Father of the Fair Go

Maurice Blackburn – the name might be familiar but the life and times less so.

A range of esteemed leaders – politicians, union bosses, academics, historians, lawyers – come together in Father of the Fair Go to share their admiration, knowledge and wonder of Maurice Blackburn, a thoroughly unique individual in Australian political and social history. 

Using archival footage, animated graphics and a diverse range of interviews, Father of the Fair Go patches together a portrait of a man who is lesser known than he should be. It provides an opportunity for viewers to learn about his contribution to Australia’s political and industrial landscape and his legacy. 

Born 1880, Maurice Blackburn’s worldview was defined by ideals of fairness, justice and equality. From a young age, he noticed the disparity between rich and poor and a fire burned within him his whole life to correct this injustice. As a university student, Maurice’s political ideas became clearer. He joined the Socialist Party first and then later the Labor Party in order to play a role in state and federal politics. 

Believing that everyone was equal before the law regardless of their social standing, it is not surprising that Maurice went on to practice the law and use instruments of the law to tip the scales of justice toward those who were most disadvantaged, such as workers and the poor. 

Through his legal firm, Maurice Blackburn & Co., Maurice worked closely with trade unions and workers themselves, providing pro bono advice on a regular basis, to reform industrial law and to defend workers’ rights. During this time, he became known as a highly skilled negotiator, resolving one of Australia’s longest running strikes – the Seamen’s Strike of 1919. 

Driven by the desire to effect societal change on a broader scale, Maurice entered politics at several stages in his life. He held seats in both state and federal parliament, and while these stints allowed him to fight for important causes, they were also marred by the grubby nature of politics whether it be preselection battles or the conflict between Maurice and official Labor Party policy. Maurice found himself at odds with the Party on several occasions and was ultimately expelled from the Labor Party in 1941, marking the beginning of his stint as an Independent. 

Maurice lived through a turbulent era that included Federation, two World Wars and the Depression. These major historical events threw up questions and issues that Maurice responded to with passion and principle. One of these was conscription, which he opposed his whole political career, much to the dismay of the Labor Party apparatchiki. He also maintained uncompromising stances on war and fascism, which also put him at odds with Labor policy. In his refusal to kowtow to official Party policy, Maurice represents a paragon of political office that puts principle over pragmatism.

Of equal importance in Maurice’s life was his marriage to Doris Hordern, a first-wave feminist, campaigner and activist. Not surprisingly, they met on the campaign trail and formed a couple at a time when the Australian intelligentsia was inspired by the theories and ideals of feminism and socialism. To many, their union saw the formation of a formidable ‘power couple’. 

Maurice’s achievements include resolving some of Australia’s largest ever industrial disputes, reforming industrial law, laying the foundations of the civil libertarian movement and establishing a law firm renowned for its social justice agenda that continues to this very day.

What are the lessons we can take from Maurice’s life? Father of the Fair Go highlights the way political parties are large-scale organisations that achieve consensus through compromise and majority view whereby undiluted, ‘radical’ ideas are jettisoned. All his life, Blackburn bucked this trend and was consequently labelled a ‘maverick’.

After viewing this documentary, one is left with the stirring question:  what do you believe in and to what extent will you fight for these beliefs?


This documentary is suited to Years 9 and 10, in the following learning areas: English, History and Civics and Citizenship. It addresses a number of standards in these areas as well as the general capability Critical and Creative Thinking. Relevant standards for each learning area follow. 

English (Year 9)

  • Analyse and explain the use of symbols, icons and myth in still and moving images and how these augment meaning (ACELA1560) 
  • Create literary texts, including hybrid texts, that innovate on aspects of other texts, for example by using parody, allusion and appropriation (ACELT1773)
  • Analyse how the construction and interpretation of texts, including media texts, can be influenced by cultural perspectives and other texts (ACELY1739)
  • Listen to spoken texts constructed for different purposes, for example to entertain and to persuade, and analyse how language features of these texts position listeners to respond in particular ways (ACELY1740)
  • Use interaction skills to present and discuss an idea and to influence and engage an audience by selecting persuasive language, varying voice tone, pitch, and pace, and using elements such as music and sound effects (ACELY1811)
  • Plan, rehearse and deliver presentations, selecting and sequencing appropriate content and multimodal elements for aesthetic and playful purposes (ACELY1741)
  • Interpret, analyse and evaluate how different perspectives of issue, event, situation, individuals or groups are constructed to serve specific purposes in texts (ACELY1742)
  • Use comprehension strategies to interpret and analyse texts, comparing and evaluating representations of an event, issue, situation or character in different texts (ACELY1744)
  • Explore and explain the combinations of language and visual choices that authors make to present information, opinions and perspectives in different texts (ACELY1745)
  • Create imaginative, informative and persuasive texts that present a point of view and advance or illustrate arguments, including texts that integrate visual, print and/or audio features (ACELY1746)
  • Review and edit students’ own and others’ texts to improve clarity and control over content, organisation, paragraphing, sentence structure, vocabulary and audio/visual features (ACELY1747)

English (Year 10)

  • Analyse and explain how text structures, language features and visual features of texts and the context in which texts are experienced may influence audience response (ACELT1641) 
  • Evaluate the social, moral and ethical positions represented in texts (ACELT1812)
  • Create literary texts with a sustained ‘voice’, selecting and adapting appropriate text structures, literary devices, language, auditory and visual structures and features for a specific purpose and intended audience (ACELT1815) 
  • Analyse and evaluate how people, cultures, places, events, objects and concepts are represented in texts, including media texts, through language, structural and/or visual choices (ACELY1749)
  • Use organisation patterns, voice and language conventions to present a point of view on a subject, speaking clearly, coherently and with effect, using logic, imagery and rhetorical devices to engage audiences (ACELY1813)
  • Create sustained texts, including texts that combine specific digital or media content, for imaginative, informative, or persuasive purposes that reflect upon challenging and complex issues(ACELY1756)

History (Year 9)

  • The emergence and nature of significant economic, social and political ideas in the period, including nationalism (ACOKFH019) 
  • The emergence and nature of key ideas in the period, with a particular focus on ONE of the following: capitalism, socialism, egalitarianism, nationalism, imperialism, Darwinism, Chartism (ACDSEH019)
  • Living and working conditions in Australia around the turn of the twentieth century (that is 1900) (ACDSEH090)
  • An overview of the causes of World War I and the reasons why men enlisted to fight in the war (ACDSEH021) 
  • Use chronological sequencing to demonstrate the relationship between events and developments in different periods and places (ACHHS164)
  • Use historical terms and concepts (ACHHS165)
  • Identify and select different kinds of questions about the past to inform historical inquiry (ACHHS166) 

Civics and Citizenship (Year 9)

  • The role of political parties and independent representatives in Australia’s system of government, including the formation of governments (ACHCK075)
  • How and why individuals and groups, including religious groups, participate in and contribute to civic life (ACHCK079

Civics and Citizenship (Year 10)

  • The challenges to and ways of sustaining a resilient democracy and cohesive society (ACHCK094) 

Father of the Fair Go Study Guide is available at ATOM.