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Thursday 25 April 2024

Chipping Away for the Workers. Reg Bailey and his Imperial Good Companion Typewriter

Today, April 25, is Anzac Day, and many New Zealanders will be honouring their war dead. But one brave New Zealander, who died on Anzac Day in 1963, will not be remembered. All that remains to remind us of this man’s life is his Imperial Good Companion portable typewriter and its (appropriately) bright red case, which are in Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand). Reginald John “Chip” Bailey was the target of numerous police raids in the days of a “Red Scare” which mirrored McCarthyism in the United States. Bailey was a communist activist and trade unionist who used his Imperial to type daily clandestine news bulletins, leaflets and pamphlets in his home in Wellington during the 1951 waterfront lockout. It was an offence to print or publish anything that supported the workers. All means of communicating in a democratic society were forbidden – publications, news articles, picketing, marches, processions, meetings, posters. Police ransacked Bailey's home searching for the typewriter, but failed to find where it was hidden. It sat behind a false panel on top of the pantry. Historians have since estimated the typewriter helped produce 650,000 bulletins and 400,000 pamphlets and leaflets.
Bailey was born on March 16, 1921, in Blenheim. Because of his independence of mind he was expelled from the Communist Party in the late 1940s. He was an avid sports fan but strongly opposed sporting contact with South Africa. He died of a brain tumour in Dunedin Hospital, aged 42. Bailey’s death robbed the trade union movement of one of its most able leaders. Contemporaries described him as an outstanding intellectual who was ahead of his time.