New angles and long walks: TUTA and international education networks

by Alice Garner

Trawling through the archives of the Australian Trade Union Training Authority, it soon became apparent that there was a significant regional and international dimension to TUTA’s work. The Authority was created with domestic union capacity building as its primary focus, but its development was informed by international examples of union education, and its staff brought their own pre-existing connections to labour networks around the world into TUTA’s state centres and national training college.

Clyde Cameron College, in Wodonga, hosted hundreds of international visitors over its years of operation. They came to see TUTA in action and to contribute to union training courses and resource building. TUTA staff also developed and ran courses for unionists from around the Asia-Pacific, which led to the strengthening of regional labour networks. These courses took place regularly at the College, but were also sometimes run offshore. When TUTA was shut down in 1996, the loss was felt keenly beyond Australia’s borders.

In late 2022, we were invited by David Lowe (Deakin University), Kate Darian-Smith (University of Tasmania), Jon Piccini (Australian Catholic University) and Melanie Oppenheimer (ANU) to participate in an Australian Academy of the Social Sciences workshop called Post Pandemic Positions: Australian NGOs and Education in a Century of Internationalism: Students, Experts and Friends. Although TUTA, being a Commonwealth statutory authority, was not strictly speaking an NGO, we thought the story of the Authority’s active engagement in union education in the Asia-Pacific region offered an unexpected angle on international education, one that complemented the work of NGO education bodies but that would be likely to go unnoticed. TUTA worked closely with a range of NGOs over its lifetime, and it facilitated forms of educational exchange, especially through its intensive international courses, where participants from a range of countries came together to share knowledge and develop skills in labour activism, negotiation, advocacy, communications and more.

We especially thank former TUTA trainers and College staff whose interviews informed this article, including Raghwan Raghwan, Jenny Luck, Phil Drew, Jill Biddington and Fran Hayes. We also wish to express our sadness at the recent loss of Fran Hayes, who gave a great deal to this research project through her interviews, regular phone conversations and efforts to connect us with other former TUTA staff.

A raised tubular concrete walkway lit from within and from behind, with night sky and bare trees overhead and an open passageway beneath.
Clyde Cameron College at night c 1980. By John Gollings

If you’d like to find out more about the international education dimension of TUTA’s work, you can read the article we have just published in the History of Education Review, as part of a special issue that arose from the Post Pandemic Positions workshop. Tip: search for this article through your state or local or university library catalogue to gain free access.

Garner, A., Leahy, M., Forsyth, A. and Burns, R. (2024), “New angles and long walks: building regional networks through union education”, History of Education Review, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.