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Entangled experiences of class: The 1891 Queensland bush workers’ strike

by Peter Woodley

Queensland shearers' strike leaders, 1893

Queensland shearers' strike leaders, 1893

State Library of Queensland, 99183505879202061

On the seventeenth day of a trial, one ‘close and drowsy’ afternoon in a courtroom in Rockhampton, central Queensland, in May 1891, fourteen men would finally learn of their fate. The charge was conspiracy, in that context taken to mean two or more people intimidating, threating, obstructing or by any other means inducing people to belong to unions or alter their mode of conducting business.[1] The room was filled with lawyers and police officers, pastoralists and court officials, newspaper reporters and an unknown mix of local observers. After spending two nights deliberating in seclusion and communicating to the judge several times that they could not reach a unanimous decision—each time to be sent away to consider the matter further—the jury found twelve of the accused to be guilty. The fifty-two-year-old, English-born and Cambridge-educated Supreme Court judge, George Rogers Harding, ‘with trim beard and glittering eye-glass’, firmly put aside the jury’s unanimous plea that the sentences be as lenient as possible, reminding them where their responsibilities ended and where his prerogative prevailed.[2]

The twelve convicted that day were united by their involvement in the shearers’ and bush labourers’ strike that had been in progress since January. They had no known prior convictions among them and were otherwise an eclectic collection of men with diverse backgrounds. Half were immigrants from Britain and Ireland—a higher proportion than for the Queensland population as a whole, of whom about seven in ten were Australian-born.[3] Of those whose religious affiliations are known, some were Catholic, some Anglican. Others eschewed denominations and were instead ‘free thinkers’, when fewer than two per cent of people counted as Queenslanders so identified.[4] They ranged in age from twenty-five to forty-nine, but most were in their thirties. All but two were single at the time of the strike—again, a higher proportion than for the colonial population, though perhaps not so aberrant for itinerant rural workers.[5]

During that long trial, Harding made clear what he thought about the disruptions to which those arraigned before him were accused of contributing. On hearing that police had not intervened to prevent a crowd of protesters at Clermont from impeding a wagon carrying non-union labourers by disturbing the horses, Harding calculated that the four officers, each with a six-shooter, could have discharged twenty-four shots. He surmised, notoriously, that the result would have been different had he been involved.[6] Then, on that final day, Harding pointed out to the twelve that he had the power to sentence them each to life imprisonment. Such was the volatile feeling in the room that several of them virtually dared him to. He set out the factors he had taken into account, including that they were to be punished for their purpose of ‘destroying all things in this colony which value peace and order’.[7] But the sentences were also to be a deterrent for the ‘hundreds’ whom he alleged remained at large and were complicit in their conspiracy. It was as though to emphasise the indiscriminate power of the state: they were but a random sample of striking workers whom the police and military could round up on a whim and deliver to the courts.[8] They were all sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on St Helena Island near Brisbane.

It was a decisive and punitive climax to a confrontation between workers and pastoralists that commentators at the time recognised and represented as a metaphorical, if not literal, war between ‘capital’ and ‘labour’.[9] Historians generally agree that it resulted in a crushing defeat for organised labour.[10] But, as well as being a clash between abstract class interests, the 1891 strike consisted of the often intense and fraught intersections of individuals’ lives—like those present in the Rockhampton courtroom—many of whom are represented in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the associated Register of the Australian Labour Movement, 1788–1975 and the companion compilation, People Australia. This article provides a setting within which to locate some of their individual stories, many of which would never have been noticed, nor included in these collections, had they not been involved in the events of 1891. It aligns with the historian E. P. Thompson’s argument that class is not a thing, but rather a process that plays out in the lives of people negotiating day-to-day relationships of the means of production.[11] It suggests, in outline, the possibilities of collective biography as a window into the experience of class—examining the convergence of disparate lives in a moment, how they influenced and, in turn, were affected by it, and how (or if) that experience shaped their subsequent trajectories.[12] The article provides a context for the strike, a brief overview of the main events that occurred between late 1890 and June 1891, and a reflection on the strike’s legacy, including its place in the Australian Labor Party’s foundation story.

Context and origins of a strike
In the place that from 1859 became the colony of Queensland, Europeans had been depasturing sheep for wool-growing since the 1840s. At first this had been concentrated in the Moreton Bay, Darling Downs and coastal regions, but by the 1880s graziers were moving into the Mitchell, Maranoa and Warrego districts of central Queensland—a process accomplished through extensive violence and disruption inflicted on Aboriginal people with the aid of a Native Mounted Police force directed by white officers.[13] In that transformative decade, the number of sheep in Queensland more than doubled, and by 1890 properties were enormous—the largest running 375,000 sheep—and generally owned by pastoral and finance companies.[14] Pastoralists dominated the Queensland parliament and government, though the owners of these large enterprises often lived elsewhere. Traditional owners continued to negotiate access to Country and to provide labour, albeit under exploitative conditions, in the pastoral economy. By the early 1890s, many Aboriginal shearers were active unionists and, as historian Jordan Humphreys shows, would participate alongside non-Indigenous shearers in the industrial disputes of that decade, including the 1891 strike.[15]

Labour was most in demand during the shearing season, which in Queensland extended mainly from March to September, though some sheds in the south-west started as early as January. Itinerant workers could pick up positions either as shearers (paid at piece rates, per sheep shorn), or as wage-earning shedhands performing other essential tasks. Shearing generally took an average of from seven to eight weeks on each property, after which workers would move on to other sheds in Queensland or New South Wales.[16]

From the mid-1880s, shearers began to form unions at various places in New South Wales in response to poor working conditions and pastoralists’ bids to reduce shearing rates. In June 1887, several local unions joined together to form the Amalgamated Shearers’ Union of Australasia (ASU). A separate Queensland Shearers’ Union (QSU) formed at the same time, and resisted overtures to become the ASU’s Queensland branch, or to federate.[17] Shearers struck in the 1887 and 1888 seasons over pay and conditions, as well as in opposition to pastoralists’ resistance to unions’ claims of a right to negotiate on shearers’ behalf.[18] Conflict was exacerbated by the introduction of machine shearing, which involved considerable investment by station-owners and shearers having to adapt to the new technology. The ways shearing was conducted had to be renegotiated. The Queensland Labourers’ Union (QLU) formed in October 1888 and began signing up shedhands.[19]

The leading people organising labour were generally workers themselves. The QSU’s first secretary, Bill Kewley, forty-six by 1891, had emigrated from the Isle of Man in 1861 and worked at shearing and other bush work around Queensland.[20] English-born Albert Hinchcliffe had emigrated to Brisbane from Lancashire as a child in the 1860s, and worked as a miner and butcher before being apprenticed as a newspaper compositor. He became a union organiser for that trade and, in 1890, was appointed secretary of Queensland’s umbrella trade union group, the Australian Labour Federation (ALF).[21] In January, the QSU affiliated with the ALF, which then launched its newspaper, the Worker, with the articulate and passionate twenty-eight-year-old socialist from Bristol William Lane as editor.[22] The ALF adopted a radical vision for Queensland, at its first general council meeting advocating ‘the Nationalisation of all sources of wealth and all means of producing and distributing wealth’, a message that Lane propagated through the newspaper.[23] The QSU resolved that year that its members should not shear in sheds that also engaged non-unionists.

The 1891 bush workers’ strike was just one among several in the late 1880s and early 1890s, but it was the largest and longest, and occurred amid increasingly strained relations between capital and labour across a number of industries. In August 1889, Australian unionists affirmed their support for an international, or at least empire-wide, alliance of labour by donating thirty thousand pounds to support striking London dock workers (equivalent to the annual return from shearing of about 460 shearers or 980 shedhands).[24] Then, in May 1890, wharf labourers in Brisbane refused to load wool shorn by non-union labour on Jondaryan station in the Darling Downs. The renowned miners’ and shearers’ union organiser from Creswick in Victoria, William Guthrie Spence, participated in the ALF’s subsequent negotiations with the Darling Downs Pastoralists’ Association to demonstrate the broader union movement’s support for the Queensland shearers’ cause. After several weeks, the parties struck an agreement to the ALF’s satisfaction, and the station’s wool was loaded onto ships for the London markets.[25] It was not only the culmination of workers’ cooperation across unions, trades and colonial boundaries, but also the apogee of their industrial success for years to come. The incident hardened the resolve of employers who recognised the danger to their interests in such solidarity across industries and places.

The maritime strike of August–November 1890 made several matters plain. It began when members of the Mercantile Marine Officers’ Association walked off the job in Melbourne in protest at their employer’s refusal to negotiate wages and conditions while the association’s Victorian members were affiliated with the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. The strike spread to Sydney and involved shearers’, miners’ and wharf labourers’ unions, and others—about fifty thousand workers in all. The first point to emerge was that governments, even when they pretended otherwise, were not neutral conciliators. The military and police quelled workers’ protests in an environment where serious violence was averted more through good fortune than design.[26] Second, the dispute was not simply over remuneration and workplace conditions, but about labour’s right to organise and engage with employers collectively. Third, employers were themselves becoming increasingly organised. They had become anxious when the ASU and the maritime unions had coordinated their actions during the Jondaryan dispute. Indeed, some argue that the maritime strike was engineered by employer groups keen to assert their strength in the wake of that experience.[27] The maritime strike ended in defeat for the unionists.

The strike
The 1891 Queensland shearing season was about to begin as southern unions recoiled from their humiliation. But if pastoral enterprise and its reliance on shearing were common across the eastern mainland colonies, why was Queensland the location of this next, emphatic confrontation between capital and labour? One explanation is that the shearing season typically started earliest in the northern colony, beginning with just a few sheds, so if the conditions were generally susceptible to industrial strife, then it was likely to erupt there first. But historians generally agree that there was more intent to it than that.

As labour became more organised and embraced the imperative of collective industrial action, so too did capital. The Queensland Pastoral Employers’ Association (PEA) had formed at Barcaldine in April 1889, and the New South Wales Pastoralists’ Association that same month.[28] In light of the employers’ Jondaryan setback and their subsequent victory in the maritime dispute, pastoralists met in Melbourne and Sydney in November and December 1890 to combine forces as the federated Pastoralists’ Union of Australia (PUA).

Despite their active and decisive roles, entrepreneurs with Queensland pastoral interests infrequently feature in accounts of the strike. Many had Melbourne connections, the city since the 1860s being home to banks and pastoral companies with assets in the northern colony.[29] One of the more prominent was forty-seven-year-old, Melbourne Grammar School–educated Francis Reid (Frank) Murphy. He was the son of Sir Francis Murphy, a former member of the Legislative Council and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in the Victorian parliament, and the owner of extensive Queensland sheep stations. Frank managed the family’s properties and had represented the seat of Barcoo in the Queensland parliament since 1885. As industrial tensions escalated, he became president of the PEA.[30]

Of Murphy’s pastoralist colleagues residing in Melbourne, among the wealthiest and most influential were members of the Fairbairn family. The patriarch, George Fairbairn, had emigrated from Scotland in 1839 and, by the 1860s, had amassed a substantial portfolio of sheep stations, before investing in businesses that lent to those who purchased pastoral properties.[31] His sons sustained the business, including George Fairbairn (junior), who managed several Queensland stations before becoming general manager of the Fairbairns’ enterprises and managing director of the United Mortgage and Agency Company of Australia Limited.[32] Stephen Svensen estimates that the Fairbairns owned an interest in one sheep in every five in Queensland. George Fairbairn (junior) convened a meeting of the Queensland delegates immediately before the Melbourne conference to agree on common positions they would take to the discussions. [33] The Age considered this highly significant: ‘As the pastoralists regard Queensland as the real battle ground in the shearing industry, the views of the Queensland delegates will have much influence on the decisions of the conference.’[34] It would not be the last time that metaphors of war were applied to the coming events.

Pausing just long enough to allow participants to see Carbine win the Melbourne Cup, the new employers’ union members committed to unanimity of action, and to maintain ‘freedom of contract in respect of the employment of all labour’.[35] This meant, of course, that individual workers would be expected to sign up with PUA-affiliated pastoralists on the employer’s terms—or not at all. The Worker editorialised on the status of the non-unionised, ‘free labourer’:

[He is] ‘free’ only in that he has the sacred freedom of accepting, without reference to his fellow workers and without thought of the better terms he might make for himself by organisation, the conditions of labouring set for him by a capitalistic ring.[36]

If the station-owners were manoeuvring to provoke a dispute in Queensland to resolve the terms of their engagement with labour, they achieved it in early January when QSU members refused to sign the new pastoralists’ shearing agreement proffered at the Fairbairns’ Logan Downs station north of Clermont.[37]

Even as the strike was unfolding, the union movement was campaigning on a much wider front—for political as well as industrial reform. In late February, Queensland delegates to a union conference in Adelaide published a manifesto seeking their unions’ right to exclude non-unionists from their workplaces and to negotiate the terms of their employment with pastoralists, but their grievances and aspirations extended to enfranchisement and access to the whole machinery of government.[38] At about that time, Hinchcliffe approached the then Queensland treasurer, Thomas McIlwraith, also a former premier, seeking a meeting between the workers’ and pastoralists’ unions to negotiate a resolution. McIlwraith—himself a wealthy pastoralist and financier, and member of the PEA—responded that the pastoralists were ready to meet, but on the condition that the bush workers first accepted the principle of ‘freedom of contract’, which to the workers, of course, was the whole point of their action—the fundamental reason they were on strike. The meeting would never take place.[39]

Once it was clear that most unionists would not sign the pastoralists’ agreement, events moved quickly.[40] The strike was coordinated on the workers’ side by a committee of the central council of the ALF, with representation from the QSU and the QLU. Striking workers gathered in camps in many locations. The two largest were at Barcaldine and Clermont. They were generally disciplined and peaceful except when roused by the arrival of strikebreakers. In early February pastoralists dispatched the first group of two hundred non-union labourers from Melbourne to keep the sheds working. The railway from Rockhampton that had recently been extended to Barcaldine could move non-union labour into the heart of wool country as efficiently as it moved the wool clip out.[41]

The Queensland government responded by dispatching police and military units to the townships where unionists gathered, with artillery pieces and mounted infantry. Local officials received authority to recruit special constables. The most widely known participant in these events was the Queensland premier, Samuel Griffith. At forty-five years of age, this son of a Congregationalist minister was already a veteran of colonial politics, having served as premier between 1883 and 1888. He legalised trade unions in Queensland in 1885, was McIlwraith’s principal rival and held a reputation as a relatively liberal politician during that first term in office.[42] In December 1888 he published an article in Lane’s labour newspaper the Boomerang—‘Want and Wealth’—in which he argued that, though labour was the sole source of wealth, the unequal and unrestricted contest between capital and labour meant that an overwhelming and inequitable proportion of that wealth fell to the capitalist. The unfettered market did not beget equity. Griffith’s solution was for the state to take a firm, mediating role, regulating to enforce a ‘fair’ division of the products of labour.[43] But such flirtation with socialist principles, however academic, was short-lived. Griffith was appointed premier again in August 1890, having formed an alliance with his erstwhile adversary, McIlwraith.

Griffith was out of the colony for two periods during the strike, attending to the business for which he is more commonly remembered—and perhaps which he preferred—helping to draft a constitution for a future Australian federation, famously aboard Queensland’s steamer on the Hawkesbury River. Though McIlwraith and the colonial secretary, solicitor and mining entrepreneur Horace Tozer, were involved more directly in the conflict, Griffith as premier made the telling decisions.[44] He might have considered wage justice to be a worthy objective in theory, and wrote to colleagues that the government could not be seen to align with one class or another.[45] But, in the face of an actual stand-off and putative challenges to the rule of law, Griffith was determined ‘to keep order at any cost’.[46] In a performative gesture of supposed authority, he arranged for the governor-in-council to issue a proclamation on 23 February 1891, urging the encamped strikers to disperse and disarm, though he knew it had no legal effect.[47] Under Griffith’s leadership, the Queensland government, in Vance Palmer’s evocative words, ‘hadn’t merely kept the ring clear for the contending parties; it had come in vigorously as the shearers’ principal opponent’.[48]

There is no question that the government took the pastoralists’ side during the strike. It prevented post offices from sending unions’ coded telegrams, and railway employees displaying sympathy for the strikers were dismissed. Workers knew exactly where the state stood in their contest with capital. At a torchlight demonstration and procession in Barcaldine in March, pride of place went to an effigy adorned with the inscription:

Wealth and Want.
Sir SW Griffith.
Traitor! Meet thy doom.[49]

A second figure, that of Francis Murphy MLA, embodied the union’s perspective on the inextricable alliance of capital and the state. Later, Spence also made the workers’ perspective plain: ‘The police and military were placed at the disposal of the Pastoralists’ Union, of which the cabinet was simply a committee to carry out instructions.’[50]

The cabinet agreed that police should arrest union leaders en masse. Unionists were arrested following incidents at Barcaldine, Clermont and elsewhere, and unrest increased. Grassfires were started, and several shearing sheds were burnt down, though it was not always clear that striking workers were responsible.[51] Unionists allegedly attempted to derail trains carrying strikebreakers to the shearing districts. Strikers vigorously encouraged non-unionists to reconsider their commitments to employers. In places, Chinese businesses, and stations employing Chinese gardeners and cooks, were menaced. For some workers, the exclusion of Chinese people and South Sea Islanders—the idea of a White Australia—was a fundamental plank of their unionism.[52] Though tensions were running high and shearing had been disrupted, the ALF did not announce a general call-out of bush workers until 24 March. By April, at least nine thousand men were on strike and hundreds were incarcerated awaiting trial.[53] There was little chance that the impasse would conclude in their favour, but union camps voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike on 12 April.

Newspapers reported the strike as a predominantly masculine experience, as the participants who are identified in this article and the associated historiography indicate. Striking workers, police and military personnel, politicians, jurists, and pastoralists and their agents were all male. Mary Montgomery Bennett, not ten years old at the time of the strike, shared the views of her pastoralist father Robert Christison, in whose biography she painted the unionists as violent revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the state, and threatening the safety and property of the employing class.[54] On the workers’ side, the strike affected and engaged women as bush workers’ spouses, or as residents of the rural towns that relied on workers and rural industry to survive, but their record is faint, if not silent. The Irish-born shearers’ union organiser from New Zealand Aileen Garmson was certainly active in Australia during that period, claiming to have been involved in the maritime strike and the 1892 Broken Hill miners’ strike. She also worked avidly to persuade New Zealand shearers not to break the later Queensland strike of 1894, so it is conceivable that she had some connection with events in 1891.[55] Historian Gavin Souter speculates that Clara Jones, a hospital matron, was the ‘Union Girl, Clermont’ whose poem supporting the strikers was published in the Worker in May 1891. The following year she raised a red flag over Muttaburra hospital to celebrate the election of a Labor member to the Queensland parliament.[56] In central Queensland in 1891, numerous accounts of protests and strikers’ processions mentioned women’s participation.[57] A crowd of 1,500 protesters in Barcaldine gathering to meet a train carrying the Gympie Mounted Infantry was swelled, one report revealed, by ‘large numbers of women and children’.[58] And when arrested and chained unionists, including organiser George Taylor, were marched through crowds in the streets of Barcaldine to their cells, one woman called out (somewhat ambiguously): ‘Never mind George, they have put a bullock chain on you now, but they will put a crown on you soon.’[59]

Aftermath
By June, with many strike leaders incarcerated, union funds exhausted, pastoralists showing no sign of weakening and the government interested principally in asserting law and order, the QSU suspended its rules to allow members to make their own terms with employers, and the strike petered out. Shearing proceeded for the remainder of the season. As wool prices fell and the depression deepened in subsequent years, bush workers’ bargaining power only weakened. But what became of the protagonists, thrown together for a few brief months, and what can their trajectories reveal about the place of the strike in history and memory?

Griffith saw much of his drafting work of 1891 translated into the constitution of the new Commonwealth in 1901. He left parliamentary politics to serve as Queensland’s chief justice between 1893 and 1903, then became the inaugural chief justice of the High Court of Australia, a position he held until 1919. It would be left to other legislators to craft the conciliation and arbitration apparatus by which governments would seek to mediate the claims of capital and labour. He died in 1920, remembered more for his constitutional drafting work than as a premier who, despite his liberal stance in the 1880s, in the face of actual conflict between capital and labour, asserted the primacy of the law, and put state power behind employers’ interests.

Harding died suddenly in Brisbane just four years after the trial, aged fifty-six. He would be disparaged for years in the pages of the Worker, but in a sign that the strike generated little continuing sympathy among many of the Queensland population, large crowds witnessed the funeral procession as he was sent off in style by the Brisbane establishment, including the governor, the premier, the chief justice and many other dignitaries.[60] His reputation, other than among labour sympathisers, appears not to have been tarnished, and might even have been burnished, by his actions in Rockhampton.

The younger George Fairbairn’s career did not miss a beat. He continued to accumulate pastoral assets in Victoria and New South Wales, as well as other corporate interests. The thorough embodiment of the Melbourne establishment, he served as president of the Employers’ Federation of Australia and the Melbourne Club. In 1903 he became the member for Toorak in the Victorian Legislative Assembly before being elected on an anti-socialist platform to the Melbourne seat of Fawkner in the House of Representatives in 1906.[61] From 1917 he sat in the Senate as a Nationalist Party member, then became Victoria’s agent-general in London before being knighted in 1926. When he died in 1943, his obituaries were entirely silent on his role in the 1891 strike.[62]

In the Queensland parliament, Francis Murphy defended the pastoralists’ stance in opposing the ALF, but died early the next shearing season. At the subsequent by-election, his seat of Barcoo went to Thomas (‘Tommy’) Ryan, who had stood accused of conspiracy in Rockhampton but was one of two found not guilty. His was a brief and unspectacular parliamentary career, but it showed that workers could imagine a way to exert influence and power from within government.[63] Albert Hinchcliffe embraced the alliance between industrial and parliamentary labour as a path to a fairer deal for workers, becoming secretary of a formally constituted Labor Party in Queensland in August 1892. He unsuccessfully sought election to the Legislative Assembly in 1893 and 1900 before a Liberal–Labor coalition government appointed him to the Legislative Council where he served between 1904 and 1922.[64]

As for the radical visionary and dreamer William Lane, even in May 1891 with the strike still unfolding, he had sent an agent to South America in search of land on which to establish a new community, to be founded on an agrarian vision of cooperation, sobriety, self-sufficiency and racial purity. As the most overt expression of pessimism in the state’s capacity to foster a just society, he and his family emigrated to Paraguay in 1893 with 219 other colonists to build what they called New Australia. But his bold experiment led only to bitter antagonism among the colonists and his leadership of a breakaway colony called Cosme. Disappointed at such failure, he moved to New Zealand in 1899. He wrote for and later edited the New Zealand Herald, displaying none of the radicalism of his earlier days, and died in 1917.[65] Fellow English-born radical journalist Frederick Vosper, who had openly urged the striking workers to revolution if peaceful paths to reform were exhausted (‘If your oppressors do not listen to reason, let them feel cold lead and steel’), stayed the course, moved to Western Australia and entered parliament there, but was dead by 1901 at the age of thirty-one.[66]

On their release from prison in November 1893, the twelve convicted conspirators posed for a group photograph—hair and whiskers trimmed, each in a tidy but workaday suit and tie—pictures of working-class respectability. They are united, perhaps one last time, by their experience—‘Unionist Prisoners’, the inscription proclaims—and by their common cause, ‘arising out of the bush strike’.[67] Were it not for that experience, we would not have heard of most of them. Once the common thread had been severed, their paths diverged, but they could be seen as a microcosm of the disparate strands of ideology and aspiration that made up the working-class movement of the era. It is, perhaps, not surprising that few of them shore a sheep after the strike. With the unions defeated, it would have offended the principles for which they had been gaoled, to work alongside non-unionists, and PEA-aligned stations would not have made them welcome anyway.

Some of these union leaders returned to labouring. Alfred Brown was working on a station in central Queensland when he died in 1915. A brief note recording his death referred to his incarceration during the 1891 strike as a defining event in his life.[68] Henry Smith-Barry, Hugh Blackwell and Alexander Forrester, as well as Clara Jones, made their way to Lane’s settlements in Paraguay, sharing his despair that the labour movement in Australia would ever attain workers’ equitable enfranchisement and a fair return on their labour. They each returned to Australia eventually.[69] Smith-Barry reconnected with union colleagues on his return to Brisbane, and the Australian Workers’ Union took care of his funeral arrangements when he died in 1928.[70] Robert Prince put his energy into creating a workers’ cooperative closer to home, as chairman of the Lyrup Village Settlement Association on the Murray River in South Australia.[71]

Remarkably, five of these twelve labouring men stood for election to colonial or state parliaments, seemingly optimistic that they could change the system from within. By then members of parliament were beginning to be paid, so they had a better chance of doing so. While the eastern colonies were in the depths of a depression, George Taylor went to the burgeoning Coolgardie goldfields in Western Australia where he continued as a trade union organiser before serving as a member of the Legislative Assembly between 1901 and 1929, and was, for a time, colonial secretary and speaker. He split with Labor over the bitter conscription question in 1916 and sat as a Nationalist.[72] Julian Stuart also went to the western goldfields where he organised for the local Labor Electoral League, edited the Westralian Worker and represented the mining electorate of Leonora in the Legislative Assembly between 1906 and 1908. His daughter published some of his writings after his death, with his experiences of the strike, the trial and incarceration the predominant theme.[73] William Hamilton served as the Labor member for Gregory in the Queensland parliament between 1901 and 1915. He was then appointed to the Legislative Council and became a minister in Thomas Joseph Ryan’s Labor government (1915–19). Hamilton served as president of the Legislative Council from 1917 until his death in 1920, when he was accorded a state funeral.[74]

William Fothergill and Robert Prince stood as Labor candidates for the Queensland and South Australian parliaments, respectively, but without success.[75] Fothergill had settled in Barcaldine after his release, married there, set up business as a general storekeeper and baker, and led a rich associational life as member of the Manchester Unity Independent Organisation of Oddfellows, which provided mutual support and fellowship for its members, and the Royal Society of St George, established in 1894 to encourage interest in English customs and traditions. He also served on the local shire council.[76]

Memories of strikers, then, varied enormously over the protagonists’ lifetimes, and diverged along class lines. In the mainstream press, their roles in the strike and subsequent incarceration were silently excised, as though an irrelevant aberration, or recognised only as an inglorious episode of impetuosity and disorder that temporarily marred the careers of otherwise sober and reformed citizens and legislators. As though to deflect Hamilton’s part in the 1891 strike, on his death in 1920 a newspaper stated that he had ‘suffered for his convictions’, and referred to testimony from thirty years earlier that he was ‘courteous in language, moderate in opinion, calm and dignified in manner’, and ‘at all times sought by constitutional and lawful means’ to pursue his cause.[77] By the time Fothergill died in 1921, he was represented as a victim of the strike, being ‘a man of very moderate views … [who] always had urged conciliatory measures’.[78] And when Taylor died in 1935, one newspaper chose to emphasise his organisational and oratorical prowess during the 1891 strike, rather than his radicalism: ‘not until all his powers of persuasive oratory were exhausted did he concur with more drastic measures’.[79]

So long as they remained true to the party, the labour press remembered the strikers as noble foundational warriors in the battle with capital. Forrester was eulogised in the Worker when he died in 1932, as being ‘faithful to the end to the ideal of the Socialist State’.[80] The paper marked Stuart’s passing in 1929 as ‘one of that staunch little band of pioneers who laid the foundation stone of the Australian Labor Movement’.[81]

History and legacy
In the context of a series of major confrontations between labour and capital from 1890 to 1894, historians and others differ on whether the 1891 bush workers’ strike was a distinctive moment or simply part of a continuum, and what, if anything, was its lasting effect. The strike was certainly recognised at the time and subsequently as an intense and dramatic episode. Henry Lawson captured the mood of rebelliousness and latent violence in ‘Freedom on the Wallaby’, published in the Worker while striking shearers and labourers were still encamped.[82] Radical-leaning writers maintained the rage after the strike was broken.[83] In Australia’s Awakening (1909), Spence played his part in translating history into legend. Years later the labour historian Brian Fitzpatrick described the strike as ‘the most spectacular which Australia has known’, and D. J. Murphy characterised it as having ‘all the romance of a revolution’.[84] In the 1950s, members of the Australian Communist Party tapped into that aura of the strike to represent it as a uniquely Australian expression of radicalism in the musical Reedy River, drawing on collected bush songs and new compositions.[85]

And yet, in the general community, the strike does not have quite the same enduring resonance as other heroic defeats stamped (albeit in mutable ways) on the national imagination, such as Eureka and Gallipoli. Part of the reason might be found in those somewhat timorous obituaries in mainstream newspapers, which acknowledged the erstwhile conspirators’ involvement in the turmoil of 1891, but then excused them as being victims of a slightly embarrassing, anomalous and ill-tempered period best left behind. It is simpler, perhaps, to embrace stories of conflict involving eager local boys and distant foreigners, or put-upon miners and British ‘redcoats’. But Australians, in general, seem less inclined to own a story about class. John Hirst (and also Geoffrey Bolton and Helen Gregory) argues that, in tension with the legendary bush ethos of mateship and egalitarianism that Russel Ward distilled, there is an alternative, permeating set of middle-class values embracing order and thrift that turns away from a radical vision, as the strikes might be taken to represent.[86]

The exception is the Labor Party, with its seasoned history of telling its own origin stories.[87] Labour historians have been writing about this period ever since, though the question of the 1891 strike’s significance remains. Many historians concur with Spence’s contemporary view, that the employers’ emphatic victory in the 1890 maritime strike was the decisive event of that period: the ‘great turning point in the history of Australian Labor’.[88] Subsequent strikes simply affirmed that workers were never likely to prevail through large-scale industrial action against well-organised and -financed employer groups backed by sympathetic governments.

There is a common view that the shearers’ strike, in particular, caused the labour movement in Queensland to shed whatever attachment it had to a radical platform, so that it subsequently sought reform from within the system, rather than to overthrow it.[89] Others argue that the trend towards ‘gradualism’ had started before the strike, and would have proceeded irrespective of the strike’s outcome.[90] In that same vein, most commentators agree that the strikes of the early 1890s and the economic depression hastened the Labor Party’s formation, but discount any direct connection between the party’s genesis and the 1891 strike.[91]

And yet, that strike holds pride of place in Australian labour iconography, especially as a foundation story of the Labor Party. William Lane, seething in that Rockhampton courtroom, saw that moment’s potential to inspire reform:

when Labour shakes off its fetters, when Wrong and Misery and Poverty are rolled away like clouds before the wind, surely then men will give a thought to the martyrs who have made redemption possible, surely here in Australia men will remember those who stood their trial for Labour’s sake at Rockhampton in 1891.[92]

But, generally, they don’t. Instead, Barcaldine is cherished as Labor’s birthplace. A huge canopy there, marking the place—the Tree of Knowledge—where bush workers and orators gathered during the strike, is virtually a shrine to the party. It retains, according to the labour historian Ross McMullin, writing at the time of the party’s centenary celebrations, ‘its hallowed place in Labor folklore a century later’.[93] This is despite the fact that there is no evidence that a party was actually formed in that place, and that both earlier and later events have more credible claims to represent the party’s genesis.[94] It is an invented tradition. What, then, was the appeal of 1891 and Barcaldine’s Tree of Knowledge as the basis of a political movement?

The history of Labor’s origins is diffuse, procedural (if it is taken to consist of meetings held and resolutions agreed) and diverse, with such events in each colony, and the new Commonwealth, having their own pace.[95] One telling of the Barcaldine story has the town as the site of Australia’s first May Day march at the height of the strike, and another that the Manifesto of the Queensland Labor Party was read aloud from beneath the famous tree in 1892.[96] Though the tree has only a tenuous attachment to alleged moments or events, it has (or had) the advantage both of being a specific object and place—where pilgrims can gather—and having symbolic worth, as a place of talking, negotiating, exchanging and impressing ideas, all leading to concerted action—the embodiment of the ideal of caucus. It is this, rather than the burning wool sheds, the workers in chains and the ultimate defeat of the strike, that the Labor Party ultimately chooses as its story.

* Also published in Australian Journal of Biography and History, no 8, 2004, pp 137-154

Footnotes

[1] Stuart Svensen, The Shearers’ War: The Story of the 1891 Shearers’ Strike (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1989), 157–8; Geoffrey Bolton and Helen Gregory, ‘The 1891 Shearers’ Strike Leaders: Railroaded?’, Labour History 62 (May 1992): 116–26.

[2] The descriptions of the courtroom and of Harding are William Lane’s in the Worker (Brisbane), 30 May 1891, 5; M. Carter and A. A. Morrison, ‘Harding, George Rogers (1838–1895)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, The Australian National University (hereafter ADB), published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harding-george-rogers-3712/text5825.

[3] Queensland, Census of 1891. Report of the Registrar-General (Brisbane: Registrar General’s Office, 1892), lxxiv.

[4] Queensland, Census of 1891, 444–5.

[5] Queensland, Census of 1891, 347.

[6] Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, 12 May 1891, 2.

[7] Warwick Examiner, 23 May 1891, 22.

[8] R. J. Sullivan and R. A. Sullivan observe that arrests generally throughout the strike seemed arbitrary, in ‘The Pastoral Strikes, 1891 and 1894’, in The Big Strikes: Queensland 1889–1965, ed. D. J. Murphy (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1983), 92.

[9] Worker, 19 September 1891, 4; Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW), 3 July 1891, 4; Telegraph (Brisbane), 20 August 1890, 5.

[10] For example: Bede Nairn, Civilising Capitalism: The Labor Movement in New South Wales, 1870–1900 (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1973), 6; John Merritt, The Making of the AWU (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1986), 175; Nick Dyrenfurth, Heroes & Villains: The Rise and Fall of the Early Australian Labor Party (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2011), 16.

[11] E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1980, first published 1963), 8–13.

[12] Melanie Nolan, Biography: An Historiography (London and New York: Routledge, 2023), 246–51, doi.org/10.4324/9780429426391.

[13] ‘Colonial Frontier Massacres in Australia, 1788–1930’, Centre for 21st Century Humanities, Newcastle University, accessed 12 August 2023, c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres/; Henry Reynolds, ‘On the Queensland Frontier: Tragedy in the Tropics’, Griffith Review 76 (May 2022): 142–53.

[14] N. G. Butlin, ‘Distribution of the Sheep Population: Preliminary Statistical Picture, 1860–1957’, in The Simple Fleece: Studies in the Australian Wool Industry, ed. Alan Barnard (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press in association with the Australian National University, 1962), 281–304.

[15] Jordan Humphreys, ‘Aboriginal Unionists in the 1890s Shearers’ Strikes’: A Forgotten History’, Marxist Left Review 22 (Winter 2021), accessed 4 June 2023, marxistleftreview.org/articles/aboriginal-unionists-in-the-1890s-shearers-strikes-a-forgotten-history/; Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette, 9 May 1891, 3; Worker, 27 June 1891, 3; Tom Griffiths, ‘“But We Already Have a Treaty”: Returning to the Debney Peace’, Griffith Review 76 (May 2022): 154–69; Ross Fitzgerald, Lyndon Megarrity and David Symons, Made in Queensland: A New History (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2009), 31–4.

[16] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 10–31; Merritt, The Making of the AWU, 3–21.

[17] Merritt, The Making of the AWU, 96, 143; Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 53–5.

[18] Merritt, The Making of the AWU, 108–26.

[19] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 21, 50.

[20] Worker, 1 December 1861, 9; Capricornian (Rockhampton), 24 November 1906, 25; Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 49–50; ‘Kewley, William (Billy) (1844–1906)’, People Australia, National Centre of Biography, The Australian National University (hereafter PA), accessed 5 June 2023, peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/kewley-william-billy-32331/text40061.

[21] Rodney Sullivan, ‘Hinchcliffe, Albert (1860–1935)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 13 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hinchcliffe-albert-6677/text11513; Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 34.

[22] Gavin Souter, ‘Lane, William (1861–1917)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lane-william-7024/text12217.

[23] R. B. Joyce, ‘Queensland’, in The Emergence of the Australian Party System, ed. P. Loveday, A. W. Martin and R. S. Parker (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1977), 121; Worker, 7 August 1890, 1.

[24] Estimates derived from Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 44–5.

[25] Jan Walker, Jondaryan Station: The Relationship between Pastoral Capital and Pastoral Labour, 1840–1890 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1988), 174–8; Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 61–2; Coral Lansbury and Bede Nairn, ‘Spence, William Guthrie (1846–1926)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/spence-william-guthrie-4628/text7623.

[26] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 63; John Rickard, Class and Politics: New South Wales, Victoria and the Early Commonwealth, 1890–1910 (Canberra: Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1976), 7–26; Brian Fitzpatrick, Short History of the Australian Labor Movement (Melbourne: Rawson’s Bookshop, 1940), 65–6; William Guthrie Spence, Australia’s Awakening: Thirty Years in the Life of an Australian Agitator (Sydney: The Worker Trustees, 1909), 111–44.

[27] Stuart Svensen, ‘Motives and the Maritime Strike’, in The Maritime Strike: A Centennial Retrospective. Essays in Honour of EC Fry, ed. Jim Hagan and Andrew Wells (Wollongong: Five Islands Press Association in association with the University of Wollongong Labour History Research Group and the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 1992), 13–23.

[28] Merritt, The Making of the AWU, 136, 145; Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 56.

[29] N. G. Butlin, Investment in Australian Economic Development (Canberra: Department of Economic History, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, 1972, first published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1964), 128–31.

[30] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 56–7; Australasian Pastoralists’ Review, 15 February 1892, 462, reproduced as ‘Murphy, Francis Reid (1842–1892)’, Obituaries Australia, accessed 12 June 2023, oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/murphy-francis-reid-755.

[31] Donald S. Garden, ‘Fairbairn, George (1816–1895)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 13 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fairbairn-george-363/text5355.

[32] Michael D. De B. Collins Persse, ‘Fairbairn, Sir George (1855–1943)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 13 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fairbairn-sir-george-362/text10517.

[33] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 25–6, 55–6; Svensen, ‘Motives and the Maritime Strike’, 21–2.

[34] Age, 1 November 1890, 8.

[35] Extract of a motion carried at the conference, quoted in Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 66.

[36] Worker, 15 November 1890, 1.

[37] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 76–8.

[38] Brisbane Courier, 28 February 1891, 5.

[39] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 80; Sullivan and Sullivan, ‘The Pastoral Strikes, 1891 and 1894’, 88; Don Dignan, ‘McIlwraith, Sir Thomas (1835–1900)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcilwraith-sir-thomas-4099/text6549.

[40] The most comprehensive account of the strike is Svensen’s The Shearers’ War. Summaries are available in H. Kenway, ‘The Pastoral Strikes of 1891 and 1894’, in Prelude to Power: The Rise of the Labour Party in Queensland, 1885–1915, ed. D. J. Murphy, R. B. Joyce and Colin A. Hughes (Milton: Jacaranda Press, 1970), 111–26; Sullivan and Sullivan, ‘The Pastoral Strikes, 1891 and 1894’, 80–92.

[41] Bolton and Gregory, ‘The 1891 Shearers’ Strike’, 124.

[42] R. B. Joyce, ‘Griffith, Sir Samuel Walker (1845–1920)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/griffith-sir-samuel-walker-445/text11119.

[43] Reproduced in Darling Downs Gazette, 22 December 1888, 4.

[44] J. C. H. Gill, ‘Tozer, Sir Horace (1844–1916)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tozer-sir-horace-8837/text15505.

[45] Griffith to Tozer, 16 March 1891, Queensland State Archives, COL/415, referenced in Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 106.

[46] Griffith to A. H. Palmer, n.d. (c. 20 February 1891), strike folder, Colonial Secretary’s files, Queensland State Archives, quoted in Roger B. Joyce, Samuel Walker Griffith (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1984), 161.

[47] Joyce, Samuel Walker Griffith, 161.

[48] Vance Palmer, The Legend of the Nineties (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1963, first published 1954), 150.

[49] Telegraph (Brisbane), 14 March 1891, 2.

[50] Spence, Australia’s Awakening, 274–5.

[51] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 122–3, 133–4, 154–5.

[52] Brisbane Courier, 4 March 1891, 5; Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 69–72.

[53] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 131, 145.

[54] M. M. Bennett, Christison of Lammermoor (London: Alston Rivers Ltd, [1927]), 193–200; G. C. Bolton and H. J. Gibbney, ‘Bennett, Mary Montgomerie (1881–1961)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-mary-montgomerie-5212/text8773; E. M. Allingham, ‘Christison, Robert (1837–1915)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/christison-robert-222/text4823.

[55] Suzanne Starky, ‘Garmson, Aileen Anna Maria’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993, Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, accessed 6 June 2023, teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2g1/garmson-aileen-anna-maria.

[56] Gavin Souter, A Peculiar People: The Australians in Paraguay (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1981, first published 1968), 9; Worker, 2 May 1891, 8.

[57] Bendigo Independent, 4 March 1891, 4; Argus, 15 April 1891, 6; Daily Northern Argus (Rockhampton), 20 April, 1891, 3.

[58] Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 17 March 1891, 5.

[59] Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal, 14 April 1891, 2.

[60] Brisbane Courier, 2 September 1895, 5; Daily Northern Argus (Rockhampton), 2 September 1895, 2; Worker, 11 May 1895, 3.

[61] Argus, 12 December 1906, 9.

[62] Argus, 25 October 1943, 5; Weekly Times (Melbourne), 27 October 1943, 3; Herald (Melbourne), 23 October 1943, 3.

[63] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 216; Peter Forrest and Sheila Forrest, Bush Battleground: Barcaldine 1891 (Darwin: Shady Tree for the Barcaldine Regional Council, 2009), 126.

[64] D. J. Murphy, ‘Two Administrators’, in Prelude to Power: The Rise of the Labour Party in Queensland, 1885–1915, ed. D. J. Murphy, R. B. Joyce and Colin A. Hughes (Milton: Jacaranda Press, 1970), 216–23; Rodney Sullivan, ‘Hinchcliffe, Albert (1860–1935)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hinchcliffe-albert-6677/text11513.

[65] G. Hannan, ‘William Lane—Mateship and Utopia’, in Prelude to Power: The Rise of the Labour Party in Queensland, 1885–1915, ed. D. J. Murphy, R. B. Joyce and Colin A. Hughes (Milton: Jacaranda Press, 1970), 181–6; Souter, A Peculiar People.

[66] Australian Republican, 21 February 1891, reproduced in Paul D. Twomey, ‘The Sedition Trials of FCB Vosper’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 12, no. 2: 203–23; E. Jaggard, ‘Vosper, Frederick Charles Burleigh (1869–1901)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/vosper-frederick-charles-burleigh-8933/text15695.

[67] The image includes Daniel Murphy who also served a three-year sentence, but on a separate charge relating to his role in the Peak Downs ‘riot’. See Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 21 May 1891, 5.

[68] Townsville Daily Bulletin, 22 June 1915, 3; Martin Sullivan, ‘Brown, Alfred John (c. 1858–?)’, PA, accessed 5 June 2023, peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/brown-alfred-john-32320. There are thirteen men in the photograph. ‘Smith-Barry, Henry Charles (c. 1842–1928)’, PA, accessed 5 June 2023, peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-barry-henry-charles-32313/text40010.

[69] ‘Smith-Barry, Henry Charles (c. 1842–1928)’, PA, accessed 5 June 2023, peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-barry-henry-charles-32313/text40010; ‘Blackwell, Hugh Octavius (c. 1847–1937)’, PA, accessed 5 June 2023, peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/blackwell-hugh-octavius-32296/text39969; ‘Forrester, Alexander (Alec) (1853–1932)’, PA, accessed 5 June 2023, peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/forrester-alexander-alec-32298/text39976; Souter, A Peculiar People, 51; Worker, 9 December 1893, 2; Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts (Barcaldine), 5 December 1893, 6; Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 13 April 1895, 4.

[70] Worker, 18 January 1928, 7.

[71] South Australian Register, 8 February 1894, 7; ‘Prince, Robert (Bob) (c. 1860–1937)’, PA, accessed 5 June 2023, peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/prince-robert-bob-32312/text40007.

[72] Wendy Birman, ‘Taylor, George (Mulga) (1861–1935)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 13 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-george-mulga-8755/text15341.

[73] Julian Stuart, Part of the Glory: Reminiscences of the Shearers’ Strike Queensland 1891 from the Pen of Julian Stuart (1886–1929), with a Forward on the Man and His Times by Lyndall Hadow (Sydney: Australasian Book Society, 1967); Donald Grant, ‘Stuart, Julian Alexander (1866–1929)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stuart-julian-alexander-8706/text15237.

[74] B. W. Nethercote, ‘Hamilton, William (Bill) (1858–1920)’, ADB, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 5 June 2023, adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hamilton-william-bill-6540/text11237.

[75] Worker, 10 August 1937, 6; ‘Prince, Robert (Bob) (c. 1860–1937)’.

[76] ‘Fothergill, William (c. 1859–1921)’, PA, accessed 5 June 2023, peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/fothergill-william-32319/text40036.

[77] Telegraph (Brisbane), 30 July 1920, 7.

[78] Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts (Barcaldine), 17 December 1921, 7.

[79] Sunday Times (Perth), 29 September 1935, 9.

[80] Worker, 9 March 1932, 9.

[81] Worker, 17 July 1929, 11.

[82] Worker, 16 May 1891, 8.

[83] Clement Semmler, ‘Notes on the Literature of the Shearers’ Strikes of 1891 and 1894’, Australian Quarterly 41, no. 4 (December 1969): 75–87.

[84] Fitzpatrick, Short History, 78; D. J. Murphy, ‘Queensland’, Labor in Politics: The State Labor Parties in Australia, 1880–1920, ed. D. J. Murphy (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1975), 147.

[85] Stuart Macintyre, The Party: The Communist Party of Australia from Heyday to Reckoning (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2022), 300.

[86] J. B. Hirst, ‘The Pioneer Legend’, Historical Studies 18, no. 71 (1978): 316–37; Bolton and Gregory, ‘The 1891 Shearers’ Strike’, 116–26, doi.org/10.1080/10314617808595595.

[87] Stuart Macintyre, ‘“Who Are the True Believers?”, The Manning Clark Labor History Memorial Lecture, Hobart, 28 September 1994’, Labour History 68 (May 1995): 155–67, doi.org/10.2307/27516359; Frank Bongiorno, ‘Australian Labour History: Contexts, Trends and Influences’, Labour History 100 (May 2011): 1–18, doi.org/10.5263/labourhistory.100.0001.

[88] Spence, Australia’s Awakening, 111. For example, Fitzpatrick, Short History, 65; Robin Gollan, Radical and Working Class Politics: A Study of Eastern Australia, 1850–1910 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1967), 109; Rickard, Class and Politics, 7.

[89] Svensen, The Shearers’ War, 214.

[90] Sullivan and Sullivan, ‘The Pastoral Strikes, 1891 and 1894’, 97–8.

[91] Gollan, Radical and Working Class, 109; Murphy, ‘Queensland’, 149; Dyrenfurth, Heroes & Villains, 16.

[92] Worker, 30 May 1891, 6.

[93] Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party, 1891–1991 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1991), 2.

[94] Forrest and Forrest, Bush Battleground, 125; Frank Bongiorno, ‘The Origins of Caucus: 1856–1901’, in True Believers: The Story of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, ed. John Faulkner and Stuart Macintyre (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2001), 11–12. Just in terms of Queensland, Murphy claims that the ALF executive met to draw up plans for a labor party organisation in Blackall in December 1890, where ‘the Labor party in Queensland was formally born’, in ‘Queensland’ (p. 143). R. B. Joyce identifies the foundational moment as being the first meeting of a Workers Political Organisation branch in Fortitude Valley in February 1891, in ‘Queensland’. See P. Loveday, A. W. Martin and R. S. Parker, eds., The Emergence of the Australian Party System (Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1977), 122. Other colonies have their own claims.

[95] Bongiorno, ‘The Origins of Caucus’, 3–16.

[96] Worker, 19 January 1948, 5; Tribune (Sydney), 2 May 1962, 12; Tribune (Sydney), 24 April 1985, 5; ‘Manifesto of the Queensland Labour Party’, State Library of Queensland, 8 September 2017, accessed 4 June 2023, www.slq.qld.gov.au/blog/manifesto-queensland-labour-party-0.

Citation details

Peter Woodley, 'Entangled experiences of class: The 1891 Queensland bush workers’ strike', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/essay/31/text43303, originally published 29 May 2024, accessed 15 July 2024.

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