EMIL VOIGT: the man behind the birth of radio station 2KY
by Robin Voigt
Part 2 of 5
The Clarion Movement
During the early 1900s in England Voigt had become involved with the Independent Labor Party and joined the Clarion Movement and the Vegetarian Cycling Club. He joined members cycling around England distributing the socialist newspaper The Clarion and spreading the message of socialism to towns and villages. This was a period of depression in trade, unemployment was rife and people were hungry. Clarion vans were used to dispense food to the starving unemployed, and numerous Clarion clubhouses had sprung up throughout the north of England providing shelter and a congenial atmosphere of comradeship for underprivileged workers. Voigt’s involvement in the Clarion Movement gave him a strong belief in social reform for the working class and later shaped his career in politics.
He had shares in the Manchester Clarion Café which was founded in 1908 and which became a well known meeting place for members of the Labor movement, including Prime Ministers and others who served in the Labor Cabinets. Scores of notable names were associated with the Clarion – writers such as Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and William Morris were frequent visitors and speakers there, journalists and prominent actors such as Sybil Thorndike dined there. The café was pulled down in the 1930s but there are still two Clarion houses remaining in England today.
First trips to Australia
Voigt emigrated to Australia in 1911, arriving in Melbourne in June of that year and he started Voigt and King, mechanical engineers (acetylene and electrical welders) at Armadale in Victoria. He continued his athletic career in Australia and was invited to give a number of lectures on ‘modern athletics’ where he talked about the importance of diet (the effect of food on the muscular system, energy foods, body-building foods); massage (self-massage, massage and joints, massage and digestion); and training (cinder versus grass tracks, the differing training methods employed in America, England and Australia).
On 5 September 1913 at East Melbourne Registry Office he married Minnie Boardman, whom he had met in Salford, England. One month later they moved to Sydney, living at Five Dock and Maroubra, but left for England in April 1914 just prior to the outbreak of war. They travelled back to England as third class passengers on the N.D.L. Roon; his wife was heavily pregnant at the time. The British fleet was assembling in Portsmouth and Southampton just as Voigt and his young wife sailed into port; their first son Rion was born just one week later.
During the next few years they lived in Manchester in England where Voigt ran a welding and brazing works during World War 1. It was a huge factory employing hundreds of workers, with practically all the welders being women. At first they made steel drums then began manufacturing aircraft parts, in particular oil gauges. When the war ended the factory closed down and Voigt came back to Australia.
While in England, two of Voigt’s three sons were born – Rion, who became a well known radio personality in Australia, New Zealand and England; Elmer, an engineer; and later the youngest Eric, a mechanic, was born in Australia.
In 1921 when Voigt returned to Australia with his young family he set up home in Sydney. He first went to live with his cousin Tom Shallcross in Cabarita, then moved to Dee Why. He purchased land there and designed their beautiful Moorish-style home in Sturdee Parade. Sadly this house has now been pulled down to make way for high-rise apartments.
When gold turns to Red
On his arrival back in Australia Voigt came under the scrutiny of the Australian Secret Service who reported that “He is a man of very communistic and socialistic beliefs, who has been travelling around Europe a good deal in the past 2 or 3 years. It is suggested that he is acting for the Jen Bolshevist element which is seeking to poison the world. If so he is a very dangerous person to have in Australia”. To further illustrate the paranoia of the Establishment at that time, the report added suspiciously “He is practically a vegetarian and uses a Corona typewriter”.
Even the fact that he was a vegetarian came under suspicion, with the Secret Service reporting to the Attorney-General that “Voigt has been a consistent vegetarian for the past 16 years and has a fixed hostility to the killing of any living thing”.
Emil Voigt joined the New South Wales Labor Council as a senior researcher and adviser. He was the instigator of the Labor Council’s Research and Information Bureau at Trades Hall as a centre for union information gathering to help unions remain on top of industry trends.
He became known as one of the ‘Trades Hall Reds’, the feared opponents of the conservatives. At an economic conference in March 1922 he clashed with Billy Hughes, and in April that year at a University of Sydney union meeting debated W. A. Holman and D. R. Hall supporting revolution. Together with Jock Garden and Albert Willis, Voigt was denounced as an “extremist of the extremest kind”.
One of Voigt’s overly suspicious neighbours reported to the federal authorities that he believed that he was planning revolution and amassing weapons at his Dee Why home. He reported that he had seen cases of ammunition being delivered to Voigt’s home, Voigt working late into the night making machine gun stands, and trucks with red flags coming and going from the property.
However this turned out to be quite misguided – the supposed ammunition boxes were later found to be radio parts for radio sets Voigt was building in his spare time (remember that Voigt was President of the Radio Manufacturers Association of New South Wales), the machine gun stands were nothing more than a cockie’s perch Voigt had bought at Nock and Kirbys (a hardware store in the centre of Sydney) and the trucks with red flags were driven by Council workers who were simply repairing the road beside Voigt’s property.
During his years in Australia Voigt continued to be observed by the Federal Government. He was accused by some of being a Communist emissary from London, sent here to play a part in the infiltration of Communism into the structure of Labor. In reality he believed in a united front where Communists, Socialists and Labor could work together.
By this time Voigt had become private secretary to the Honorable A. C. Willis, who was President of the NSW Legislative Council. When there were rumblings within the Ministry that Voigt should be dismissed for his revolutionary views, Willis stood by him. He came to his defence, declaring that he was a “Britisher, honest, straightforward, sincere and capable”, and said that if Voigt was sacked then he would go too.
A close watch was still maintained on Voigt and Secret Service reports stated that he was about to leave for the USA, but that his main intention was to visit Russia on this trip. The reports declared that he was very interested in the Red Sports International, an organisation consisting of members from the ranks of the Proletariat who were joining many of the large European sports organisations to propagate their ideas.
Research and writing
In 1923 with his family in tow, Voigt left for Los Angeles, USA, to further his business interests and to investigate the new medium of radio. He never went to Russia. He lived in Santa Monica for two years, establishing an engineering business there, taking over a company supplying and installing oil-fired central heating systems.
While in the United States he investigated industrial, social and health matters on behalf of the Labor Council. He was particularly interested in radio and impressed by its use in the USA to cover industrial struggle and the presidential elections. He could see the big picture and on his return to Australia planned to persuade the State’s union bosses to invest in their own station.
A good deal of his expenses in the United States were met from the proceeds of sporting articles he wrote for Australian papers. He also wrote a sports column for the Hearst chain of newspapers, which was syndicated to 64 papers.
He wrote a number of books throughout his lifetime, on nutrition, sport and politics. In 1912 he started the ‘Olympic self-massage course’ and published Self-massage: The Way to Greater Health, Virility and Happiness. One of his other passions, linked to his sporting past, was wrestling. He wrote Modern Wrestling Holds in 1933. During his time with Labor he wrote: Control of Industry: From Arbitration to Industrial Councils (1922); Labor’s Answer to Bruce: Why the Labor Movement Should Vote No (1926); 1929 Lock-out in the Timber Industry: History of the Struggle of the Timber Workers and the NSW Trade Union Movement against Capitalism’s Shock Attack on the Workers, the Lukin Award (1930): and Menace of Rationalisation: Showing the Need For Shorter Working Week (1930).
Robin Voigt is the granddaughter of Emil Voigt.
Five members of her family were prominent in early Australian radio.
Her father Rion Voigt was an announcer with 2KY for more than 40 years, joining the station at the age of 17 in 1932. He trained with the BBC and also worked in New Zealand with 2ZA, 2ZB and 5ZB.
Her grandmother Mrs Eunice Stelzer joined 2GB at its beginning in 1926 working there for 22 years as an announcer and musical advisor. She was a popular and well known figure, founding the 2GB Happiness Club which gave assistance to people in need during the Depression years and also founding the Eurobodalla Homes.
Her grandfather William Stelzer worked at 2GB as well, in charge of the station’s advertising for 20 years.
Her aunt Joy Moorhouse started work at 2GB at the age of 15 in 1932 and worked there for 50 years. She was the station’s first receptionist and telephonist and later went on to work with many famous names as a producer of the first open line/talkback programmes in 1966.
Robin lives in Sydney and is a graphic designer, illustrator and writer.
Copyright © 2006 Robin Voigt
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