Person - Charlie Reeve

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Born in England, Charlie Reeve arrived in Sydney in 1907, a short, thickset Cockney with oiled long black hair pulled back. He’d worked as a bricklayer. Misspelt in the program as Reeves, he played Sawkins in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists 1933, the Mayor of the Isle of Cats in On the Rocks 1934, and President of the Technical Soviet in Life is Calling 1936. He had a terrace house in Redfern where Workers Art Club members could stay.

Charles Reeve was one of the twelve International Workers of the World (IWW, Wobblies) members imprisoned for arson in September 1916 despite having an alibi that he was being discharged from Long Bay at the time he was supposed to have committed the crime. Literate, in gaol he taught himself shorthand, read Jack London, and asked if someone could send him a copy of Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis”. Reeve wrote often to his “Little Mother” (“Man? What a queer animal that Male is, arrogating to himself the Universe and then relying on the Woman to keep it going”). He signed his letters “Your Loving Boy Charlie”.

After his release Reeve was by 1922 in WA as an organiser and speaker with the Industrial Union Propaganda League, warning that workers were being replaced by machines. In 1925, an Adelaide bricklayer, he told the crowd that if mothers allowed their daughters to go out with returned soldiers it was the same as asking them to get a venereal disease. The same year he was protesting against the visit of the American Fleet. By 1927 he was living in Yurong Street East Sydney and back in the Sydney Domain as a fiery IWW speaker railing against gaols, police, royalty, Prime Minister Bruce and Premier Jack Lang. In 1929 he was beaten up by police and fined £10 for abusive language; he was also fined £5 for collecting for the Labor Strike Committee in the Domain. By 1932 he had a small radical bookshop at 30 George Street West (now Broadway) a drop-in centre for leftists from seamen to university students. On 27 September 1932 he spoke on “Why I am a revolutionary” to a raucous meeting at the Sydney University Labour Club. The Sane Democracy League labelled him a cocksparrow and “Champagne Charlie”.

Of the gaoled Wobblies, Reeve and “Comrade” Donald Grant were the only two to return to the Domain. Bob Bessant also remained politically active.

At the time of his death on 30 May 1942 at his Gymea Bay home, in the arms of a lover Ernest Guthrie, Reeve was a member of the Sydney Trades and Labour Council. Although he’d been critical of the CPA, his coffin was draped in the Red Flag. He was cremated at Rookwood.

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