Woman Fraser, Val
- Communist and Feminist
Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne
Born in Brisbane on April 5, 1909 Val Fraser was an 'outstanding member of the Communist Part of Queensland' (Outside the Mould). A clothing worker by trade, she was active on state, district and section committees of the CPQ, particularly in the 1940s and 50s, and a member of the women's auxiliary of the Queensland Trades and Labour Council. She was outspoken in her support for John Curtin and his 'vigorous prosecution' of the war against Fascism in the 1940s (Communist Party) and convinced of the 'decisive part' all women, but communist women in particular, must play in the post war world. Their 'leadership and guidance' was crucial to reconstruction (Australian Communist Party - Women's Committee).
Anyone who saw Fraser in action, particularly as a public speaker, was impressed by her. A paid party functionary and organiser, she was keenly sought after at political rallies, where promotional brochures described her as 'the woman orator' (Outside the Mould). Indeed, the Commonwealth Investigation Service Officer responsible for observing her activities described her as 'definitely a force to be reckoned with. She has the fanaticism of a "good" communist, is a forceful dramatic speaker and has the power to lead and sway a body of people' (Australian Communist Party - Women's Committee). She was not, however, blindly subservient to the party line and insisted that theoretical generalisations were not enough to sway the average Queensland worker. At a CPA meeting where someone quoted Stalin's description of communists as ' "people of a special mould". Val tartly retorted, "try telling that to any factory gate meeting and see how you get on"' (Outside the Mould).
Fraser's version of equality for women within the communist party was not one approved of by all her comrades. 'She didn't fit the imaginary picture of the earnest communist woman', recalled her friend Kath Thomas. Put simply, she was not prepared to accept what the male members told her to do, especially with regard to matters relating to the welfare of women. She wanted to play an active role in developing women's policy, rather than simply 'passing on to women workers policies that had been worked out for male workers' (Outside the Mould). She insisted that programs be put in place to help develop women leaders in the party. Women, she said, 'have to fight in an organised way to win their demands' (Australian Communist Party - Women's Committee). Fraser was also outspoken in her views on the treatment of indigenous Papuans, and she railed against their treatment at the hands of missionaries and large corporations. 'A tax should be levied on all companies working on the islands,' she argued, 'and the money used exclusively for the benefit of the natives' (Australian Communist Party - Women's Committee).
Her outspokenness on some issues saw her marginalised at times so Fraser left her paid work in the CPA and returned to the clothing trade. When she worked in industry, she battled with the officials of her own union, the conservative Clothing Trades Union. One apocryphal tale has her leading a small group of women into confrontation with the officials, armed with an umbrella. She was never a passive participant at demonstrations. A confirmed heckler she would stand at the feet of anyone whose message she disapproved of in an attempt to put them off. '"Your petticoat is showing love"' she taunted one right-wing woman with at a speech at Centenary Place. '"And your stocking is laddered"' she added as she ran her fingernail down the woman's stocking (Outside the Mould).
Fraser died from cancer in 1965. Her friend, Kath Thomas, remembered her as a woman who loved fun, parties and 'convivial get togethers'. Writing in 1983, she said 'Val should have lived now. She would have loved to take part in feminist activities; she would have helped younger women and enjoyed working with them. Thinking of her, I realise how lucky are we, of her generation, who have lived to see the beginning of great changes' (Outside the Mould).
National Archives of Australia
- Thomas, Kath, 'Outside the Mould', Join Hands, Winter/Spring, pp. 11-13. Details
- 'Communist Party', The Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser (Queensland), 18 June 1943, p. 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article77418085. Details