Protests, activism & dissent in Victoria

Research the history of activism, protests, rallies and campaigners in Victoria using pamphlets, posters, badges, images, articles, interviews and books.

What is ephemera?

'Ephemera' describes printed objects, like leaflets or paste-up posters, that are designed to be thrown away after one use. When ephemeral items are collected and saved, they offer a window into the events, beliefs and design styles of a point in time. The Library's Riley & Ephemera Collection includes lots of ephemeral items showcasing the political and social life of Victoria.

Political ephemera at State Library Victoria

The Library's Riley & Ephemera Collection includes leaflets, posters, stickers and badges, which counterbalance the views reported in more mainstream sources such as newspapers

The earliest items in the collection date from the 1890s. Most items date from the 1970s onwards.

While attempts are made to collect from all points of view, the collection has a radical bias, reflecting the nature of the organisations that rely on generating publicity through the distribution of leaflets and handbills. The collection is especially strong in such subjects as:

  • Aboriginal rights
  • abortion
  • Central America
  • conscription (World War 1 and Vietnam)
  • conservation
  • elections
  • gay rights (usually filed under 'homosexuality' or 'lesbianism')   
  • land rights
  • May Day
  • Middle East
  • nuclear war
  • political parties
  • racism
  • trade unions
  • women’s rights

Find ephemera

Parts of the Riley Collection are listed in several separate sources. To search comprehensively you will need to check each source:

  1. Search the Library's online catalogue by subject or group name.

    The catalogue includes references to folders of ephemeral materials, and posters. For best results, include the word Riley in your search (for example, Riley land rights or Riley Afghanistan or Riley homosexuality or Riley nuclear war or Riley Maribyrnong).

    We have digitised many ephemeral items from the 1890s to 1920s, including handbills relating to World War I and conscription, like Scum of the earth!: your mates have turned you down and Leg-irons for Australian soldiers. These are available via the catalogue. We are also digitising posters from the Riley Collection.

    Material produced by universities, political parties and unions is usually filed under the name of the organisation. Material from other groups is usually filed by subject, for example material published by the Right To Life movement is filed under Abortion, anti.

    Most records do not reference the names of the groups which produced the materials that we've collected. You should look through folders of material that relate to your topic of interest, even if the group that you are interested in is not mentioned in the folder's catalogue record.

    The catalogue includes references to posters held in both our Riley and Pictures Collections. It will also help you find parts of the Manuscripts Collection which include ephemera (for example, the Merrifield collection of labour movement items).
  2. Search the online Australiana Index by subject or group name.

    Search the Australiana Index to find references to the Library's protest badge collections. Search using the words badge box and your topic of interest.
  3. Search the Riley Collection card index.

    Some items in the Riley Collection are only referenced in this index, and not on the Library's catalogue. This index is located in the Newspapers & Family History Reading Rooms.

    The index has been compiled in slightly different ways over time. The most reliable way to find what you're looking for is to search for the subject in which you are interested.

    If a group you are interested in was active before 1998, you can also check the card index under the name of the group. You may find an entry which will give you the subject under which the material is filed e.g. Prisoners' Action Group see Prisoners and prisons. This means that there is a folder in the collection labelled Prisoners and prisons which contains material put out by the Prisoners' Action Group. (There is no folder labelled Prisoners' Action Group).

    From 1 January 1998, no cross-references from the name of an organisation were made. Instead, larger files were identified only by subject and date (if known). For example, ephemera issued by the Wildlife Preservation Societies of Australia regarding conservation of the environment would be placed in a file titled Environment. Conservation and a card made up with the subject heading Environment. Conservation. No index card would have been made for the Wildlife Preservation Societies of Australia.

View ephemera

Access the collection by placing a request at the Information Centre desk, or by telephoning 03 8664 7009. Riley & Ephemera Collection materials will be delivered to the Heritage Collections Reading Room.

Walker Press Collection

Victoria's Walker Press produced materials for many left-wing political and community groups in Melbourne between 1973 and 1983. Their output included a lot of material on Aboriginal land rights, particularly in the mid-1970s. A copy of each of the Press's publications (including booklets, pamphlets, periodicals and leaflets) was donated to the Library. The collection is arranged chronologically, by date of publication.

These items are not individually listed on our online catalogue. A card index is available.This index is located in the Newspapers & Family History Reading Rooms. It allows you to search by name of group/organisation, topic, and campaign name. There is also a separate card index to posters, which you can search in the same way as the main index.

To organise access to Walker Press publications, or posters, or to find out more about the collection, contact us. Items must be requested several days before your visit. 

The Press's business records plus a short history of the Press can be found in the Library's Manuscripts Collection. These items must be pre-ordered for use. A photograph taken at the press is available online.

The National Library of Australia holds the Walker Press oral history collection, which includes interviews with key staff members about the history of the Press.

A short essay about the Press can be found in the exhibition catalogue Pressing issues: contemporary posters from local co-operative presses.

Political ephemera in other archives


Political poster, Xanana, ECPO East Timor. 1991, from Riley Ephemera collection

Xanana, ECPO East Timor. 1991

We welcome donations of pamphlets, posters and badges relating to political campaigns, protests and social justice movements. Please send donations to:

Riley & Ephemera Collection
State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston St


Find badges in the Library's Riley & Ephemera collection by searching our online Australiana Index. Include the words Riley and badges in your search, plus words describing your topic or group of interest, for example nuclear war, tertiary fees, lesbianism, or Aboriginal land rights.

These organisations collect badges too:

Dalton Collection: Vietnam War conscription

People holding signs at an anti Vietnam war conscription demonstration in Melbourne. Black and white photograph by David Glenn.

David Glenn, Anti conscription demonstrations through Melbourne streets, 1966, H2015.128/77. This image is from the Dalton Collection.

Tony Dalton was a conscientious non-complier who strongly opposed the Vietnam War and conscription. He was a member of the National Anti-Conscription Mobilisation Committee. Tony's father Les collected materials about Tony's draft resistance campaign, and the related Save Our Sons movement, and donated these items to the Library.

The collection includes some significant photographs. The Dalton Collection is part of the Library's Riley & Ephemera Collection. Photographs from the collection are housed in the Library's Pictures Collection.

To locate material in the Dalton Collection search the Library's catalogue using the words Dalton and Riley. This will bring up a list of the files and photographs in the collection, with descriptions of their contents.

Access the collection by placing a request at the Information Centre desk, or by telephoning 03 8664 7009. Riley Collection materials will be delivered to the Heritage Collections Reading Room.

Note: When placing an order to access collections, please state whether you want access to Dalton Collection files and/or Riley & Ephemera Collection files, when you place your request.

The Library holds separate files of ephemera about Vietnam, Save Our Sons and conscription, in the main Riley & Ephemera Collection, separate to the Dalton Collection.

Carmel Shute Collection: feminism

Collected by trade union activist, writer and feminist Carmel Shute, this collection includes newspaper clippings, posters, ephemera, broadsheets, serials and books on the subject of feminism in Australia, spanning a quarter of a century (1970-1995).

Some of the collection is listed. Available lists are attached below. The collection is not yet represented on the Library's catalogue. Please contact us for access. Items will need to be requested several days before your visit.

The collection includes folders of ephemera in several sequences: ephemera (arranged by subject), publications including reports, conference papers and booklets (arranged by name of issuing body), periodicals (often single issues, arranged by issuing body) and news clippings (arranged by subject). Examples of periodicals included in the collection are: Red Rag, Shrew, Refractory Girl and Power of Women.

There are many more feminist collection items in the Library's Riley & Ephemera Collection. To find these items, search the catalogue using word combinations like riley feminism or riley women or riley feminist.

Sam Merrifield Collection: labour movement

The Merrifield Collection comprises original manuscripts, ephemera, photographs, slides, tapes, newspapers and books relating to the labour movement in Australia and overseas. These items were collected by Dr Sam Merrifield (1904-1982). A preliminary descriptive list is available  online. Further details are available in a card index (incomplete) to the biography, subject and Australian Labor Party files, and in a card index to pamphlets and newspapers. These indexes are stored back-of-house, and are managed by the Library's Manuscripts Team. Please contact us before you visit, to arrange access. The pamphlets in this collection are also individually catalogued on the Library's catalogue.

Further reading