Person - Spence Barden

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SPENCER JOHN BARDEN (1886 - 1974)

Spence Barden, a WAC member in 1932 and a NT Life Member by 1966, remained connected with the theatre until his death. At 36 Pitt Street and 167 Castlereagh Street he was the first person the audience met as they reached the top of the stairs where his box office table was set up. Spence's usual routine was to go home early after delivering the takings to the NT office. Tall, lean and very polite, he was adept at getting the two shillings "donation" on Sundays when it was illegal to charge admission. In 1944, when the City Council wanted to shut down the theatre at 167 Castlereagh Street, NT paid Spence's costs after he received a court summons under the Public Halls Act for selling tickets in a hall unlicensed for public entertainment.

A regular marcher, Spence attended his last May Day Committee reception in 1973. He was at the Anzac Day 1954 closing night performance of the Reedy River season. In 1970 he had a "wonderful trip" to Melbourne where he caught up with Vic Arnold : "most enjoyable". Spence regularly sent the theatre money via his "old dear" Miriam Hampson. In 1972 he tried to extract a contribution to NT from Australian Workers Union (AWU) President Tom Doughty on the basis that some funds dating back to 1910 should be repaid.

Spence near the end of his life gave his occupation as salesman, but he started his working life as a shearer. During the 1906 season at Toorali Station on the Darling River he met some of the men released from gaol after the 1894 shearers' strike: Jack Graham, Arthur Ray, Dick Sleath, Nugget Gutteridge and Dolf Williams. Around a campfire Spence was given a firsthand account of the burning near Swan Hill of the paddle steamer Rodney bringing a load of scabs up the river. At Toorali he also met AWU organiser Donald McDonald whose special mission was setting up a Labor daily newspaper. Spence joined the AWU and contributed to the newspaper levy struck on the membership as he moved from shed to shed in Queensland and western NSW. However with the outbreak of war the newspaper never eventuated. It was these levies that Spence in 1972 wanted reimbursed. Whether he was successful is unknown.

Spence became a union official and in 1916 was charged at Moree with instigating a strike by workers of the Werriwa Contract Shearing Company. He was privy to the illegal activity of NSW AWU President Jack Bailey, a street fighter determined to maintain his position by fair means or foul. In the 1920s Bailey was implicated in ballot fraud. He used a ballot box fitted with a sliding panel meaning you could tamper with the votes in the box without tampering with the lock.

Of interest to ASIO, reports on Spence were filed at B/59/3. His long-term address was at Malabar. On his death NT sent messages of sympathy to his son Jack and family. The Maroubra branch of the CPA held a memorial gathering, officiated by Sam Lewis, and sent $30 to NT as a donation in his memory.



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