Labour Day in Barcaldine 2016
Barcaldine today is a charming little town in central Queensland about 500 klm west of Rockhampton, but it was once the location of arguably the most sinister occurrence in the history of the Australian trade union movement. It was an event that put Australia on the verge of civil war.
Barcaldine was the site of the Great Shearers’ Strike of 1891. It was a watershed for unionism in Australia resulting in 13 Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) officials being jailed for sedition because they stood up for their shearer members at a time of great hardship when the property owners were threatening to cut their already meagre wages.
Sedition is any conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch and should never be confused with our modern thinking of freedom of speech; freedom to speak openly to criticise those in control of the State, or the monarchy, if we believe their actions or motivation is wrong. Such freedom was not granted to those 13 union officials. A subsequent meeting of the shearers under the Tree of Knowledge in the main street of Barcaldine saw the formation of the Labour Electoral League which later developed into the Australian Labor Party.
This year is the 125th anniversary of the Great Shearers’ Strike, SDA official, Tony Martin, travelled to Barcaldine for the Labour Day celebrations in a spirit of support for the AWU on such a significant occasion for that particular union and to show our respect and gratitude to those officials who went to prison for standing up for their beliefs and what they saw as right and just treatment of workers in particularly hard times.
Others who made the journey to this event included former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk, former Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan, Hon. Cameron Dick MP, Stirling Hinchcliffe MP, among many other dignitaries and officials.
It is a great shame that most of our friends in the media did not share the same sentiment and depth of feeling surrounding the significance of this rich and vibrant part of Australia’s history. To see a very interesting 26 minute film about the Great Shearers’ Strike and how it lead to the development the great Australian industrial system we enjoy today, follow this link to “Waltzing Matilda and the Sunshine Harvester Factory” on the Fair Work Commission website.