Frederick John Riley (1886–1970) was born at Stirling, South Australia, and attended the Hindmarsh State School. He left school at the age of 12 and worked as a labourer in several states. His father had been a trade unionist and Australian Labor Party activist and Riley took part in many socialist and anti-conscriptionist meetings and demonstrations. In 1916 he became secretary of the Victorian council of the Australian Peace Alliance and was founding member of the Y Club, a Melbourne discussion group of socialists and rationalists. He helped negotiate the settlement of the 1919 waterfront dispute and collected evidence on behalf of the trade unions for the Royal Commission on the Basic Wage. In 1922 he became secretary of the Manufacturing Grocers Employees Federation of Australia and of its Victorian branch. He remained in this position, with an office in the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, until his retirement in 1961.

Riley was a leading figure in the labour movement for 50 years. He was president of the Trades Hall Council in 1931–32 and president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1941–42. He was a member of the Victorian Advisory Committee on Price Fixing (1939–54). An anti-communist from the 1930s onwards, he became aligned with the Democratic Labor Party in 1955 and was its Victorian president in 1960–61. He stood for Parliament on four occasions, but was unsuccessful.

Riley had a lifelong interest in the history of the Australian labour movement. He claimed that, as a young man, he had been unable to find documents on Australia’s industrial history and ever since then he collected printed and manuscript records with the intention of placing them in libraries. He acquired records extending back to the earliest years of the Australian Labor Party and he was equally interested in current records, particularly printed ephemera that were often overlooked by libraries. For many years he sent consignments to the National Library, Mitchell Library and State Library of Victoria and at one stage they were being despatched from the Trades Hall every few weeks. The collecting diminished a little after his retirement, but instalments were received up to 1970, the year of his death.


Riley donated instalments of his collection every year between 1947 and 1970. He bequeathed his books to the Library, excluding those required by his wife, and a collection of about 900 books was received in 1972.


Printed Materials

The central strength of the Riley Collection is the pamphlets and printed ephemera documenting the Australian labour movement from the 1890s to the 1960s. There are many thousands of pamphlets, booklets, leaflets, speeches, brochures, magazines, reports and other documents issued by the Australian Labor Party, the Democratic Labor Party, the Communist Party of Australia, various socialist parties, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, trades and labour councils, trade unions, peace organisations and many other organisations. The period 1940–60 is especially well covered.

The subject range of the collection is even broader, as it includes election material issued by parties of every complexion, booklets and other publications produced by companies, non-government organisations, pressure groups and official bodies, and pamphlets of political parties and other organisations in overseas countries.

The books bequeathed by Riley mostly date from 1880 to 1950 and cover a wide range of subjects: religion, history, biography, socialism, Marxism, industrial relations, trade unions, economic theory, public finance, medicine and shorthand. There are also a number of novels and some poetry. There are a small number of Australian publications by such authors as Frank Dalby Davison, Edward Dyson, Miles Franklin, Muriel Heagney, H.B. Higgins, A.W. Jose, E.H. Lane, J.K. McDougall, Walter Murdoch, Bernard O’Dowd, Lloyd Ross, J.T. Sutcliffe and Henry Wrixon.


Riley was assiduous in collecting records as well as printed material. Archives of several political and industrial organisations are subsumed within his collection: the Manufacturing Grocers Employees Federation of Australia (1915–56), the Melbourne Trades Hall Council (1888–1950), the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party (1915–49), the Victorian Executive of the Australian Labor Party (1928–51), the Coburg, Collingwood, Fitzroy and South Carlton branches of the Australian Labor Party (1913–55), the Socialist Federation of Australia (1910), the Democratic Labor Party (1958–66), the Y Club (1918–41) and the Wharf Labourers’ Women and Children’s Relief Committee (1919).

Photographs and Artefacts

The collection includes a small number of photographs of political and trade union conferences, Eight Hour Day marches (1909–10), anti-conscription meetings (1916), workers on strike, the Prendergast Ministry in Victoria (1924) and other subjects. One of the highlights of the collection is a small portion of the Eureka Flag, flown at the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat in 1854. It was offered to Riley by the custodian of the flag when Riley was visiting Ballarat in 1912.

Personal Papers

The papers of Riley include personal and official correspondence (1921–52), material on the Australian Peace Alliance and the anti-conscription campaign (1916–17), letters and cuttings about the 1919 federal election, when Riley was defeated by S.M. Bruce in the seat of Flinders, papers relating to his work for the Commonwealth and Victorian governments on price control (1939–54), speeches made by Riley when he was state president of the Democratic Labor Party, invitations, programs and scrapbooks (1907–24). There are also some papers and a scrapbook of his father Frederick Riley, and letters and papers (1917–19) of Alice Warburton, whom Riley later married.


The books, serials and pamphlets in the Riley Collection have been catalogued individually. The books and serials have been integrated into the Australian and general collections. The pamphlets have been kept together as a formed collection with the prefix RIL. Collection level records have been created for leaflets and more ephemeral material.

The manuscripts, personal papers and some of the photographs are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 759. A finding aid is available online at Other photographs and the Eureka Flag are held in the Pictures Collection.

Related Collection

The Riley and Ephemera Collection, which was begun by Riley, is held in the La Trobe Library in the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.


Bongiorno, Frank, Frederick John Riley, Australian Dictionary of Biography online

Healey, Bede, ;Menzies Praises Union Official, Herald (Melbourne), 22 December 1961, p. 9.

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)