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The Anarchist Handbook

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A handbook of anarchy

Woodcut for the cover of 'A Handbook of Anarchy' by J. A. Andrews, 1894, Powerhouse Museum, 2005/152/1

Way before the Sex Pistols came up with ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ Australia had its own band of anarchists working throughout the 1890s to undermine the political landscape. This hand-carved woodcut is a genuine slice of subversive Australian history and was used to produce the cover of the ‘Handbook of Anarchy’, published by John Arthur Andrews in July 1894.

The 1890s was a period of great social unrest with the country caught firmly in the grip of both a drought and a depression which forced many out of work. In October 1891 a new conservative government was elected and Andrews blamed it, and the wealthy bankers, for many of the country’s woes in a radical new publication entitled ‘Anarchy‘ a which like the later ‘handbook’ hand cut-out wooden plates made by Andrews.

In July 1892 the ‘Broken Hill Strike’ began and police and armed troops were used move non-strike labour into the mines. Waltzing Matilda was penned by Banjo Patterson in the wake of the events on Dagworth station during the shearing strike of 1894 and in the same year Andrews published what many consider finest work ‘A Handbook of Anarchy’. Almost immediately Andrews and his fellow publishers, Wolfe and Robinson, were jailed, not for sedition, but apparently for not having a printer’s imprint correctly set on the book.

A handbook of anarchy

Print blocks for 'A Handbook of Anarchy, J. A. Andrews, 1894, Powerhouse Museum, 2005/152/3

Perhaps this was because the handbook was not quite the call to arms which the worried Australian Federal and State politicians thought it to be. It started with a definition that may have surprised, and confused, many if they had actually got a chance to read the limited print run

‘Anarchy is freedom. The literal meaning of the word ‘free’ is to love or like; thus when we say that a man is free we imply that he is ‘to like’, that is, he has only to like in order to decide what he will do, or try to do. Among the things which people in general like, is to avoid hurting others…’

In 1895 Andrews was again in jail on charges of sedition relating to another publication he was involved with called ‘Revolt’. Again the charges appear to have been hard to pin down as Andrews was freed in July 1895 after which he made his way back to Melbourne where he became involved in the Victorian Labour Federation. He died virtually destitute of tuberculosis in 1903 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Booroondara Cemetery.