Coinciding with the centenary of the Harvester judgement handed down by Justice Henry Bournes Higgins on 8 November 1907, this thematic section highlights the rich history of Australian working-class experience as revealed in the transcripts of Commonwealth and state industrial arbitration proceedings. The transcripts record the intensively unfolding and changing patterns of work and enterprise, and provide a powerful record of the immediacy of human experience, not least in working-class demands for recognition and justice. The thematic articles illustrate how arbitration transcripts may contribute to a richer appreciation of the development of Australian working-class life, business enterprise and the labour process. Articles also focus on how the transcripts may be brought to bear on the history of Australian liberalism, and labour movement relations with the liberal state. In recognition of the Harvester centenary, this introduction reflects on the meanings that may be yielded from the transcripts by reference to Higgins’ practice as president of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in the period 1907-21.