Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Red Russians in Queensland: The First Immigrant Wave

This is the first entry in what I hope to be a multi-part history of the Russian diaspora in Queensland, Australia. During the course of the last century several different waves of Russian immigrants arrived in Brisbane. They became both in terms of numbers and political importance one of the most significant ethnic groups in the city in the first two decades of the twentieth century. In particular they played a key role in radical socialist politics in the city during this time.

In the wake of the failed 1905 Revolution, the Tsarist regime exiled numerous Social Democrats, Social Revolutionaries and other political opponents to Siberia. Thousands of these internal exiles,however, managed to escape to Manchuria and then make their way to Queensland on Japanese ships by 1915. After 1915, the First World War cut off this first wave of Russian immigrants to Australia.

This first wave of Russian immigrants had strong socialist tendencies. Fydor (Artem) Sergeyev, a personal friend of Lenin, became the most important political organizer among the Russian immigrants in Brisbane. After February 1917, he returned to Russia and joined the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks. In Queensland he established the Union of Russian Workers which had its own library of over 1,000 books and a number of club rooms. In 1912, he founded Australia's first Russian language newspaper. The Russian community in Brisbane centered around Russell, Cordelia, Vulture, Stanley and Merivale streets. Their largest community center, Russian Hall, was located on this last street. Smaller Russian clubs existed on Stanley Street. The organized Russian community in Brisbane strongly identified with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and Russia's new socialist government. This political support provoked a strong backlash from the Australian government.

In the years following the Bolshevik Revolution, Brisbane's Russian community came under increasing political pressure and police harassment. In January 1919, Military Intelligence shut down the clubs on Stanley Street. The pro-Bolshevik organizations in Queensland's Russian commuity became targets of loyalist organizations. This culminated in an angry mob of nearly 8,000 people from such organizations as the United Loyalist Executive and the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League assaulting Russian Hall on 24 March 1919. In the aftermath of the destruction of Russian Hall, the Australian government engaged in a general supression of suspected Bolshevik activities. They imprisoned fifteen men for displaying the Red Flag and deported another eleven Russian activists without trial. Other members of the Russian community found themselves evicted from their apartments or dismissed from their jobs for their political activities. The organized Bolshevik character of the Russian community in Queensland came to an end in 1919.

The next wave of Russian immigrants to Brisbane began arriving at the same time as the government moved against the older Russian community of Queensland. These immigrants were also refugees, Whites fleeing from Bolshevik rule. Their political orientation was almost the exact opposite of the earlier Russian settlers.

1 comment:

J. Otto Pohl said...


You might want to look at the dates in the article again The Red Russians were there in the period before 1920. You were 75 years too late to be amongst any Bolshies. Stalin had not siezed power yet, so they were not Stalinists. Sothey are best described at this time as Bolsheviks. As I mention in the article, the next wave of Russians were anti-Bolshevik Whites. Dr. Pool had some stuff to say on the later anti-Soviet waves of immigration as I recall. But, I don't remember him saying anything about the Merivale riots.