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Bacon, Eva (1909–1994)

by Deborah Jordan

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Eva Bacon (1909–1994), dress designer, political activist, and feminist, was born on 1 October 1909 in Vienna, eldest of three children and only daughter of Hungarian-born Heinrich Goldner (d. 1937), commercial traveller, and his Czech-born wife Camilla, née Pollak. Heinrich was orthodox but Camilla was liberal in their Judaism. She was the more influential parent, endeavouring to transmit her firm and independent moral code to her children. In the classroom and with private tutors, Eva excelled at arts, languages, and music, and topped her school overall. At a time of growing anti-Semitism, a teacher helped her to reconcile herself with her heritage by pointing out that being Jewish meant striving to be honest and considerate and seeking knowledge and understanding. Her parents could not afford to send her to university so, reflecting her mother’s belief in the value of a trade, she studied dressmaking at a state technical college. After graduating and gaining experience as an employee, she set up her own business in the family flat, designing and making clothes.

An atheist, Goldner came to believe that only socialism would ensure world peace, eliminate anti-Semitism, and provide for all working people. She joined the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria’s youth organisation. When the party was declared illegal in 1934, she continued, with characteristic courage, to distribute its publications and take part in study groups. She also became active in International Workers’ (Red) Aid, which assisted victims of fascism. Following the Anschluss (1938), with her brothers abroad, she and her mother managed to gain permission to travel to Britain in January 1939. One brother, Fritz (Freddy), had migrated to Australia the previous year and was able to sponsor their onward passages. They arrived in Brisbane in February 1939. World War II broke out in September. Her other brother, Johann (John), would join the family from Argentina in 1948.

In Brisbane, Goldner continued to work as a dress designer and cutter. She became treasurer of a fund-raising organisation for Jewish refugees. In 1941 she joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA; Australian Communist Party, 1944–51), then an illegal organisation. On 3 May 1944 at the general registry office, Brisbane, she married Edwin (Ted) Alexander Bacon (d. 1995), who was serving in the Australian Imperial Force; a fellow communist, he would become a full-time organiser of the CPA. Until her husband’s army service ended in 1946, Eva Bacon devoted her time to the welfare committee of the CPA. Its role was to communicate with communists in the armed services and sustain their morale. The office became a hub of radical activity in Queensland. Bacon travelled on organising trips, and was empowered to run discussions and social events, and deal with problems. As a young mother after the war, she worked at the community level through the CPA’s Enoggera branch.

The CPA suggested that Bacon become involved in the Union of Australian Women (UAW) and, after initial misgivings, she joined in 1950. She helped to build the union (State secretary, 1972–80) and to foster its wide-ranging platform that included women’s right to work, equal pay and conditions, affordable childcare, and Aboriginal and Islander rights. In 1952, as a UAW delegate, she returned to Vienna for the International Conference in Defence of Children. From 1954 to 1974 she was the secretary of the Brisbane International Women’s Day Committee.

Bacon wrote for the communist press and was a dedicated member of the CPA’s State committee and its women's collective, often mediating between the committee and the younger, more radical members of the collective. With the emergence of Women’s Liberation in the late 1960s, she thought her way through to feminism, while reaffirming her belief that only once socialism was achieved would women achieve equality. Meanwhile, she argued that the ‘consciousness raising activities’ of Women’s Liberation groups had the ‘potential of helping to create new human beings,’ and could ‘help women to gain a new world’ (Bacon 1972). She assisted in establishing the Socialist Feminist Forum, among other offshoots.

Representing the UAW, Bacon gave evidence to the 1973 Commission of Inquiry into the Status of Women in Queensland and attended the 1975 International Women’s Year Tribune held in Mexico City. She was also active in People for Nuclear Disarmament, the Women’s Electoral Lobby, and the Women and Labour national conferences. When her daughter, Barbara, suffered mental-health difficulties, in the 1980s she joined the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill.

Only five feet (152 cm) tall, Bacon was nicknamed ‘Mighty Mouse’ (Chappell 1993, 16). She enjoyed the mutual support of a group of similarly dedicated and talented women, notably Doris Webb, Jessie Ferguson, and Connie Healy. Sociable, she made friends easily and, a good cook, entertained well. She did translations and loved classical music and the songs of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Survived by her husband and their daughter, she died on 23 July 1994 at Kangaroo Point; her body was received at the University of Queensland’s department of anatomical sciences. An obituary extolled her ‘warmth, sharp political mind, remarkable vitality and fighting spirit’ (Age 1994, 16). (Dame) Quentin Bryce described her as inspirational. Bacon Street in the Canberra suburb of Denman Prospect commemorates her. The Fryer Library, University of Queensland, holds a collection of her and her husband’s papers.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 30 August 1994, 16
  • Bacon, Eva. Handwritten Notes Re. Women’s Liberation and Communism, 1972. Papers of Eva and Ted Bacon, [195–]–1992, UQFL241, box 4. Fryer Library, University of Queensland
  • Chappell, Fiona. ‘Mighty Mouse on Battle Lines.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 19 November 1993, 16
  • Fryer, Library, University of Queensland. UQFL241, Papers of Eva and Ted Bacon, [195–]–1992
  • Fryer, Library, University of Queensland. UQFL193, Union of Australian Women records, 1930s–1998
  • Healy, Connie. ‘Eva’s Story.’ Queensland Journal of Labour History 8 (March 2009): 9–18
  • Goldner, Richard. Personal communication
  • Young, Pam. Daring to Take a Stand: The Story of the Union of Australian Women in Queensland. Wavell Heights, Qld: Pam Young and the Queensland Branch of the Union of Australian Women, 1998

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Deborah Jordan, 'Bacon, Eva (1909–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/bacon-eva-21459/text31766, accessed 28 May 2018.

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