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Victorian Trade Union Banners: a proud tradition - Imagery

Banner - United Ironworkers' Assistants Society of Victoria, Ballarat Branch Eight Hour Day

Image: Banner - United Ironworkers' Assistants Society of Victoria, Ballarat Branch Eight Hour Day

Source: Museum Victoria

Designs incorporating 888, the depiction of native flora and fauna, and coats-of-arms are typical motifs in Australian trade union banners. British motifs adopted in Australian designs include work themes, i.e. work places, skills and processes, tools and machinery; men in uniform symbolising their work; clasped hands as a symbol of mutual help and friendship; and bundles of sticks. The sticks represent the power of organised labour: a single stick is easily broken but a bundle cannot be destroyed. Images of flags and the globe signal international ties.

Women were frequently used as allegorical representations of countries or virtues such as truth, justice and peace. They virtually never appear as workers in the old banners, a situation the modern banner artists sought to address in the 1980s.

Historical and biblical figures, associated with craft skills or industry, added legitimacy to trade unions; eg, printers depicted Caxton, and carpenters Joseph of Nazarene. Some figures are portraits of union members or officials, although this tradition was more prevalent in British banners.

Slogans usually underlined themes of unity, for example 'United to Assist, Not Combined to Injure' and 'Unity is Strength'.

Sometimes a close relationship existed between union certificates and their banners. The Amalgamated Society of Carpenters & Joiners, Victorian District design comes from a British certificate of 1866 and was widely used, with minor alterations, in Melbourne, Sydney, Kalgoorlie and Wellington banners.

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