Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Miller, Montague David (Monty) (1839–1920)

by Eric Fry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Montague David Miller (1839-1920), radical and labour organizer, known as Monty, was born on 7 July 1839 at Clarendon, Van Diemen's Land, son of Thomas Miller, carpenter, and his wife Elisabeth, née Passey. In childhood or youth he went to Victoria where he worked as a gold digger and claimed to have fought at the Eureka stockade. On 3 July 1862 he married Sarah Elizabeth Scott at Ballarat, where they lived for some years before moving to Melbourne. A carpenter, Miller was an active trade unionist and participant in the debates on democracy, protection, land and education which gripped the colony. He became a rationalist and thorough-going radical propagandist, a member of the Melbourne anarchist group.

Miller moved to Perth about 1897 and was soon prominent in labour circles as a militant unionist, and a founder of the Labor Church and the Social Democratic Federation. His motion, which was carried, at the 1902 Trades and Labor Congress of Western Australia urging 'establishment of an Industrial Commonwealth founded on collective ownership of land and capital and upon direct popular control of legislation and administration', marks him as a socialist. Disillusioned with the Labor Party, for which he had earlier worked, he embraced the principles of the Industrial Workers of the World—industrial unionism and direct action in the class struggle—when they became known in Australia from 1907. As a member of the I.W.W. he was tried in Perth in December 1916, found guilty of conspiracy, but released. He continued his court-room defiance outside, touring Australia condemning the war, and next year in Sydney was again sentenced to gaol for his membership of an illegal organization, and again released because of his age. The bitter divisions of World War I had brought him into greatest prominence at the end of his life. He died, as he wanted it known, with 'atheistic fortitude', in Perth on 17 November 1920 and was buried in the interdenominational section of Karrakatta cemetery, the mourners singing 'The Red Flag'. His wife, three daughters and one of his two sons survived him.

Miller was an outstanding example of a self-educated artisan of great intellectual powers. Supporting himself at his trade, he studied social sciences, humanities and natural sciences. His book, Labor's Road to Freedom (1920), acknowledges Plato and Shakespeare as well as Carlyle, Emerson and Ingersoll. In his last twenty years he became a Marxist, more mechanical than dialectical, stressing the economics of surplus value and exploitation, and the inevitable progression of stages of society succeeding each other as their modes of production evolved, to culminate in socialism. But he remained also a humanitarian and a rationalist. He is remarkable too as a lifelong revolutionary throughout Australia's most bourgeois age. His resolute search to find ways to transform society was the mainspring of his extraordinary vitality. His talents received little recognition but his life personified sixty years of radicalism and socialism in Australia.

Miller was tall and erect, in later years his hair and moustache white, his face grave and lined, his compassion and natural dignity evoking respect even from opponents. He was best remembered as a speaker, proclaiming with the eloquence of a prophet the vision of a better world and calling for action to bring it into being.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Fry, ‘Australian worker Monty Miller’, in E. Fry (ed), Rebels and Radicals (Syd, 1983), and for bibliography.

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Citation details

Eric Fry, 'Miller, Montague David (Monty) (1839–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/miller-montague-david-monty-7587/text13249, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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