Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lachberg, Maurice Derek (1905–1981)

by Michal Bosworth

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Maurice Derek Lachberg (1905-1981), trade unionist, communist and cabinet-maker, was born on 9 September 1905 at Mile End, London, son of Russian émigré Jews Raphael Lachberg, master builder, and his wife Sarah, née Stull.  His father died in 1906 and his mother remarried in 1909.  Next year the family migrated to Perth.  Although registered at birth as Morris, by 1926 he was calling himself Maurice Derek.

Leaving school at 13, Maurice worked in labouring jobs and as a shepherd before being apprenticed as a carpenter and joiner in Perth.  On 9 February 1926 at St Alban’s Church of England, Highgate Hill, he married Dorothy Gene Rickey, a typist.  He moved around the countryside in search of employment and in about 1929 joined the Communist Party of Australia.  At Geraldton in 1933 he met 'Paddy' Troy.  Next year at Kalgoorlie he reputedly witnessed the Australia Day race riots; he later spoke dismissively of 'pogromists' in that town.

Back in Perth, Lachberg was organiser of the Western Australian Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners’ Industrial Union of Workers and a member of the CPA’s Mount Hawthorn branch.  He also joined the Australian Labor Party; by 1935 he was a member of the ALP’s metropolitan district council and in 1937 of its peace committee.  A founding member (1935) of the Workers’ Art Guild, he acted in anti-fascist plays; he also supported the Movement against War and Fascism.  He and his friend Harald Vike [q.v.], whom he introduced to the CPA, lived in Trades Hall flats.  Lachberg had a flair for the dramatic:  as chief marshal of Labour Day celebrations in 1937-39 he insisted on wearing an embroidered sash and leading the procession on a white horse.  In 1938, with Troy, he helped to organise picket lines for a forty-hour week.  Divorced in 1939, on 30 January 1940 at the district registrar’s office, Perth, he married Olive Keiller, a commercial artist and fellow communist.

Lachberg was expelled from the ALP in 1941 because of his extreme left-wing views.  In 1941-42, during World War II, he spoke regularly at meetings convened on the Perth Esplanade, first as an anti-fascist and, after the Soviet Union had joined the Allies, in support of the Curtin government.  He campaigned for the opening of a second front and for the legalisation of the CPA.  He was secretary-organiser in 1942 of the Political Rights (for Victory) and Australia-Russia Relations committees.  In 1942-44 he served in Australia with No.26 Employment (later Works) Company, Militia.

Still active after the war in the carpenters’ union, he campaigned for a £1 rise in the weekly basic wage.  He and his wife established their own cabinet-making business at Osborne Park, and later moved further out of the city.  His business prospered after he began to create replicas of antique furniture.  Regarded as a master craftsman, he carved the panelling in St George’s Cathedral.  He resigned from the Communist Party in May 1947 but the Australian Security Intelligence Organization remained suspicious of him because the CPA continued to regard him as a 'friend'.

A member of the Osborne Park Ratepayers’ Association, in 1958-61 Lachberg sat on the Perth Road Board (from 1971 City of Stirling Council).  He supported local market gardeners who felt that high rates were 'pushing them out' of the area as it developed.  In 1960 he rejoined the ALP and, having moved to Mount Lawley, became a member of the local branch, where he campaigned for the establishment of an independent Western Australian branch of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.  In his later years, active in the peace movement, he became a member of the State branch of the Australian Peace Committee and a promoter of the Indian Ocean zone of peace.

In the 1970s Lachberg became a minor property developer when he built fifteen home units at Maylands.  Made a life member of the Building Workers’ Industrial Union of Australia, he retained his seat on the ALP State Executive until his death.  He died on 29 November 1981 at Nedlands and was cremated.  His wife and their two daughters, and the son of his first marriage, survived him.  A son of the second marriage had predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Layman and J. Goddard, Organise!, 1988
  • W. S. Cooper and G. McDonald, Diversity’s Challenge, 1999
  • B. Oliver, Unity is Strength, 2003
  • Countryman (Perth), 29 October 1959, p 19
  • Western Mail (Perth), 28 November 1981, p 14
  • West Australian, 2 December 1981, p 23
  • S. Reid, interview with O. Lachberg (1988, State Library of Western Australia)
  • A6119, item 1942 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michal Bosworth, 'Lachberg, Maurice Derek (1905–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lachberg-maurice-derek-14016/text24953, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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