Australia’s Founding Fathers: William Spence

William G. Spence
Founded The Australian Labor Party and Australian Workers Union

Brought as part of a new series on the founding fathers of Australia; We start first and foremost with one man of a particular character and belief whom personified many of the great ideals of the Australian cultural heritage and political ideal.

Spence was born in the Orkney Islands in Scotland, the son of a working stonemason: His family migrated to Australia when he was at the age of six years old, without any formal education he worked as a farmer in rural Victoria from the age of 13 years old. Spence went on to work in the gold-mines, to which he writes:

“There was no life more free and independent than that of the gold digger. He was no wage slave, but a free man, with all those high qualities only developed under free conditions.”

Life in the first boom phase of Australia lead to William observing what he called “the civilization of the old land set up in the new, with all its evils and disadvantages, modified as to degree, but there all the same.” to which he was referencing the establishment of the political and financial dominance of land-baron aristocracy.

Spencer writes: “Employers all aim at securing a monopoly, and though they speak in favor of non-interference with a competitive system, in action they soon destroy competition and abolish the alleged law of supply and demand.” This was very true of the day, particularly in land-ownership; in which monopolists like E. G. Wakefield had claimed enormous parcels of land at almost no cost and would not sell land to working families for anything less than 1£ per acre.

Too did he experience the death of the old-style of gold-mining, in which he writes how large commercialised mines opened up; buying up all the gold-claims and paying the miners a pittance.  It was during this period also that William Spence saw the large influx of non-european migrants into Australia; most notably the Chinese.

“The anti-Chinese movement was one of the early developments of democratic feeling in Australia. So strong was it that in 1861 it led to riot amongst the diggers at Lambing Flat, Burrangong, New South Wales. They drove the Chinese off the field, some of the pig-tailed heathens losing their lives. The same strong feeling that caused the Lambing Flat diggers to revolt actuated the miners of Clunes, Victoria

It was during this period of capitalistic defilement and coloured migration that Spence became an influential leader and driver of the white man’s union movement; he writes “The evils existing in connection with gold mining, which led to the formation of the Miners’ Association in 1872, were mainly a ten hours’ day or shift as it is termed; attempts to reduce wages; to introduce Chinese workmen; and neglect of precautions to safeguard the life or health of the miner.”

Spence, who was married to Ann J. Savage in 1871 was an honest crusader for the well-being of the white Australian worker; fighting and contending with the forces that be: land barons, and the ever-intoxicating media of the day, he writes: “The Anti-Socialist is invariably the most unpatriotic person to be found. He belongs to the “stinking fish” party. If he cannot get his own stupid way he denounces the country in which he has done so well. The bedrock of the cry for a color line across the continent, so that Anti-Socialists could boss niggers and yellow men is found in the Anti-Socialist’s nature. He is a born tyrant, and as the white Australian will not stand his tyranny he must have a nigger to order about. There is no patriotism in the Anti-Socialist press, hence it barracks for anything the capitalist crowd asks for.”

Spence went on in his years of trade unionism for miners; to branch out and unify all white Australian workers; During the Australian depression that began in 1891, land-barons across the country radically cut wages and beat down the conditions of Australian workers; this created the climate of suffering necessary for Spence and a few others to found the Australian Workers Union;  which fought for tooth and nail for many years to serve the cause of the white working man: Spence details which alien races are not to be admitted into the Australian Workers Union “Chinese, Japanese, Kanakas, Afghans, colored aliens other than Maoris, American negroes, and children of mixed parentage born in Australia”

Tooth and nail quite literally as Spence writes: “The unemblazoned courage of the wives of trades unionists locked out or on strike can never become known or appreciated until the world becomes humanitarian instead of commercial. The grit which enables men, women, and children to go  hungry to bed every night, rather than that the husband and father should take the place of a fellowman with whom he is voluntarily united in fighting against injustice and tyranny, is evidence of a quality which inspires confidence as to the character of our race and gives us hope of our future.”

The Australian Workers Union and its associated organisations went on to found the Australian Labor Party a few years before federation; campaigning across the entire country for “The cultivation of an Australian sentiment based upon the maintenance of racial purity and the development in Australia of an enlightened and self-reliant community.””  The labor campaign towards federation was in many ways for the creation of a single, controllable Australian border; where previously Chinese migrants had moved almost unhindered through South Australia and the unsettled regions of the far North.

Spence, who became a parliamentarian for the Australian Labor Party and a visionary influence for the Labor traditionalists; he writes: “Whilst giving due credit to many public men of other political parties who individually spoke up for a White Australia, I have no hesitation in asserting that but for Labor there would have been a compromise, and Australia would not have been a white man’s country to-day.

The party stands for racial purity and racial efficiency—industrially, mentally, morally, and intellectually. It asks the people to set up a high ideal of national character, and hence it stands strongly against any admixture with the white race. True patriotism should be racial.”

Spence’s achievements did not end with the white mans union, the white man’s land and the working man’s paradise: Spence too, like William Lane was a staunch advocate for alcohol temperance, being from a fervent Presbyterian & Methodist background he also had a role to play in the Australian temperance movement; to his end of freeing the working family from the curse and cost of alcoholism.

Conclusively William G Spence was among the founders of this country; raised a humble, uneducated farm-boy he rose up through struggle and victory to see to the creation of two of the largest Australianist organisations in our history; The Australian Labor Party and the Australian Workers Union; he led a moralist life to see to the justice and well-being of his fellow white working man: Ultimately, the construction of the White Australian tradition, leaving behind five sons and four daughters, Spence was a crusader against the evils of the financial elite and deceptive media, Spence we can proudly say; was one of the founding fathers of our great country.

W. G. Spence, Bottom Row, Furthest to the Left.


The exclusion of alien and colored races gives a chance for the development on the Australian Island continent of a great nation of the white race, and that ideal has come to stay and dominates Australian sentiment very largely.

The borrowing policy has had such a grip of Australian Governments that it amounts to a craze, and is enough to make one wonder whether they are not really agents for the British money-lender.

Nativist Herald