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Issue #1936      12th October, 2020

Red Women: Beryl Miller

I first met comrade Beryl Miller in late 1986 when I first came to Australia. I phoned the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA) to speak with them about my interest in joining the Party. Beryl answered the phone and invited me to come into the office for a chat/interview. The office was located in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. There I met with Beryl, Alan, and another executive member (unfortunately I can’t remember his name).

They were very friendly and put me at ease, asked me why I was joining the Party, etc ...

At that time, Alan was the Victorian State Secretary of the Party, and Beryl was one of the executive members and the office coordinator.

Beryl and Alan used to conduct educational classes for members. The classes were highly effective. Beryl believed not only in theory but encouraged members to be active in the union movement and in their community as well.

Beryl and Alan would organise Guardian sales and had a stall in the city. Beryl used to take every opportunity to promote the Party and sell the Guardian.

The branch would produce flyers, and we used to go to suburbs letter-boxing and door-knocking. I was very lucky to have been paired with Beryl during these events.

As time passed Beryl and Alan moved to Adelaide. We kept in contact and met up when they would come to Melbourne. We also travelled a number of times to visit them in Adelaide.

I learnt more about Beryl’s life when I attended her 90th Birthday, which was celebrated at the Workers’ Club in Adelaide on 11th September 2016.

The following information about Beryl’s life is based on my personal memories, her family, research, and conversations with the remarkable Beryl:

Beryl was born on 9th September 1926 in Geelong, Victoria. Growing up during the Great Depression and seeing the deprivation associated with that crisis for workers and their families, Beryl needed little encouragement in opposing the Fascists during World War II. When she was 15, in 1941, she joined the Eureka Youth League (EYL), which was the young Communist movement in Australia. She was elected Secretary of the Moonee Ponds/Essendon branch.

Monthly dances were organised by the EYL during the War for the airmen stationed at the Essendon Aerodrome. She helped form the dance group that entertained servicemen at various locations as part of a concert party.

Beryl rode her bike to her first job at the Essendon Aerodrome in a secretarial role for the Department of Aircraft Production. Her next job was at the offices of the Amalgamated Engineering Union where she collected dues for the Clerks Union in her capacity as a shop steward.

She left this job when she married in Melbourne on 22nd May 1946, and relocated to Adelaide after a honeymoon on Kangaroo Island. Beryl’s first child, Peter, was born in March 1947.

A job with Hannafords involved a move to Dimboola, Victoria. Diane, the second child, was born at the Dimboola Bush Nursing Hospital in February 1949.

It was in Dimboola that Beryl’s interest in the welfare of others was again stirred into action. Noting that there was little for young people to do, she helped set up the YZ (Wise Head) Club. The club held regular concert parties in the town and outlying centres.

Witnessing the terrible devastation and destruction caused by the first and only use of atomic weapons (WMD) on civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and recognising the urgency for world peace were big factors in Beryl’s decision to join the Communist Party in 1952.

Paul, the third child, was born in September 1953.

Flo Edmonds invited Beryl to join the Union of Australian Women (UAW) in 1955, and she was soon elected as SA State Secretary, a position she held until 1978.

She attended the first National UAW Conference in Sydney in 1956 and was elected to the National Committee, a position she held until 1981. Beryl was the longest-serving member.

The first Anti-Nuclear testing street demonstration took place in the late 1950s where three UAW members – Beryl Miller, Irene Bell, and Doreen Marshall – wore aprons with slogans calling for an end to nuclear testing.

In 1957 she became the first woman elected to the South Australian CPA State Committee in the post-war period. There she organised Child Art Exhibitions in 1958 and 1959, and an International Children’s Film Festival in 1960.

In the 1950s she visited workplaces and held public meetings on equal pay. In the 1960s she was very active in opposing Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, particularly through the Save Our Sons movement.

The UAW formed the International Women’s Day (IWD) Committee in order to coordinate the invitation for international women to take part in the day’s celebrations. She was a member of the Association of Australian Dancers (The Wattle Dance Group) from 1952 to 1956 and an active member of the SA New Theatre, being the Treasurer from 1952-53.

In 1964 she attended the CPA’s Congress as the first woman elected from South Australia. In the same year, she joined the first all-women’s delegation to visit the Soviet Union. The delegation had another first for an Australian group when they visited Siberia.

Beryl met Alan through her work in the Communist Party. They were married in 1964.

She was a founding member of the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA) which was formed in December 1971 and attended the 1971 conference which set up the SPA. As a member of the State Executive she attended and spoke at numerous Congresses. In both the SPA and CPA Beryl was always on the State Women’s Committee.

In 1975 she studied in the Soviet Union. She was also a Councillor of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) from 1975-1980. In this role, she worked in the German Democratic Republic in 1975 to prepare for the World Conference of Women as part of the UN International Women’s Year celebrations held in Berlin, German Democratic Republic (East Germany). In addition, she played a continuing role in the United Nations for Women from its inception in 1975.

Her attendance at a meeting of the WIDF in Moscow and Tajikistan was a highlight of 1978.

In 1978 she moved to Sydney to work for the Central Committee; in 1982 the South Sydney branch of the SPA was formed, and she became Secretary. She worked with four factories and produced monthly bulletins and met with the workers regularly. She moved to Melbourne in 1985 and worked in the Party’s State Committee Office and became Secretary of the Central Branch, active on the waterfront with maritime workers.

The UAW and its members were in the forefront of many campaigns: including the banning of nuclear weapons and war toys; price control; the national petition for world peace; opposition to the Vietnam War; and conscription. They used aprons and shopping bags for their protest signs. Much of her work in the UAW was carried out in collaboration with the broader community, church, unions, and other women’s groups.

Beryl and Alan moved back to Adelaide in 1991. She was once again elected State Secretary until the organisation was wound down in 2005.

Working with MP Frances Bedford and her staff on the campaign to Save the Modbury Hospital and the creation of a Reconciliation Quilt has kept Beryl in touch with grassroots politics since her return to Adelaide in 1991.

Beryl’s last overseas trip was in 1998 when she attended celebrations for the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) in Paris, France.

Alongside her political life is her family. A mother to three adult children she endured the heartbreak of the death of her eldest son, Peter, in 1995. The death of her lifelong companion and husband, Alan, has been softened by the loving relationship she shares with his son Ralph.

Beryl’s 90th birthday celebration was an opportunity to celebrate Beryl’s life and her achievements from the time she was only 15 years old. At the birthday celebrations we heard about Beryl’s campaigns in the areas of: the Eureka Youth League at fifteen; joining the Communist Party of Australia in 1952; her involvement with the UAW, the WIDF, and the Australian Peace Committee; opposition to atomic testing; leaving the Communist Party to join the SPA; becoming a founding member of the SPA; and representing South Australia in 1964 when the Communist Party of Australia organised the first women’s delegation to Russia.

Beryl was a champion in promoting and selling the Party’s Workers’ Weekly paper, The Guardian, wherever she could.

Albert Einstein said: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Beryl has lived such a life as a revolutionary. Congratulations to her for reaching this milestone in good health, with wonderful memories, and time to relax and take it easy now.

Next article – Politics in the Pub Perth – Military spending in Australia

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