‘Cat Lovers Against the Bomb’ and other badges: A Fryer internship

Over the last semester, my time spent in Fryer (as an intern from ENGL3020) could accurately be characterised as constantly wading through ephemera – and my work with the Union of Australian Women Collection (UAW), UQFL193, was no exception.

Formed in 1950, the Union of Australian Women (UAW) was a national women’s organisation that was concerned with advancing the status and rights of women across the world. The national branch closed in 1995 and the Queensland branch disbanded in 1999.

The UAW records have come in to Fryer over many accessions since the late 1980s. The collection contains all manner of ephemera from correspondence and leaflets to posters and minutes, with one of the highlights being an extensive collection of badges.

The badges in Box 24 range from the more delicate and intricate brooches and pins to the homemade political button-style. While at first glance they seem to be a rather mishmash of movements, organisations, campaigns and ideologies, these badges reflect the range of interests and work of members of the UAW. The organisation campaigned for women’s rights, including equal pay, affordable childcare, and reproductive rights, but was also involved with Indigenous rights and various environmental and peace issues.

Looking globally, the UAW also notably protested against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and campaigned against Apartheid in South Africa. A number of the badges also reveal the UAW’s socialist links. Many early UAW members had ties to the Communist Party of Australia, and while never outwardly affiliated with the Communist Party, the Union’s championing of International Women’s Day, for example, when the event still had strong communist associations, demonstrates this relationship.

Tasked with helping to digitise these badges, perhaps the most difficult part was choosing which ones to cut my digitisation teeth on. Geneva Not Genocide, Save Coronation Drive!, Free Namibia Now!, A Woman’s Right to Choose, No Conscripts for Vietnam, even the ubiquitous Make Love Not War – they demanded attention then,  and demand closer inspection now.  

Badges, like much of the ephemera material in Fryer Library, often lose their sociohistorical contexts, particularly when part of large collections like UQFL193. For future researchers, badges in this collection like Cat Lovers against the Bomb might make little, if any, sense.  And while the badges reflect ideologies and areas of activism that, as a whole, give us an indication of the interests and agendas of the UAW,  the individual badges often lack context if the researcher does not know their meaning or significance. The focus of my Fryer internship was to provide that context.

You can view some of the UAW badges on UQ eSpace.

Last updated:
7 June 2016