Australian Railway Story: Chapter 9

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Radical People and Events Linked with Australian Railways

(‘Radical’- roots, origins; by extension, those who search out the roots of a problem; politicians of advanced liberal views [The Oxford English Dictionary])

The Peter Lalor Connection - A Democratic Tradition

Time after time in the stories, poetry and songs of the Australian railways reference is made to the brave men of Eureka. There is a direct connection between the early Australian railways and the events of the goldfields struggle for democratic rights, and that is with the central figure in the struggle, Peter Lalor.

Lalor arrived in Australia from Ireland in 1852 with a Civil Engineering background. His movements In Australia over the next two years are not clear, he is thought to have worked for a short time on Australia’s first steam railway (the Hobson Bay line, from Melbourne to Port Melbourne), which was completed shortly before the Eureka events of 1854. Both his Irish and railway backgrounds most certainly influenced his actions before and after 1854. Following his acquittal on charges related to Eureka in March 1855 Lalor was free to resume his railway career and was appointed Inspector of Works when the Victorian Railway Department was formed in 1856.

Over the years his influence in the struggle for democracy in Australia, was often recalled in railway circles where his personnel point of view on democracy was well known.

“I would ask these gentlemen what they mean by the term ‘democracy’. Do they mean Chartism or Communism or Republicanism? If so, I never was, I am not now nor do I ever intend to be a democrat. But if democracy means opposition to a tyrannical press, a tyrannical government, then I have been, I am still and will ever remain as democrat.”
(In Greatest Australians, Melville, W.B., 1913)

While he may have had some differences with many of his countrymen who had been forced to leave Ireland because of famine or struggles with the British. His and the general experience of these early Irish Australian Railway people is summarised by the following song.

I Followed The Call
I follow the call of the people before me
I follow the call of my own Celtic blood
I follow the call across the waves and the oceans
I follow the call to the land that I love
Maria Forde, Victoria.

Currently the Railway Story is in the process of seeking permission to display the full content of this song or poem or to have a copy linked via the web to this research document

Glenrowan, 1880

In June 1880 Ned Kelly made his last stand at the Glenrowan Hotel. This act of defiance is seen by many historians as a political act directed towards the establishment of a separate self governing state that would take in parts of North Eastern Victoria and Southern NSW.

Kelly and his followers were in Glenrowan, still an outpost 230 Kilometres from Melbourne, to arrange for the train tracks to torn up. Their objective was to sabotage the special police train coming from Melbourne and thus weaken Victorian State Government control over the area. The plot failed when the police train was late and railway station staff were alerted and stopped the train.

Ned Kelly Special Train

At one am the Kelly gang rode for the railway line
Remove the rails Ned Kelly called we'll wreck the train tonight
A special train is coming from Melbourne through the night
Let them try & capture us Ned Kelly then did cry
They rounded up the station master the navvies to as well
They went down from Glenrowan to the railway line
Start ripping up the line Ned called out in the bright moonlight
We'll stop the cursed troopers and wreck the train tonight

From Words & music of Ken Robertson

Currently the Railway Story is in the process of seeking permission to display the full content of this song or poem or to have a copy linked via the web to this research document

Barcaldine, 1891

About the same time as Ned Kelly attempted to derail the special train Queensland Railway Employees were forming their first Union. Influenced by event like Eureka the rule book of the Queensland Railway Employees association had this to say to its members in poetic rhyme

“Let Us Work
For the cause that needs assistance,
For the wrongs that need resistance,
For the future in the distance
And the good that we may do”

With railway development (in Australia) firmly in the hands of State Governments that were dominated by a rural grouping known to Australians as ‘Squatters’, a railway line reached the western Queensland town of Barcaldine in 1890. A year later this railway station, only a short distance from the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ witnessed the birth of the Australian Labor Party, and the staging area for one of the largest military operations in Australia’s history that was directed against striking wool Shearers. In such circumstance it was not very long before the railway and railway unions were drawn into this dispute.

Quoting from the Queensland Parliamentary debate on the Shearers Strike held in 1891 shortly after the strike Vince Daddow in his book the Puffing Pioneers provides a detailed description of this involvement that lead to the sacking of many protesting railway employees who were eyewitnesses to the events at Barcaldine

The final part played by the new railway in these troubled times was its use to take twelve of the strike leaders to Rockhampton in chains, where they were sentenced to three years jail under an archaic law that had previously been repealed in England for taking Industrial action..

Railways and Federation

The need for Australian Railways and a standard railway gauge was at the centre of the debate for the establishment of the Australian Commonwealth. The communication role of the railway services already operating throughout the States enabled Australians, particularly in the eastern States, to see beyond narrow State boundaries to a Federation. Many of the constitutional agreements were built around railways and their future. Western Australia demanded a new railway line to link the west with the eastern States as the price of entry into the Federation. Some limited powers to the Commonwealth regarding railways were included in the final documents that established the Commonwealth. Fortunately for Australia, mutual interest in railways drew a range of people with diverse experience of railways together, whose actions and thinking were to impact the nation in several important struggles for a national outlook that followed.

Under the Australian Constitution of the Commonwealth that was established in 1901 the Commonwealth Government has:
The control of railways with respect to transport for the naval and military purposes of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth can proceed with the acquisition, with the consent of a State, of any railways of the State on terms arranged between the Commonwealth and the State.
The Commonwealth can proceed with railway construction and extension in any State with the consent of the State.
(The Australian The Australian Constitution, Appendix A)

But the debate for a truly National Railway had only just begun and was lead by people like King O’Malley and his friend J. H Catts MHR

King O’Malley: plans for innovative public funding of national railways

King O’Malley, a remarkable but mysterious radical politician of North American origin, became a member of Australia’s first Commonwealth Parliament. O’Malley had a family background in banking and finance, and was probably the most economically literate person in the country. We are introduced to his ideas on a national railway system through extracts of the stage play ‘The Legend of King O’Malley’, by Michael Boddy and Robert Ellis (1974).

O’Malley’s Vision of a Railway Line across Australia:

King O’Malley: Yes. I want a trans-continental railway-one gauge.
(Pageant: The East-West Railway joins in a dance with the other visions.)

King O’Malley: And I envision enormous locomotives crossing east to west ferrying provender and people from sea to shining sea.

O’Malley on the Cost of Australian Railway Construction, addressing the States:

King O’Malley: You're in debt up to here. For you're paying Pommy interest
and you haven't saved the money you would lend to someone else for
ten per cent. Think of that from a Commonwealth investment that the people all share.
Now a bank, now a bank, a Commonwealth Bank.
A Federation money-box, a Federation gold mine.

O’Malley’s New Vision to Finance the Building of Australian Railways

King O’Malley: And I saw and beheld a place where all wealth held in common by a nation not yet born would be stored and kept in trust for the people and no man-mangling demon pot-bellied capitalist pickpocket could ever dabble his greedy fingers—an unflinching Commonwealth Bank for all the people who would be that nation's kings.

O’Malley’s Radical View on Public Transport

Member : Er, Mr. O'Malley, what is your attitude to the question of public transport?
King O’Malley: I think it should be free.
(General moan of embarrassment and disbelief. ‘Galah, galah!’)
Chairman: Free, Mr. O'Malley?

King O’Malley: Yes, dammit. You collect the fares to pay the conductors to collect the fares, and you raise the fares to pay the inspectors to watch the conductors collect the fares. And you tax the people to pay for the trams. All you’re doing is paying bloodsuckers and stool-pigeons to snoop while the trams are falling apart. Just tax the people to pay for the trams and the drivers and let the people ride on them for free.

J. H Catts MHR
A long time friend of O’Malley was J. H Catts MHR, the NSW State Secretary of the early Railway Union in the early 1900’s. He had turned towards the early co-operative movement for a solution to many of the problems faced by his union members. Through his influence many social services were established that flowed into the industrial, social, business and legal life of Australians. Mutual aid organisations were set up, such as hospital funds and credit unions, as well as educational institutions for workers and their families. During Catts’ time in office the union movement was seen in the following way:

A Union Man
I joined the union years ago
I've no cause to regret it
The only friend of the working man
Don't you ever forget it.

I always paid my subs on time
I attended every meeting
I helped in every way I could
If only a friendly greeting.

I served on committees when asked
I did all within my reach
And sometimes when the meeting lagged
I came up with a little speech.

I did honest work for my pay
And am happy know to tell
I joined the union years ago
It has served me long and well.

And when alas the race is run
In which I also ran
Carve this line upon my tomb
I was a Union man.

Trans Continental Railway 1911

Due to the efforts of King O’Malley the first sods of the Trans-Continental Railway were turned on the eve of World War 1 between 1911 and 1912 but it was carried out at a huge cost to the Aboriginal people in Central Australia. To build this line and operate the early steam trains on the Trans Continental large amounts of water were required, and many water holes of the traditional owners were destroyed in the process.

YURIN KABI* – Gathering Place

Yurin kabi, gathering place
A special history
Yurin kabi, gathering place
For the Anangu people
So much more than a memory

For thousands of years the people came
From north, south, east and west
Ooldea’s waters were pure and good
Her desert oaks gave rest
Then white man’s plans and the white man’s trains
Wanted the water too
Tribal ways began to fade with white fellas’ easy food

Daisy Bates grew quite irate at the damage the trains had done
She saw a people once so proud turn to beggars in the sun
Annie Lock with the word of God built a mission on ancient lands
Detribalise - the official cry, school lessons in the sand

But yurin kabi was dying now, too many camped too long
The water turned sour, the sand hills blew
Then the British talked of a bomb
Politics and power games, Ooldea was caught between
Shut the mission down; force them south
Was the Government’s new scheme

Old people talk of the Dreaming story, Water snake in all his glory
Had given them the gift of Ooldea water
But when the people left, Water snake slithered away
No more water at Ooldea today

*(Copyright Jeanette Wormald August 2001 with special thanks to Numitja Iili
N.B. Yurin Kabi, also spelt Juldigabi is the Pitjantjatjara name for Ooldea Soak. It means gathering place.)

The First World War, 1914

Work across the Nullarbor was slowed down as the first wave of Australian troops, all volunteers, left Australia in 1914 and 1915. Due to the nature of war at the time whole regiments of special Railway Units were formed in the AIF. Out of a workforce of 45,000 employees in NSW a total of 8500 signed up. The response was similar in other states. But with the war machine bogged down in trench warfare in Europe
and tens of thousands of troops being killed, the demand for Australian conscripts was increasing,. Opposition to the War and conscription was being led by many of those in the front lines

The Sleeper Cutters Camp

(The following was written at Messines, France, June, 1917 and posted to Australia but was banned by the censor, First published in his book Songs from the Cane Fields)

My sole address at present is a battlefield in France-
If it's ever going to alter there is only just a chance-
To dodge the ‘Jerry’ rifles and the shrapnel flying around-
I've burrowed like a bunny to a funkhole in the ground.
The floor is just a puddle and the roof lets in the damp
I wish I was in Aussie where the Sleeper Cutters camp.

The tea is foul and bitter like an ancient witches brew-
The bread is sour and scanty and you ought to see the stew-
The "Lootenant" that is leading is a leery kind of coot-
We always call 'im ‘Mr’ so plain ‘Bill’ would never suit.
I'd sell my chance of Heaven for five minutes with the scamp
Where the red bull's chewing nut grass near the Sleeper Cutters Camp.

If another war is starting I'll hand out with the ‘jibs’
Not much in being a hero with a bayonet 'tween your ribs-
Hard fighting for the Froggies pushing Huns across the Rhine
They can take Alsace and Flanders and Normandy for mine.
All I'm needing is a pozzie where ground is not too damp
'Neath azure skies of Auzzie - just a Sleeper Cutters' camp.

Here, sitting in a dug-out, with a rifle on my knees-
I fancy I am back there once again among the trees-
With long-lost friends I'm chatting by the camp fire's ruddy glow
Where we boiled the old black billy in days of long ago...

The signal comes to ‘Fall-in’
I can hear the diggers tramp-
farewell, perhaps forever
In the Sleeper Cutters' camp....

(by Dan Sheahan, 1917)

1st World War Conflict Spreads to Australia and Its Railways

Sharp divisions occurred in Labor’s ranks that saw the war more and more as a war between two imperial powers in which workers’ interests were not being served by being involved. Both Catts and King O’Malley joined people like John Curtin and Engine Driver Ben Chifley who were to clash with Prime Minister Billy Hughes over conscription of Australian troops.

By 1917 the issues between those still supporting the war at all costs were not confined to conscription alone. Management of NSW Railways, aware of the development of new mass industrial systems in industries overseas, chose this time to introduce some of these methods into the railway work place. The stage for the great 1917 Railway Strike was set. Prime Minister Hughes argued it was an attempt by the unions to sabotage his war effort. A combination of events and people were brought together by these circumstances that still have repercussions in Australia today.

Further extracts from the stage play ‘The Legend of King O’Malley’ capture some of the drama that unfolded.

Hughes: Mister Catts! I have been told that while acting as Director of Voluntary Recruiting you have been speaking against my plans for Conscription, and urging all your recruits to vote No in the Referendum. Is there any truth in this?

Catts: Yes, Mr. Hughes. I believe that while it is a man's privilege to give his life for a cause, it is not the state's privilege to take his life from him if he wants to keep it for himself.

Hughes: Mr. Catts, as Prime Minister, I deplore your action. As Attorney-General I charge you under the War Precautions Act with endangering our alliance with (Consults notes. Is prompted.) — Japan. You will be tried, you will be found guilty, and you will be sentenced. The sentence is death.

Hughes: You're finished, O'Malley. You've won the vote. You've buggered up Conscription and you've split the country, and you're finished. Why don't you get back to Yankee-land where you belong?

The 1917 Railway Strike

Meanwhile the largest industrial strike in Australia’s history was underway. The 1917 strike was to leave much bitterness generally, and a bit of a cloud over the railway industry for over fifty years. After its defeat it was to alter the careers of many of its participants, sometimes in unforeseen ways.

I should not be a Member of this Parliament today if some tolerance had been extended to the men who took part in the strike of 1917. All that harsh and oppressive treatment did as far as I was concerned was to transform me, with the assistance of my colleagues, from an ordinary engine driver into the Prime Minister of this country.
(Ben Chifley, former engine driver)

Song Of The Strike Of 1917

Tramp, tramp, tramp! Can't you hear
the marching feet,
As the sturdy sons of labor come swinging
down the street?
With manly step and bearing, and faces
shining bright,
They have taken up the gauntlet in the
battle for the right.

In the van are labor's heroes who've
fought and shed their blood
To save our daunted freedom being
trampled in the mud.
They can hear their comrades calling, from
far across the sea,
As we fight in France for freedom, fight
to keep our homeland free.

We have fought the German Tyrant, and
have written Austral's name
In imperishable letters, high upon the
scroll of fame;
But our blood was spilt for nothing and
our sacrifice were in vain
If our own dear Australia is bound
by Serfdom's chain.

So Courage comrades Courage, stand
together, one and all,
For united we shall conquer, but
divided we shall fail.
And with grim determination see that
freedom's flag still waves
For the true sons of Australia, never
never, shall be slaves.

One event always remembered about the 1917 strike was that the government housed the non-union labour at Sydney’s Zoo.

The New Exhibits

‘Say, what are these exhibits called?’, the monkey asked her mate -
‘Those bipeds that the keeper has admitted through the gate,
A longing undeniable the problem to discuss
Have I - oh, tell me what they are, who come to live with us?’.

‘Your question is a poser, and my answer's Humpty Do,
For likewise I am puzzled much’, said monkey Number two.
‘I’ve eyed them up and I’ve eyed them down, I’ve viewed them near and far-
But twist my tail if I can guess what brand of beast they are’.

Then went the Ape inquisitive, behind a pile of rocks,
And put her question to a seer, to wit the ancient fox.
‘Oh Mr. Fox’ the monkey asked, ‘I come to learn from you,
Particulars concerning those new tenants at the zoo’.

The Fox he wunk a knowing wink, peculiar to seers,
‘Oh they,’ he said, ‘are what are called, the rural volunteers.’
‘God gave to them a backbone each (but right against their wish) -
They much prefer to emulate the spineless jelly-fish!’

‘God gave them strength with which to help the weak who call for aid -
It was, I think, the one mistake that ever heaven made!’
And curious folk they are at best- the cussedest of all:
God gave them legs—and-yet —how strange!—they each prefer to crawl’.

‘God gave them eyes with which to see but bitter facts remind
My comprehension stubbornly that most of them are blind!
God gave them each a brain to use—but—this you wouldn't guess -
They get their thinking done for them by Bulging Belly's Press’.

‘I thank you much,’ the monkey said, ‘I felt most strangely queer
As though impelled to vomiting whenever they came near.
It isn’t fair to our good name, to either fox or ape-
So when the night enfolds the Zoo I'm making my escape!’

(By R.J. Cassidy, 1917)

The Scab Train

I'll tell to you a story, put it crudely into rhyme
Of the longest strongest scab train to ever grace the line.
It was early in the New Year and a bastard of a time,
She was loaded up with Jackies she pulled out from number nine.
Stopping short of Strathfield like a tiger in her tracks,
And there took in 100 of those gutter-persia Jacks
(‘They're Victorians of course’).

By Gympie and Rockhampton she puffed and steamed and curled,
The longest strongest scab train throughout the world.
You must have some excuse for scabbing,
And they are only the tools, and the bloody fools
Of Jim Yates and the big fat Queensland squatters.

Now you have finished all your shearing and gone back to New South Wales
And muster up your relatives and relate to them your tales,
Of how you scabbed in Queensland you dirty rotten whore
May they kick you out into the street and speak to you no more.

For you've disgraced your parents, your children and your wife
And by your dirty scabbing action you are branded black for life
They will hear of you where ere they go and hang their heads in shame
They will disown you as a father and regret to bear your name,
And friends you won’t have any, and everyone will shun the off spring-
Of a bastard who scabbed in '31.

And when you die of cancer I'll act the dirty knave,
I'll stroll across the border and shit upon your grave.

‘That's the way you want to do it!..... that come from Moree.
I learnt it off a bloke called Urial J. Jurd...Jack Jurd, they
used. to have racehorses, show ponies, cattle and sheep. Jurdy had
a pub, I didn't know him down there, I knew him down the coast.
The Scab Trains' not all there either, there's a little bit in the guts somewhere.’

(Chris Sullivan, recorded from Cyril Duncan, Brisbane 19?)

The Scab’s Dream

Last night I lie [sic] a sleeping,
I had an awful dream;
I dreamt that I was back again in 1917.

I saw the drivers and firemen
And thought it the greatest sight
To see such a body of workmen
Staying out for their rights.

So I came out on strike with them,
But the boss came to me next day
And appointed me a driver,
With a rise of four bob a day.

And when I saw my old mates,
Men that always lent me a bob,
They turned their heads and whispered,
‘He took an old man’s job.’

And when I look at my little boy,
So happy, young and gay,
He doesn’t care if I scabbed it,
But I wonder will he some day.

Then in my dreams I wander to 1937.
My boy has grown to manhood,
He is the pick of an Australian XI.

He came to me one evening,
With a look I had never seen,
And said, ‘Dad, what did you do in 1917?’

For a moment I was dumbfounded,
He had taken my breath away.
Then I answered,
‘I stuck to the Government and worked 16 hours a day.’

Not another word was spoken,
He left me with down-bowed head.
Next morning when I went to his room,
I found him lying dead,

And there a note was written:
‘I love you deary [sic] Dad;
I could not live to be happy
To think I am a son of a Scab.’

Then I woke with the consolation,
It was only a silly dream,
I would give all I possess in the wide, wide world
To live again through 1917.

(by "H.J.L.", 1927)

Every Australian railway strike before 1917 and since was seen by many as the work of a militant minority of workers.

The Militant Group

You've heard of Bill Maggs, a driver by trade,
And his wife, Mrs. Maggs, of the gossip brigade,
She had Bill in hand, Bill was only a dupe,
Until he joined up with the Militant Group.

Mrs. Maggs said, ‘My friend you won't believe it I
But Bill is as different as chalk is from dough,
He used to be only a mug and a coot,
Before he joined up with the Militant Group.

He talks about ‘Walk Out’ and ‘Action’ and ‘Strike’,
And shooting the Bastards when he gets off his bike,
He eats his meat raw and wont look at soup,
Since he's joined up with the Militant Group.

The kids get the wind-up and run to their Ma,
And say, ‘What the bloody hell's gone wrong with Pa?’
The dogs done the bunk, and the cat loops the loop
When he gets home from a night with the Militant Group.

He sings ‘The Red Flag’ and gives the salute,
And tries to make speeches—Oh, Christ he's a beaut!
I've got to listen to the bloody galoot,
I wish him in hell with the Militant Group.

When he gets home at night, before I know what he's at,
He just bowls me over and ‘A 'hem’ — like that,
Mrs. Screw, let me tell you, I'm frightened to stoop!
Since Bill has joined up with the Militant Group.

Mind you, I believe in much of what they do,
I think a group's needed, don't you, Mrs. Screw?
Like the Belchies in Russia, on the master they'll swoop,
When they get properly going in the Militant Group’.

Post World War 1

Australian troops returning from the war were the first to use the Trans Continental Railway in large numbers. The problem for them was the outbreak of the dreaded Spanish Flu through the world. Their trains came to a sudden halt at Parkeston where they were quarantined for weeks.

The Yellow Rag

(Tune: Pop Goes The Weazel)
(Specially dedicated to the passengers by Mr. Ted Russell of No. 2 Boob, in quarantine at Parkeston)

I’m going to sing a song for you
About the Spanish Influ,
And all the topics of the day,
And different things we’ve gone through.

We left Adelaide one fine day
To go across the Trans line
And when we got to Parkeston
Bang! Into quarantine.

Here we have to stay five days,
To stop the ‘flu from spreading;
Don’t know how we will get on for grub,
We’ll have to eat our bedding.

On the day that we arrived,
With the other train we mated;
But some cove started to shout aloud,
‘You’ve got to be fumigated’

When we got in that awful place,
The smell was something shocking;
We stayed in there for about ten minutes,
And then we started knocking.

‘Oh let us out!’ the crowd would yell,
‘Or else you’ll have us freezing.’
We got out in the open air,
Then we started sneezing.

The people from the other train
At us would start a-laughing;
While we would cough and sneeze and grunt,
And all the time they’re chaffing.

Whirley winds and germs galore,
With them we’re always mixing;
But we intend to stamp it out,
New shower baths they’re fixing.

We quarantine the goats and cows
That come within the danger;
We tie some ribbons on their horns
And send them to the chamber.

We serenade each night at eight
To the train across the wa-a-a-y;
We bang tin cans and make a row
To frighten germs away.

They say they’re going to build a bath,
Just near the fumigator;
If you can manage to get a girl
Mixed bathing you can take her.

We’ve torn the flags around the camp
To make each one a medallion;
If anyone asks you to what you belong,
Say ‘Quarantine Battilicu’.

We are a happy little band,
The flu we do not fear;
We’re going to poison all the germs
With whisky, stout and beer.

We’re leaving here on Thursday morn-
That’s if no germs are sighted;
You’re going back to all your homes,
I’m sure you’ll be delighted

Riverton Railway Station 1921
Percival John Brookefield
Post War 1 saw many railways as the stage for many historical events in the Nation’s History one of those was to occur on Riverton Railway Station in South Australia. Percy Brookefield was the Independent Labour Member to State Parliament for Broken Hill. He was a staunch unionist and miner who was expelled from the Labor Party for his stands on miners’ rights. He was responsible for revolutionizing work conditions in Broken Hill. The song below was sung as a dirge at his funeral procession along with ‘The Red Flag’ after he was shot on Riverton South Australian Railway Station on the 22nd March 1921 while trying to disarm a gunman whom many believe was a World War one victim suffering from psychological problems caused by the war.

Percy Brookefield

From North, South, East and Westward
He was loved by every knave
And to save the lives of others
His noble life he gave
He did not want the asking
He was ready for the fray,
And he wrote his name in history
On that immortal day.

Australia, Australia,
The loss of Brookefield we all mourn
He faced the gun, our noble son,
And from our ranks is gone
He loved his fellow workers, and for them his life he gave
And now he’s sleeping peacefully
In a heroes grave.

The train was late that morning
To Adelaide on its way
When a man ran amok at Riverton
And held the crowd at bay
Jack Brookefield in a moment
Said something must be done
And bravely rushed the murderer
And tried to seize the gun.


Lament from shore to shore,
For Brookfield who's no more;
His honest life is over,
He's lying cold and dead
A sterling man was he,
With me you will agree;
He helped men to be free,
Throughout the world wide.


He gave the wowsers fits,
He hated hypocrites,
And men who worked in pits
His heart was brave and pure
Of that we're very sure,
He helped to feed the poor
When faced with poverty.


At Riverton we know
A madman laid him low,
And as years come and go
He will not be forgotten.
The bravest ever trod,
Beloved by man and God,
And now beneath the sod
'til Michael's trumpet sounds.


Farewell, staunch Brookfield,
Your deeds are far a-field;
To death you had to yield
Philanthropist and sport.
Now, goodbye Percy dear
We've shed a silent tear
Your good and grand career
Will never, never die.
(P F Collins, ‘ Percy the Poet’, collected by Hugh Anderson)

The Last Anzac, a Railway Union Activist - Alex Campbell, 1899-2002

As a result of his World War 1 experience, and Government treatment of many returned servicemen, Alex Campbell, the Last Anzac spent much of his life in the fight to improve the working conditions of fellow railway workers and became the Secretary of the Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Railway Union.

Water To The Trenches

Born in eighteen hundred and ninety nine
You lived to the great old age of a hundred and three
As a boy you went to war on a godforsaken shore
To shoot at Christ knows who at Gallipoli
In sight of the Turkish lines, in range of the guns you climbed
To carry water to the trenches every day

You made it through, you were one of the lucky ones
Came home with a bellyfull of rage
You joined a railway gang, became a Union man
And fought for decent hours and a living wage
You stood for the working man, took the Union stand
And carried water to the trenches every day

Water to the trenches
Water to the trenches
Water to the trenches
Every day

They buried you with all the pomp and splendour
And talked about those few weeks of your life
No one made the point that the battle that you joined
Was bigger far than some colonial strife
How easy they forget that once they called you a Red
As you carried water to the trenches all your life

Water to the trenches
Water to the trenches
Water to the trenches
All your life

Alec Campbell, my hat's off to you
But now you're gone it's time we moved on too
To carry water to the trenches...
For each other
(A song by Steve Barnes ©2002 Steve Barnes)

Senator Bill Morrow

Bill Morrow was Tasmanian Railway Union secretary, IWW rebel, international peace fighter, and close friend and mentor of Alex Campbell, the Last Anzac.
Bill Morrow’s life was moulded by many of the radical events referred to above. Life for him began in a family of Queensland Railway people, his father losing a leg as the result of a railway accident. When the World War 1 broke out Bill Morrow, already influenced by the most radical thinkers in the Queensland Labour Movement, opposed the war. In his own way this opposition to war as a solution to international problems continued through out his life. In his last big union peace campaign Bill Morrow joined thousands of other railway unionists in the campaign to stop Australia’s involvement in Vietnam War.

For Bill Morrow

There he was
at the airport, the same
youthful smile, the same
cheerful flow of commonsense
talk; the same bunch of energy;
and together we went
up a Brisbane hill
amongst trees and flowers
looking down on the sedate city
the great winding river, and then
at the clean-limbed youngsters around
barelegged, barebacked, suntanned,
who hold so great a promise
if trained to their potential.

Old Bill, who gallantly
stood up and spoke out
in the Korean War and at
many a conference since
telling the world
what working Australians
who understood, would have
him say, regardless
of his own personal position
face, fame or fortune, and now
in the mid-eighties still
as full of fire as ever
keen to carry it on into the hearts
of those who come after.

The Queensland of old Bill,
of Torres Islanders, and
native Australians, white
Australians, new Australians, of
mangrove trees, mines
and wide plantations, yet
still a land that gropes
for the way ahead, fit place
for clean, down-to-earth ideas
to catch on and spread.

(Rewi Alley 1973)

Dr J.J.C. Bradfield

A Sydney-wide plan for a modern city that would be serviced by good public transport allowing daily movement while preserving its best ecological features was first advanced by JJC Bradfield before the First World War. Work to build one of the main features of this railway system, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was delayed by the war and not recommenced till 1920. In some strange way the bridge when opened in 1932 became embroiled in events that saw the Lang Labor Government propose the stopping of repayment of overseas loans for railways and the anti-Fascist struggle against right wing para-military gangs that was to follow.

CJ Dennis on the Bridge

I Dips Me Lid

Being Further Musings Of ‘The Sentimental Block
By C. J. Dennis.

"Young sir," 'e sez . . . Like that ... It made me feel
Romantic like, as if me dream was reel.
'Is dress was fancy, an' 'is style was grave.
An' me ? I 'ope I know 'ow to be'ave
In 'igh-toned company, for ain't I been
Instructed careful by me wife, Doreen ?
" Sing small," she sez. An' that's jist wot I did.
I sounds me haitches, an' I dips me lid.

"Young sir," 'e sez ... 0' course you understand
Twus jist a dream. But, on the other 'and,
'E seemed so reel as 'e sat spoutin' there
Beside me on ole Dame Macquarie's Chair,
Lookin' across the 'arbor while 'e talked—
Seemed sumpthink more that jist a ghost 'oo walked
Out o' the past ..." Phillip by name," 'e said.
A queer ole cock, wif lace, an' wig on 'ead.

It 'appened this way : I 'ad jist come down,
After long years, to look at Sydney town.
All' 'struth ! Was I knocked endways ? Fair su'prised ?
I never dreamed ! That arch that cut the skies !
The Bridge ! I never thort there could 'a' been—
I never knoo, nor guessed—I never seen ....
Well, Sydney's 'ad some knocks since I been gone,
But strike ! This shows she keeps on keepin' on.

I'd strolled about the town for 'arf a day
Then dragged me carcase round the 'arbor way
To view the Bridge from Dame Macquarie's Chair
Then parks me frame, an' gits to thinkin' there—
Thinkin' of olden days ; an' I suppose
I must 'ave nodded orf into a doze.
Nex' thing I knoo, ole Phillip come an' sat
Beside me, friendly like, an' starts to chat.

" Young sir," 'e sez. " You, too, in sheer amaze
Look upon this, and hark to other days,
An' dream of this fair city's early start,
In which ('e bows) I played my 'umble part—
My 'umble part—a flagpole an' a tent."

“Come orf!" sez I" You was a fine ole gent.
Reel nob. I've read about the things you did.
You picked some site." ('E bows. I dips me lid).
"Young sir," 'c sez. " I've dwelt in spirit 'ere
To watch this city waxin' year by year:
But yesterday, from a mere staff, a tent,
Wonder on wonder as the swift years went—
A thrivin' village, then a busy town,
Then, as a stride, a city of renown.
Oh 1 what a wondrous miracle of growth !
Think you not so ?" " Too right," I sez. "My oath;'

" I've watched, young sir," 'e sez. "An' I 'ave feared
Sometimes ; feared greatly when ill days appeared.
Yet still they fought and wrought. I had small need
To doubt the great heart of this sturdy breed.
Black war has come. Yet, over half a world,
Their sons into that bloody fray they hurled ;
And still they triumphed. Still their lodestar shone."
" Sure thing," sez I. " They kep' on keepin' on."

“Young sir," 'e sez. " The tears well in my eyes
When I behold yon arch that cleaves the skies—
That mighty span, triumphant, where we view
My old friend Darwin's vision now made true :
'There the proud arch, Colossus-like, bestride
Yon glittering stream and bound the chafing tide!
'Twas so he dreamed a few short years agone.
Spoke truly, sir; they keep on keeping on."

So Phillip spoke 'is piece, fair puffed wif pride.
An' 'im an' me dreamed by the 'arbor-side :
I, of the scene before, of years to be,
An' of the marvels that men yet might see ;
'Im, of a lantern gleamin' thro' the fog
To light a tent, an' two men, an' a dog ....
Then both of us, like some queer instinct bids,
Stands up, serioots the Bridge, an' dips our lids.

Liverpool Railway Station 1943

Late in 1943 staff on Liverpool (N.S.W.) railway station were puzzled by the arrival of a train load of what were seen as ‘enemy prisoners of war’. A note one of the prisoners threw to the platform and picked up by a railway unionist quickly cleared up the matter and ended up in a Railway Union office. Those picking up this note did not know it at the time but one of the largest human rights campaigns in Australian history had begun which led to combined Union boycotts of the Dutch colonial empire, the freeing of this train load of illegally held Indonesians and years of collaboration between Australia and the founders of a new independent Asian nation. This poem was written about an aspect of that event. For further details see The Black Armada Lockwood, R, (1977)

Strike For Indonesian Freedom

Yet once more, my fellow-workers! Yet once more you lead the van,
Armed with all unselfish motives, fighting for your fellowman.
Never was a worthier struggle than this Indonesian cause.
Never gentler people suffered under more degrading laws.

Just as diggers at Eureka fought an iron tyranny,
So these Indonesian patriots fight for freedom yet to be.
So you, workers of Australia! born of that Eureka breed,
Truly stand by these, your brothers, fight their fight in word and deed.

Workers of the wharves and hatches! Men who front the waterways!
Once you fought for Chinese fighting in the famous ‘Dalfram’ days!
As you challenged then the might of money, Menzies, and Japan,
Now you fight these Dutch dictators who would crush their fellowman.

Yours a deed of noblest motive. Yours a full self-sacrifice.
Yet your actions get distorted in a gust of printed lies.
Lies decreed by windy barons governing the daily Press.
But—those hungering Indonesians bless you for your selflessness.

And, as Indonesian millions bless you through their doubts and fears,
As they'll greet you, brothers ever, through their songs and through the years,
So will men the whole world over speak of you in times to be:
These were leaders when the people still were struggling to be free.

Fighters in the front of freedom! Wardens of the waterside!
Fellow workers! How you thrill and fill my heart with hope and pride!

Koiki – Eddie Mabo

Over the years many important events have directly involved Australian Railway employees but possible there was none so important than the Marbo case for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander land and sea rights. Very few employment opportunities were open to Aborigines or Torres Strait Islander, so many took up the hardest work in Australian Railways during the 1970s and 1980s. Eddy Mabo, now known for his articulate legal battles for land rights for his people, was one of those that benefited from a rich Australian Railway Unions struggle for democratic rights.

Mabo The Life of an Island Man-

From The Screen Play by Trevor Graham

KOIKI: [voice over] I decided to come to the mainland to find why was
my people treated the way they did. Why they weren't equal to the
rest of Australians.

TREVOR: [voice over] He jumped ship in Cairns and drifted into a series of labouring jobs — cutting cane, laying railways — the only kind of work available to Torres Strait Islanders in Australia in the nineteen fifties.

Dissolve to: a black-and-white photo, a mid shot of men working on railway tracks. Zoom out to medium-wide shot. Dissolve to: a close-up of burning cane. Tilt up the cane. Dissolve to: a black-and-white photo, wide shot of men working on railway tracks. Zoom in to a mid shot of one man. Dissolve to: a black-and-white photo, wide shot of men working on the tracks. Zoom in to mid shot of three men. Dissolve to: a wide shot burning cane. A black-and-white photo of a man's legs. Tilt up to mid shot. Fade out music and singing.


Travelling shot from a train window of western Queensland bush. The landscape is
stark and empty. From the front of the train the tracks disappear into the horizon line.

Music: Simple harmonica.

A long Queensland train slowly grinds its way along the tracks.

Photographs: black laborers working on the rail line. Dissolve to:
A billy boiling on a campfire in the bush.
Dissolve to:
A black hand holds a Marlboro to his lips and takes a big drag.

Dissolve to: Archival footage, the rail line being built.

Dissolve to: A flock of cockatoos flying across the big blue sky.

KOIKI: [voice over} I learnt quite a bit about trade unions while in the railways because the fellows in Hughenden were very much in favour of trade unions and they taught me quite a few things. Although I didn't know about the art of organising a group of people together, but I started organising the gangs to come together, so we don't get shoved round the railway lines like, like they were doing to us.

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