The 1891 Shearers’ Strike
This period in Australia’s history was tumultuous and very political but helped to form better working conditions for future generations of Australians.
The Strike was the beginning of the union movement and the Labor Party in Australia.
Shearers of the day had to sign a contract to gain employment and because there was an excess of workers at the time, unethical practices were employed by some managers and pastoralists. The event that sparked the conflict was when the pastoralists decided to decrease the price of shearing a sheep.
In February 1891, Clermont shearers went on strike and were followed not long after by their western counterparts. Strike camps sprang up all over the west and tempers ran high. A large camp was formed at Lagoon Creek on the edge of Barcaldine and smaller camps were established on the fringes of the town.
It is believed that during this time the Tree again became a meeting place. Torchlight marches to the Tree of Knowledge took place, plays and assemblies were held under the shade of the Tree and shearers gathered to hear political speeches. In 1892 the various unions met under the tree and endorsed TJ Ryan as the first Labor candidate for the Queensland parliament.
The strike became quite violent and shearing sheds were to be burnt down. The Militia was brought in to control the situation. The 13 leaders of the Shearers’ Strike were charged and sentenced to three years hard labour at St Helena Island Prison. This combined with the lack of rations, funds and bad weather caused the shearers to disband.
1. W. J. Bennett, Chairman Strike Committee
2. W. Fothergill, Secretary Strike Committee
3. A. J. Brown, Member Strike Committee
4. H. O. Blackwell, Secretary Q.L.U
5. F.H. Murphy, Secretary Roma branch Q.L.U
6. R. Taylor, Organiser C.D.C
7. A.Forrester, Organiser C.D.C
8. W. Hamilton, Delegate Strike Committee
9. W.H. Smith-Barry, Delegate Strike Committee
10. P. F. Griffin, Chairman Clermont Camp
11. A.J.S Stuart, Member C.D.C
12. R. Prince
13. D. Murphy
Over the years the Tree has become a symbol of the struggle, of striving for a “fair go” and the right for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
In 1930-31 there was another shearers’ strike and again the shearers gathered under the Tree. They also gathered on the platform of the railway station to see off so called scab shearers who were brought in by train.
In more recent times the Tree has also been witness to a political demonstration of around 2,000 people from all over western Queensland protesting against Council amalgamations.
Barcaldine QLD 4725