The Legend of Fred Paterson

Australian Workers Film Guide


A documentary charting the personal and political life of Fred Paterson, the only communist ever elected to an Australian parliament, serving two terms as the member for Bowen in the Queensland State Parliament between 1944 and 1950.

Well educated, principled and determined, Paterson saw himself as a champion of the poor and oppressed working class. This would bring him into conflict with all sectors of the Australian political landscape, including within the Communist Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party. He was unsuccessfully charged with sedition for protesting the jailing of strikers. Through the pursuit of a socialist alternative to the capitalist system, Paterson dedicated his life to the elimination of poverty, opposition to fascism and war, as well as the protection of human rights. Police notoriously bludgeoned Paterson at a protest during the Queensland rail strike in 1948, and this is explored in depth.

The film combines extensive historical footage and stills with recreations of seminal events in Paterson’s life, as well as interviews with old communist comrades and his two surviving sons. There is little actual archive of Paterson himself, apart from badly damaged video of him talking about the assault in 1975. The film contains interesting archive footage of events in Russia and Germany, as well as areas and towns in North Queensland.

The film covers his childhood, education, work as a teacher and his long road to the Bar. Experiences in the First World War and time in Ireland where he witnessed poverty and religious bigotry, turned him away from Christianity and towards communism. He was inspired by Marx and Lenin and the success of the Russian Revolution. The Menzies Government’s banning of the Communist Party of Australia led to a cat and mouse game with the police, but was later overturned as the Red Army pushed across Nazi Germany. The film ends with a poignant Paterson sound recording: “As an ardent communist I have been motivated by a much higher noble vision. The vision of a world where the degrading spectacle of man exploiting man has no place….where the fear of want is banished and the law of the forest is at last no more.”

Special Notes/Achievements

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 58 mins

Film Release Year:

Film Shooting Format:

Film Aspect Ratio:

Film Distribution Format: ,

Film Colour:

Film Director: Jonathan Dawson, Pat Laughren,

Film Producer:

Film Writer: Jonathan Dawson, Owen Johnston, Pat Laughren,

Film Key Cast: Harold Hopkins – Fred Paterson, John Flaus - Narrator,

Film Executive Producer:

Film Cinematographer:

Film Editor:

Film Sound Recordist:

Film Composer:

Film Production Company: