Thousands celebrate Shearers Strike 125th anniversary | Photos

Barcaldine honours its political roots

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Aflame: Barcaldine locals re-enacted a February 1891 march, complete with burning effigies of 'Barcoo' Murphy and then-Premier Samuel Griffith. Pictures: Sally Cripps.

Aflame: Barcaldine locals re-enacted a February 1891 march, complete with burning effigies of 'Barcoo' Murphy and then-Premier Samuel Griffith. Pictures: Sally Cripps.

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One of the great pieces of Australian history these were the words of Gerry Fogarty in welcoming visitors to Barcaldine for the 125th anniversary of the 1891 Shearers Strike and that was how the town remembered and celebrated the nationally significant event on the weekend.

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One of the great pieces of Australian history these were the words of Gerry Fogarty in welcoming visitors to Barcaldine for the 125th anniversary of the 1891 Shearers Strike and that was how the town remembered and celebrated the nationally significant event on the weekend.

Barcaldine was packed to the rafters for the historic occasion, hosting not just Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and some of her cabinet ministers but former ALP Prime Minister Bob Hawke and former federal Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Also present were relatives of Kevin OLeary, the longest-serving member of the Labor Party, who had given 85 years of service to the party when he passed away last year at the age of 100, and descendants of the 12 unionists who were imprisoned for three years with hard labour for conspiracy, dealing the death blow to the strike.

Country music artist Graeme Connors started the celebrations off with an electrifying 60th birthday performance in front of 2000 people at the Australian Workers Heritage Centre, a free drought relief event.

Earlier that evening, LNP Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar promised Barcaldine the Labour Day holiday would remain, saying it was essential that the towns Tree of Knowledge Festival was future-proofed for the tourism boost it brought to the community.

It was on May 1, 1891, during the Shearers Strike, that Australias first May Day march took place in Barcaldine, and the festival has been built to celebrate that.

The LNP Newman government shifted the public holiday to October when it was in office but it was returned to May this year by the Palaszczuk government, honouring a key election commitment.

The Premier received a resounding cheer on Sunday night when she reinforced that message in front of the Tree of Knowledge monument following a re-enactment of a Shearers Strike torchlight march.

After a weekend of horse racing, goat racing, Revfest, rugby league, an art competition sponsored by the Maritime Union of Australia, and market stalls galore, Wayne Swan told Sundays crowd the weekend event had been the best ever. This event is world-class and will get bigger and better, he said.

Barcaldine Regional Council mayor Rob Chandler said the events of 1891 had given Australia the political system it enjoyed today.

Widely regarded as consolidating labourers efforts into a political force, they also brought the lobby group representing pastoralists into being.

In October 1886, just as Barcaldine came into existence, shearers at Isis Downs called a meeting in Blackall where they formed the Queensland Shearers Union.

Within a years time they had 1000 members and were sponsoring the growth of the Blackall-based Workingmans Parliamentary Representation Association, which encouraged bush workers to enrol to vote and seek to influence political decision-making.

This expansion of union muscle, along with a general economic malaise, led 21 station owners or their representatives to meet in Barcaldine in April 1889 to form the Central Queensland Employers Association.

Their president was the Member for Barcoo, Francis Murphy, the owner of Northampton Downs at Blackall, and the committee consisted of Andrew Crombie, who managed property for the influential grazier George Fairbairn, including Strathdarr at Longreach, James Niall of Evora and Delta in the Blackall and Barcaldine districts, and Robert Oliver of Isis Downs.

When they insisted on freedom of contract to be able to employ whoever they liked the stage was set for conflict.

By the start of 1891, Queensland had 3700 union shearers, 18 million sheep and 150 shearing sheds, but the unionists miscalculated when they went on strike in January, at Logan Downs near Clermont.

The peak of the shearing season was not until May and the 60 strike camps set up from Hughenden to the New South Wales border ran out of financial contributions.

Combined with some of the wettest weather in western Queenslands history to date, scab labour that was able to shear well enough, and a government teetering on the edge of insolvency, the strike petered out and the United Pastoralists Association was born.

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