they would not have discerned the class reality of rich versus poor in the paper’s account of public philanthropy. For over 50 years, its owners, the Fairfax family, had aligned it with the interests of the business and professional communities. In 1892 its columns reflected and reinforced the mix of fear and relief that the bourgeoisie was feeling during a lull in ‘the great strikes and lockouts’ of the early nineties. Its writers congratulated the forces of order for mounting ‘a spirited resistance’ to labour’s attempt ‘to seize control of capital’, and for surviving a ‘period of domestic anarchy’, by which they meant the clashes on the streets between supporters of the strike and government-organised Special Constables and volunteer militias in September 1890. Now the labour movement was in retreat, although who could tell whether its newly elected parliamentary representatives in Macquarie Street would not introduce socialism by stealth?
Abroad, the Herald saw signs of the fragility of the rule of capital everywhere, reporting in eye-popping detail the ‘anarchist outrages’ in Paris, Rome, Berlin, Brussels, Barcelona, and New York in the days surrounding Childe’s birth. It inferred that Sydney would not be free forever from ‘the chaos of strikes, riots and dynamite’. Moreover, as both the overseas anarchists and the colony’s labour politicians aimed to create a socialist utopia ‘from the debris’, they were in reality part of the same threat to the social order.
The Herald’s readers had reason to feel uneasy. Despite the defeat of organized labour, the unorganized multitude had not got the message. Indeed, in the mind of the disaffected section of the working class it was almost as if the use of ‘official’ violence against labour’s organised ‘physical force’ during the strikes justified spontaneous and unofficial eruptions. A hall in Darlinghurst was wrecked during a tug of war event when the management tried to close it; 25 police were needed to break up the riot that ensued. Outside the Water Police Court at the Quay two factions in the local Chinese community fought with iron bars and sticks with iron knobs over a gambling dispute. Later that day the nine arrested men tried to storm their way out of the watch house. In working class Redfern, the Waterloo Push and the Chippendale Push fought with sticks and stones on Regent Street. When the police arrived the rival pushes joined forces and 150 youths beat the police back along the street. There were twelve arrests. Larrikins attacked a dairyman in Burke Street, Redfern, terrorising the residents for an hour. Even employed workers were unruly, despite the spectre of unemployment and the collapse of the trade unions, starting strikes without the backing of the Trades and Labour Council, as the non-unionised miners excavating the Bondi sewer did in June 1892.
How to account for the existence of people who seemed to delight in rioting was the question addressed by a letter in the Herald: the writer opined that it was all the fault of the socialists agitating among the working classes. The remedy was left to the readers’ imagination. But for the larrikins, as another letter brutally declared on the day Childe’s birth was announced, only the lash could deter such ‘fiends in human form’. Finding scapegoats to blame and punish diverted readers from considering the class forces underlying the experience of social disorder. As Kylie Smith has argued, the larrikins were working class youths unhappy about having to repress and sublimate their natural instincts as they were corralled into the ‘respectable’ and disciplined working class of industrial capitalism.
Gordon spent his youth in a loving family and prospering suburb. His father received from the Church a comfortable annual income of 475 pounds and a house, and North Sydney, looking from the conflicted city on the south side of the harbour, must have seemed idyllic. On the waterfront there were clusters of working class terraces and a few small shipyards. Further up the hillsides there were substantial houses and streets of middle class villas. The elite school that Gordon would attend, the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (‘Shore’), was established in 1889 in the mansion of the entrepreneur B.O. Holterman, who had discovered the largest nugget of reef gold in the world in 1871 at Hill End. From the terminus of the steam ferry at Milson’s Point, North Shore professionals returning from business in the city could catch either the Miller Street cable car that ran up the hill to St Leonard’s Park, or the North Shore railway line (its construction vigorously pushed despite the depression of the nineties) that linked the scatter of settlements north to Hornsby. After 1893 commuters could ride the electric tram that ran east along the ridge from St Leonard’s Park to Spit Junction. Growing up in North Sydney’s go-ahead decades Gordon would have found few signs of inequality or political disagreement to stimulate a radical social conscience.
The Childe family would have alighted from the cable car at McLaren Street, where St Thomas’s church stood just off Miller Street on a large site near the top of the hill. In 1881, soon after Stephen Childe became the rector, two of Queen Victoria’s sons, Prince Albert and Prince George, laid the foundation stone for a new church building, which was completed in 1884. Designed by the well-known architect – and Anglican – Edmund Blacket in the decorated Gothic style, it was meant to satisfy the social and economic aspirations of North Shore residents. Cathedral-like, large and squat (the spire on the tower was never built), it had an attractive pattern of coloured slates in its roof. Seating up to a thousand worshippers, it is still the largest Anglican parish church in Australia.
Stephen Childe conducted services while the new church was built over and around the old (eventually it was removed stone by stone out the front door) but his family was not able to live in the new rectory until 1900. From the surviving documents it is impossible to catch a glimpse of their everyday lives. When Sally Green wrote her biography of Childe she relied for information from Gordon’s niece, Mary, the daughter of his half-brother, Laurence, and his cousin Anne, the daughter of his mother’s brother, Alexander Gordon. Neither could have had useful personal memories of Gordon or of the Childe family in North Sydney, because Mary was born in 1913 and Anne in 1912. In relation to the affectionate bonds between Childe and his three much older sisters, however, Mary may well have provided reliable information, because in the 1950s she was looking after Ethel, the youngest of the three sisters, who was then in her eighties. When Green concludes that Alice (born 1871), Marion known as ‘May’ (born 1874), and Ethel (born 1876) doted on Gordon as an infant and young boy, it has the ring of truth, for Gordon kept in touch with his sisters throughout his life, and in 1922 he was helping Ethel with a generous allowance when she was an invalid. We also know, from a letter by their father, that he always regarded Gordon as ‘a good son’.
Again, there is no documentary evidence about Gordon’s feelings for his mother. Harriet, neé Gordon, married Rev. Stephen Childe in 1886 after his first wife had died leaving Stephen with five children. When her son was born in 1892 she was 39 and her husband was 48. She was an ideal wife for a widowed clergyman, for her father had been one of the grandees of the Church of England in the colony since the 1850s. Alexander Gordon, Q.C., was the main legal authority in the Sydney diocese, serving on many of its committees until the 1880s, and publishing several pamphlets on Church law and polity. He and his wife Anne, who grew up in India where her father was a missionary, were friends of Bishop Barker. In the 1880s Harriet’s father, as a member of the appointed Legislative Council, opposed the introduction by the Premier, Henry Parkes, of ‘free, compulsory and secular’ schooling to the colony. In 1889 he published The Future of the Empire; or a brief statement of the case against Imperial Federation, arguing that the bonds of empire were sufficiently protected by the loyalty of its separately governed and self-governing colonies of British settlers. Meanwhile, Harriet’s mother set up the Sydney branch of the Church of England Girls’ Friendly Society. Together they were typical, as was Stephen Childe, of the imperial English men and women of the Victorian era who established the ‘sense of colonial subordination’ in the psychology of Anglicanism. No one in this circle sympathised with ‘the democracy’ of the colony.
Stephen Childe is an enigma. On the one hand he was extremely conventional in his social beliefs and politics. He was related to a well-established county family – the Childes of Kinlet in Shropshire – and he had been educated at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, where as well as a BA (1868) he was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal in Law (1869). Perhaps it was this background that assisted his appointment and long incumbency as rector of St Thomas’s, where he remained for 33 years, rising to a senior role in the diocese as Rural Dean of North Sydney. In his personal relationships, however, he was unpredictable, distant and outré. As a young clergyman in England he had been unable to settle in any of the six positions he had held, and within two years of arriving in Sydney he was causing consternation among the clergy and lay members of the Synod. In 1882 he organized an ‘Old English Fair’ at the Garden Palace in Macquarie Street where young ladies from North Shore congregations, in period costume, collected donations. This use of ‘female beauty’ to aid church finances so outraged the Rev. Hodgson that he referred to them in the Synod as ‘daughters of Moab’ (who had slept with their father to carry on his line). There was uproar as defenders of the virtue of the young women of the North threatened Hodgson with violence. Stephen, it seems, appreciated female beauty. Perhaps this was the origin of the dislike of Stephen in his second wife’s family, the Gordons, who privately called him a ‘womanizer’.
Among his congregation there was also disquiet, although the evidence for this may well reflect the views of later commentators. The Sydney diocese was and is strongly Evangelical, but the Rev. Stephen Childe is remembered by the congregation of St Thomas’s as leaning towards the High Church Tractarians in Church politics. The Evangelical party in the Church of England regarded the Holy Scriptures as the only source of revelation, and believed the central spiritual experience was conversion. In the 1840s a movement critical of the Evangelicals emerged in Oxford and soon spread through the Church of England at home and abroad. To the Tractarians, as the members of the Oxford Movement were known, the non-rational ‘enthusiasm’ of the Evangelicals was embarrassing, and their indifference to Church traditions distressing. The Tractarians liked to show the continuities between the Church of England and the Church of Rome, especially those visible in the rituals of worship, such as the wearing of the chasuble, and they believed that the episcopacy was divinely ordained. To the Evangelicals, these were dangerous ideas, undermining the lessons of the Reformation.
The only documented evidence for Stephen Childe’s opposition to the Evangelicals is a well-publicized incident at a Synod meeting in 1898. Speaking to a resolution aimed at curbing the influence of the High Church movement, a Rev. J. Vaughan referred to the ‘extreme ritualism’ to be found in some churches in London because ‘the Archbishops and Bishops had forgotten their vows and betrayed their trust’. This caused general uproar, amidst which Rev. Stephen Childe asked the Archbishop whether such ‘abominable views’ should be allowed in Synod. When the Archbishop from the chair refused to disallow the view, Childe walked out of the meeting. Otherwise the evidence suggests that while he might have sympathized with the High Church position he did not actively oppose the Archbishop, for there were several churches where the chasuble was worn, but St Thomas’s was not one of them.
Like many followers of the Oxford Movement Stephen was keen on music in church services (several of his children taking part in the ensemble at St Thomas’s), and Alice and Ethel joined Anglican religious orders, a favoured project of Tractarians, and it may also not have been a coincidence that he was forcibly retired in 1913, when the new Archbishop, John Charles Wright, decided to rid the Sydney diocese of the last traces of Tractarianism. His estrangement from his congregation, however, was not necessarily doctrinal. It is just as likely that in a middle-class congregation at a time of awakening national consciousness there was a mixture of cultural and personal issues creating dislike of their Cambridge-educated parson. It might have been enough that he was aloof, that he had a speech impediment that amused the young fry in the pews, and that he was frequently absent from the parish while visiting his second home at Wentworth Falls, 100 kilometers to the west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains.
Whether Gordon Childe inherited his independence of mind from his father we can only conjecture. There would have been a literature of religious argument in the kind of home Childe grew up in, especially one in which the parents drew on different Church traditions. More to the point, religious argument could shade over into awareness of social problems, and from there to criticism of the inequalities of the social order that gave rise to them. The conversion of the lower classes was regarded as ‘missionary’ activity, but it could easily mutate into support for reform. The Christian Social Union (CSU), which attracted many second-generation followers of the Tractarians as well as Evangelicals, endorsed the emerging labour movement in the 1890s (although the CSU was never proletarian in composition). And then there was the general influence of ‘the social gospel’. As far as we can tell, in the St Thomas rectory ‘the social gospel’ was not a guide to religious purpose, but Harriet was dedicated to the good works normally expected of a parson’s wife. At the very least, she would have brought awareness of the social problems affecting individual parishioners into the family circle, and into the life of her son. Beyond that, however, it seems unlikely that Gordon would have formed radical attitudes while at home. The family’s horrified reaction to his later anti-war activities suggests that politically it was a thoroughly conservative household.
In any case, the family’s influence would have diminished soon after his eighteenth birthday. In 1910 his mother died, a few months before he was due to sit for his Senior Matriculation to the University of Sydney; in 1911 his uncle, took him into his home in Elizabeth Bay, where he lived for the next three years while he attended university; and in 1913 his father, having resigned from St Thomas’s, went to live in Wentworth Falls accompanied by a new wife with whom Gordon was never comfortable.
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The death of Gordon Childe’s mother might have been the moment when he began his walk away from religion. In December of that year, in the school magazine, he published a translation from ancient Greek of ‘Elegy No. 2’ by Xenophanes of Colophon, a philosopher and theologian who was born about 570 BC. There were elements of the life and thought of Xenophanes that might have appealed to Childe in 1910.
If he contemplated leaving home (a step he took a few months later), perhaps he wondered about what it would be like to spend most of one’s life in exile, as Xenophanes did in Sicily. Perhaps he appreciated Xenophanes’s criticisms of Greek militarism and athleticism. The ‘Shore’ school, modeled on Dr Arnold’s Rugby, sidelined the intellectual formation of its pupils to concentrate on developing an ethos of moral rectitude, gentlemanly conduct, and respect for authority enforced through prefects and embodied in strenuous exercise. Childe was never a prefect, and never wore the uniform of the school’s cadet unit nor excelled on the sporting field. Or more pertinent to the moment, grieving for his mother, and finding the conservative religious atmosphere at home irksome, Childe might have been drawn to Xenophanes because he was a religious skeptic, poking fun at the traditional Greek idea of a pantheon of gods whose images were reflections of the Greeks themselves.
While criticism of the Greek obsession with the Olympic Game is central to the elegy, Childe’s translation highlights the connection of the state and religion. The brute strength that the city prizes is displayed in the precinct of Zeus, the father of the Gods:
In his translation, Childe takes the side of wisdom, and he denies that it is served by the pact between Zeus and the brute strength that the (city) state stood for and rewarded. It is not right that religion is harnessed to power; there is something unworthy about it. This did not make Childe an atheist, and nor did it prevent him becoming the Honorary Secretary of the Social Services Department of the Men’s Christian Union at the University of Sydney in 1913. It does suggest, however, that he had taken a critical step away from the orthodox view – his father’s view, no doubt – that the role of religion was to support the status quo.
* * *
The journey Childe took in 1911 across Sydney harbour was doubly significant. He had finished his schooling, his mother had died a few months earlier, and he was moving from the vicarage in North Sydney to his mother’s brother’s house in Elizabeth Bay. The ostensible reason was that it would make his travelling to Sydney University easier. By this time, however, Gordon Childe was showing the independence of spirit that would lead him into unorthodoxy while at University. In the light of the family’s dismay a few years later when Gordon opposed the First World War, it is hard not to think that he was also running away from his father’s conservative political ideas.
Elizabeth Bay was a prestigious upper class suburb, but it was cheek by jowl with one of the oldest and meanest parts of working class Sydney. Because Gordon loved to walk - he played golf in the university vacations - it is not impossible to imagine him striding off after breakfast to the University, a distance of about four kilometers. The most direct route would have taken him south through Darlinghurst, east of the city centre, along the ridge where many substantial mansions had been built before the middle of the nineteenth century. Reaching Liverpool Street he would begin to descend into the valley behind Woolloomooloo Bay, to walk past the narrow terrace houses of East Sydney, with their front doors opening onto the footpath, built for the labouring classes in the same period. Then he would climb up a short hill to reach the city proper, turning south and then west up the street now known as Broadway, passing the city’s oldest brewery to reach the gates of the University at Camperdown.
Vere Gordon Childe enrolled in 1911 and Herbert Vere Evatt in 1912; although they had very different upbringings otherwise they had much in common. From the country, Evatt, raised by his widowed mother in the Bank Hotel in East Maitland, and fiercely determined to make his mark in the metropolis, had set his heart on a legal career. Meanwhile, Childe, from the leafy side of the harbour, and a professional milieu that kept its distance from that of publicans, was already showing the academic prowess that would bring him distinction as a student, having been awarded the Cooper Scholarship for Proficiency in Classics at the end of his first year. Whether because they shared the unusual name of ‘Vere’, had similar political ideals, or because Evatt saw a useful legal connection in the making – Childe was lodging with his uncle, Judge Alexander Gordon - Bert and Gordon began a friendship for life in 1912.
They would walk together discussing their personal philosophy, finding common ground in their delight in overcoming difficulties and in their dislike of selfishness. The infrequent motorcars that passed them they disdained as anti-social: ‘you just get in your motor car and you drive along and don’t talk to anybody’. Sometimes they hiked in the Blue Mountains, where the Childe family had a palatial holiday home overlooking Wentworth Falls, 100 kilometers to the west of Sydney. They also took many walks in the city, perhaps between the University and Uncle Alexander’s comfortable mansion on Elizabeth Bay Road. Evatt, who lived in St Andrew’s College in the University grounds, might have appreciated visits to the home of the Gordon family, where there was a young toddler, born in 1908, and an infant born in 1912 – and of course an eminent judge.
As Arts students, they attended lectures in the two-storey, sandstone main building, a Gothic Revival version of a medieval Oxford or Cambridge College with internal courtyard, bell tower and crenellated parapet, set on a rise overlooking Victoria Park. Begun in 1855, the only parts completed when Childe arrived in 1911 were the imposing east range facing the city, the Great Hall and the Fisher Library, diagonally opposite each other on the north-east and south-east corners. He could take tea in the undergraduates’ ‘ramshackle wooden common room’, crossing the muddy quadrangle to reach it. At lectures University custom required him to wear an academic gown, and elsewhere on campus to take the initiative in saluting any passing professor, to whom you were very possibly known, for it was a tiny academic community. In Childe’s first year, there were only 386 students in Arts, of whom about 270 attended lectures during the day, taught by six professors, five other full-time teaching staff and a few part-timers.
Despite its elitism and stuffy traditions, the University could not but be unaffected by the democratic ferment at home and abroad, not to speak of the reformist political discourse encouraged by the control of local parliaments by the Labor party, federally and in New South Wales. The signs of campus radical activity and thinking were small, but for our story they are significant because Gordon Childe was involved in all of them. The University Socialist Society, formed in 1910, brought down-town revolutionary socialists and Labor party figures to address student meetings. One of the speakers in 1911 was Harald Ingemar Jensen. Childe probably heard his paper on ‘Work and Wages’ because some years later he would say that he knew Jensen from that time. Jensen was a Doctor of Science and University Medalist in Geology as well as a member of the Labor Party’s state executive. Another development occurred in 1912, when the Men’s Christian Union set up a Social Service Department to research working-class ‘social problems’ (members took walks in the slums surrounding the campus) and to ameliorate them through voluntary Christian service: lectures, entertainment and assistance at boys clubs and other ‘institutions for social betterment’. Its leader was the Christian Socialist and promoter of co-operative enterprises, Frank E. Pulsford, while its secretary in 1913 was Gordon Childe. Later that year, when a branch of the Workers’ Educational Association was formed in Sydney with significant support from some University staff, Childe became a member.
Childe was also active in the University (Men’s) Union, but here he might have been radicalizing as much as radicalized. The Union moved into its own building in 1913, and the increased facilities – including a common room, tea room and a hall capable of seating up to three hundred – necessitated a more elaborate form of governance. In 1913 Childe appears as a member of three of its committees, for the reading room, the archives and debating. Deciding on topics for the weekly Union debate was an activity Childe clearly enjoyed because he remained on the committee in 1914, after his graduation. The topics often enabled the presentation of arguments then agitating thinkers and activists outside the university. The nationalization of medicine was a hardy perennial; other topics included socialism, industrial co-operation, compulsory military training, secret diplomacy, female suffrage, and pacifism. Whether Childe tipped the balance towards such topics we cannot know. We do know that he took part in the debate held at the first meeting of the reconstituted Union because it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald and Hermes. He spoke in support of the nationalization of medical services. According to the University magazine, in the amusing style traditional for reporting Union Night debates, ‘The Child [sic] then rose and prattled innocently in his own intimate way for some considerable time’ in support of the proposition, but the motion was lost by a large majority.
Although Childe’s studies centred on Classics – in his last year at Shore he had shared the top spot for Latin in the Senior Matriculation examination – he also took courses in Philosophy, beginning in his second year. He was equally successful in both areas, receiving the Cooper Scholarship for Proficiency in Classics at the end of his first and second years, and the University Medal for Classics and the Professor Francis Anderson Prize for Philosophy in his third year. Anderson is a significant figure in Childe’s political development, because it was Anderson who steered Childe towards the WEA.
Francis Anderson was, for the time, a most unusual teacher. He encouraged questioning in class and approached the study of philosophy critically, emphasizing its historical context. Moreover in the final year course he threaded the study of philosophy through a series of political and social topics, almost as if he were teaching social theory. In fact, in 1911 he published an appeal for the teaching of sociology in Australia. A surviving notebook for a part of his third year course is titled, ‘Philosophy of the State; The Real End of the State; Interpretation of Theories of the State.’ Under this topic he included the study of Marxism and historical materialism. Anderson had a huge influence on Childe’s thinking. For several years after his graduation Childe would continue grappling with questions that he had first encountered in Anderson’s classes: the meaning of truth, and the theory of the state; and with Marxism he had a life-long engagement. Most importantly, he never forgot the experience of placing knowledge in a social context, and of thinking holistically. At the end of his career he referred to an interest in philosophy that had begun in 1913, an interest that led to his writing two books, Social Worlds of Knowledge in 1949 and Society and Knowledge in 1956.
Childe took his final examinations at the end of 1913. A few weeks later he and Bert were campaigning for the Labor Party in the state elections, providing secretarial services to its leader, the Premier W.A. Holman. Labor was victorious; Bert and Gordon had begun their careers as labour intellectuals.
Childe’s other career, as a scholar, was foreshadowed the following year in April, when he graduated in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the University, which awarded him First Class Honours in Latin, Greek and Philosophy, the University Medal for Classics, the Professor Francis Anderson Prize for an essay in philosophy, and the Cooper Graduate Travelling Scholarship worth two hundred pounds. He hoped to go to Oxford for post-graduate studies, guided there by the Professor of Greek at Sydney, W.J. Woodhouse, whose interests were as much in archaeology as in classics. The English academic year started in September, and in the meantime Childe had to find something to do. He hung around the Union debating circle until late April and then took a post in remote Glen Innes as a master at a private Grammar School. It was not a good experience, and after a few weeks he moved on to become a private tutor on a large property outside the town. In the meantime the University allotted him one of the free passages to England, travelling first class, offered by the Orient Line. Whenever he could he took the train to Sydney and stayed with Evatt at St Andrew’s College, until on August 1 he embarked on SS Orsova for Plymouth, just three days before Britain declared war on Germany.