|List||National Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (26/01/2006)|
|Place File No||4/08/201/0004|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
The Tree of Knowledge is very important as the
symbolic focus of political and social events, which had a profound effect on
the future of labour and politics in Australia. The
Shearers' Strike of 1891 is significant as an event in Trade Union History in Australia.† The strike was broken with the backing of the
New South Wales and Queensland governments.† The Shearers' Strike at Barcaldine
culminated on 6 May 1891, when the colonial administration ordered the arrest
of the shearers' leaders on charges of sedition and conspiracy.† Labour Day in Queensland is celebrated
annually in the first week in May, commemorating the 1 May 1891, when striking
shearers and bush workers marched in Barcaldine on
May Day, linking May Day with Labour Day.
As a result of losing the strike, the unions, and others in Queensland, formed ‘Labour Electoral Leagues’, which later became the ‘Labour Party’ and eventually the ‘Australian Labor Party’.† The formation of the ‘Labour Electoral Leagues’ led to the election in 1892, in Queensland, of T. J. Ryan, the first ‘Labour’ representative in any government, anywhere in the world.†
At the time of listing the Tree of Knowledge, a single,
mature Ghost Gum (Eucalyptus papuana),
approximately 8-10 metres high, was located opposite the hotel in the centre of
Barcaldine. A small reserve provided a setting for the tree, the reserve and
tree having been entered in the Queensland Heritage Register on 21 August 1992.|
Following the death of the tree in 2006 a memorial was designed to permanently recognise the events of 1891 and their legacy. The memorial has been designed to represent the tree in an abstract form (incorporating a preserved part of the trunk of the former tree as the trunk) with additional paving, interpretation signage and a supporting structural frame. The frame is a timber, steel and glass structure approximately 18m in width, depth and height.
The rapid expansion of pastoral grazing across the inland areas of Queensland and New South Wales reached its peak in the 1880s and early 1890s. By 1891, most of the runs had been rationalised under the 1884 Land Act; although squatters lost up to one third of their land with increased rents, land tenure had achieved some degree of stability. The new Act also required that properties be fenced, further impacting on the workforce by 1891. As a result of fencing, large stations could be looked after by just twenty or thirty permanent workers. Among the pastoralists was George Fairbairn, with extensive holdings at Barcaldine, including Logan Downs. Like many speculators, Fairbairn had little interest in the men employed on his properties, keeping profitable holdings such as Logan Downs, and selling less profitable places (Svensen 1989). This expansion and more intensive land use required investment in equipment, stock and land, assisted by dedicated blade-shearing crews and the development of mechanical shearing techniques.
In 1868 Frederick York Wolseley commenced squatting on his own account and began experimenting with his idea of a mechanical sheepshearing machine, in the same year that James Higham of Melbourne patented “A new apparatus for shearing and clipping wool for sheep and other animals.” In 1876 Wolseley purchased ‘Euroka’ a property near Walgett, on the Barwon River, New South Wales, where in 1886 he gave the first exhibition and demonstration of his sheep-shearing machine in the presence of a number of squatters and proved that the mechanical shearing machine was a success. ‘The Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company’ was established in Sydney on 25th October 1887 with a capital of ₤20,000.
Once pastoralists had been convinced of the profits to be made from mechanical, as opposed to blade shearing, there was no going back. By 1906, 3000 sets were sold to a total of 300 sheds countrywide and by the 20th anniversary of the invention of the sheep shearing machine in 1907, 20,800 sets had been sold. By 1890, Wolseley sheep shearing machines had been installed at Barcaldine Downs, Terrick Terrick, Milo and Wolfgang in the Leichardt, Mitchell and South Kennedy pastoral districts of Queensland. The first commercial trial in 1886 in New South Wales led inevitably to confrontation between blade shearers and pastoralists, the shearers threatening action on the basis that anyone could now shear sheep. However, machines caused less damage to sheep and fleece, and shore closer producing more wool (Svensen 1989). Nevertheless, it was not until the early 1900s that the shearing rate of the best blade-shearer was surpassed by mechanical shearers.
Wages and conditions of workers in colonial Queensland (and New South Wales) fluctuated in accordance with supply and demand. Newspapers, journals and books of the period, according to Svensen (1989), perpetuated the myth that Australian workers lived in a workingman’s paradise. However, living conditions for shearers and station hands were considered by many to be appalling. Pastoralists had greater rights than workers when it came to conditions of employment under the Masters and Servants Act 1861; an owner could dock a shearer’s pay for ostensibly damaging sheep during shearing, with no real work security. Conversely, although Sir Samuel Griffith introduced the Employers Liability Act in 1886 few claims attributed to negligence by pastoralists succeeded (Svensen 1989).
The Brisbane Trades and Labour Council (TLC) was formed in 1885. Throughout 1887, the secretary of the Federated Seamen’s Union discussed with the TLC the possibility of uniting all trade unions in Australia (Svensen 1989). In 1887-1888, the Central Queensland Carrier’s Union and the Queensland Shearers Union were formed, the new unions proposing certain working conditions to the pastoralists. Within a year there were over 1,300 members. The Central Queensland Labourer’s Union was formed in 1888. These unions were the driving force behind the Strike (Queensland Heritage Register, Tree of Knowledge, File No 600021). By 1889, the TLC had been replaced by the Australian Labour Federation (ALF) (Svensen 1989). In the 1880s unionism was seen as a source of salvation by many dealing with employers, and was an expression of ‘mateship’, which, bush workers readily understood. In 1890-1891, Brisbane was a centre for radical republicanism from where The Worker newspaper was issued by William Lane, a non-voting member of the ALF executive (Queensland Heritage Register File No 600021). According to Svensen (1989), the typical Queensland union leader was born in Britain, migrating to Australia in the mid-1880s. The liberal atmosphere of Brisbane in the mid-1880s coincided with the revival of interest in socialist ideas in Britain and the arrival of new migrants in the 1880s.
From 1882-1888, Sir Samuel Griffith, the Liberal premier of Queensland, was at the head of a recently formed coalition of Liberals and Nationals. Griffith had begun his career as an opponent of the pastoralists, introducing the Trade Union Act 1886, based on an outdated English act of 1871. The Deputy and Treasurer was National Party leader Sir Thomas McIlwraith. An alliance was forged between the two in August 1890. Although Griffith was a progressive thinker and published articles in the radical newspaper, The Boomerang, in 1888, he was out of the colony during the shearers strike, attending federal conferences. The unionists claimed that the Queensland Parliament was nothing more than a branch office of the Pastoralists Association, but this was only partly true. McIlwraith was the only genuine squatter in the government, holding extensive properties. Like Griffith, he was also out of the colony during much of the strike period. The key figure during the strike was the colonial secretary, Horace Tozer. However, there was no effective opposition and no Labour Party (Svensen 1989).
William Guthrie Spence, president of the Amalgamated Shearers Union during its early history, gave credit for the formation of unions to an advertisement placed by graziers in the Western Districts of New South Wales in 1886. The advert made known that wages would be reduced from 20/- to 17/- per 100 sheep. Over the next 6 months some 46 graziers had signed up to the reduction. By 1889, Queensland shearers and bush workers were organized into unions, the earliest shearers’ unions having been formed in the 1870s. The Queensland Shearers’ Union signed up its first member on 5 October 1888 at Maneroo Station, enrolling nearly 8,000 members in its first two years. Among the issues raised by the Union was the need to exclude Chinese workers from the woolshed (Svensen 1989).
In 1889 a meeting was held in the Toorak mansion of George Fairbairn Snr. George Fairbairn Snr was the head of a family enterprise, and the largest sheepholder in the sheep districts of Central Queensland. Fairbairn’s empire crossed into Victoria and New South Wales, with interests in more than 28 stations in Queensland, carrying over 3 million sheep. At the meeting, it was decided to arrange a meeting of central Queensland pastoralists at Barcaldine. At the meeting, graziers formed the Central Queensland Employers Association, designed for the purpose of preventing strikes. At the beginning of 1890 the association changed its name to the Queensland Pastoral Employers Association. It was proposed to draw up a document called the ‘ Mutual Shearing Agreement’. However, there was little in the terms favourable to the unions other than the concession of a 48-hour week. During 1890, apart from the general call-out during the Maritime Strike, there were strikes and rumours of strikes at Barcaldine Downs, and at many other stations in central Queensland. The pastoralists would proclaim “freedom of contract”, allowing men to be engaged in shearing sheds free of union rules. Without consultation they announced severe wage reductions and refused to negotiate, ignoring unions and effectively challenging their right to exist. Conflict was inevitable, the Strike originated at Logan Downs Station, north of Clermont, on 5 January 1891, when George Fairbairn Snr introduced new ‘freedom of contract’ agreements, without discussion with the unions. On 29 December 1890, George Taylor had been instructed by the Central District Council of the ALF to proceed to Clermont. After his arrival at the station at Logan Downs, Taylor called a meeting of the men who had gathered in preparation for the roll-call. He read the proposed ‘Pastoralists Agreement’ to them and a long discussion followed. Eventually it was agreed not to sign, and to abide by the rules of the Queensland Shearers’ Union. A strike camp was formed on the banks of Wolfgang Creek, some 5 kilometres from Clermont (Svensen 1989).
On February 1, 1891, The Queensland Shearers’ Union (QSU) and the Queensland Labourers’ Union (QLU) issued the “Bushmen’s Official Proclamation” to all its members which condemned the attempts of the squatters’ associations to reduce wages and undermine unionism. The Proclamation decried the lack of rights of rural workers and their lack of voice in lawmaking and government, which could protect them. The Proclamation declared that unions were the only means of obtaining justice for workers.
In late February 1891 troops were despatched to Clermont, where some 500 or so unionists were camped. The authorities at Clermont had been arguing that force should be used to disarm and disperse the unionists. However, the recently appointed Inspector of the police force argued that he had no legal power to take such action, and that such a course might precipitate violence (Svensen 1989). The strike focus shifted to Barcaldine, established in 1886 at the head of rail, and at the centre of the Mitchell district, the richest pastoral area of the colony, and where some 30 stations, including the 90-stand Beaconsfield Station were affected by the strike.
A large shed, which acted as a lock up store for the wool from the stations, was located near what came to known as the Tree of Knowledge in the centre of Barcaldine. The tree was also known previously as the ‘Alleluia Tree’, having been used by the Salvation Army. Bullock drivers also met under the tree, in the course of collecting loads from the shed, with the Tree of Knowledge an obvious focus point for the shearers to hold their meetings. On 28 February, unionists staged a torchlight procession through the streets-a stirring event repeated many times in the following months. Over 1,000 men were said to have paraded in the first march, led by 60 horsemen and the local brass band. Effigies of the premier, Sir Samuel Griffith, and the Member for Barcoo, Mr F Murphy, were burned in front of the large crowd. On 15 March Mounted Infantry from Gympie and members of the Wide Bay Mounted Military from Maryborough arrived in Barcaldine by rail. A military camp was set up near the courthouse. The Shearers reacted by moving more men to the camp at Lagoon Creek. The shearers’ camps at Lagoon Creek and Blue Bush Swamp swelled to 4-500 men. More than 1,000 (some reports say 3,000) shearers occupied strike camps outside Barcaldine, including Lagoon Creek, where more than 300 camped with their families from January to May 1891. At Lagoon Creek the camp was established along military lines with three streets and a parade ground where men drilled with the assistance of old soldiers and the band practised rousing marches (Svensen 1989 and Hoch 1986).
In May 1891 the shearers marched under the ‘Eureka Flag’, to put their protests against poor working conditions and low wages (shearers were expected to sign the Pastoralists ‘contract of free labour’). It was here that the shearers sang Henry Lawson’s poem ‘Freedom on the Wallaby’-‘W’ell make the tyrants feel the sting, of those that they would throttle, they needn’t say the fault is ours, if blood should stain the wattle’. The strike was broken using police, troops, non-union labour and the judicial system, with the backing of the New South Wales and Queensland governments, the strike, in reality, being untenable in practical terms without extensive strike funds. The 6th of May 1891 marked the culmination of the Shearers Strike at Barcaldine, when the colonial administration ordered the arrest of the shearer’s leaders on charges of sedition and conspiracy (Australian Workers Union website). The men in the strike camps needed little encouragement to disperse and seek work. Men began leaving the St George, Tambo and Thargomindah camps on 11 June, the Isisford Camp breaking up the next day. By the middle of June 1891 the main strike camp at Lagoon Creek was fast disappearing, the men resolving to send a delegation in response to a government proclamation offering free rations to those prepared to return to work. Other camps at Cloncurry, Hughenden, Windorah and Hungerford had more difficulty in obtaining rations due to the distances involved. The strike was called off at Blackall on 15 June 1891, the men at Winton dispersed two days later. Some 300 men remained at the Lagoon Creek Strike Camp on 18 June 1891, the Hughenden camp breaking up on the same day. The Strike Committee issued its final manifesto on 20 June 1891, which concluded with the plea that unionists should register on the electoral rolls: ‘Labour Representation means the International Federation of Labour, which once attained, will result in not [only] the amelioration of the universally abject condition of labour, but the judicious and much wished for reorganisation of society’. It was signed by T J Ryan, H J Jackson, R G Wood, M Murphy and J P Murphy. The unions had not conceded freedom of contract, but individual members had to swallow their pride, sign the pastoralists’ agreement and work alongside blacklegs brought from NSW (Svensen 1989).
The Western Star, at Roma, carried articles about ‘The Shearers War’, which continued for more than four months. By the end of the conflict, over 2,000 soldiers and 1,099 special constables had been sworn in with no fewer than 1,442 officers and men of the Queensland Defence Force sent to the region by 7 May 1891. Images of well equipped mounted infantry and Artillery Battery camps have survived, in contrast to the poorly equipped and funded strike camps. Thirteen ringleaders were found guilty of conspiracy on 20 May 1891 at Rockhampton, and sentenced to 3 years in gaol on St Helena Island on the Brisbane River. Strike leaders sentenced to three years hard labour were H Barry-Smith, W Fothergill, A Forrester, J Stuart, G Taylor, P Griffith, E Murphy, H Blackwell, A Brown, R Prince, W Bennett, D Murphy and H Hamilton (Svensen 1989).
After their victory in Queensland, the pastoralists turned their attention to New South Wales, arranging for 500 blackleg shearers to be transported from New Zealand. However, after brawls between shearers and blacklegs at Bourke, a conference was held in Sydney on 7 and 8 August 1891, following pressure from moderate pastoralists, the press and employers unions. A shearing agreement was drafted introduced by a definition of what ‘freedom of contract‘ meant, under pressure from the Australian Shearers Union. Although no Queensland pastoralists or unionists attended the Sydney conference, the new agreement was adopted by Queensland pastoralists on 25 August 1891 as the shearing agreement for Queensland (Svensen 1989).
Although an uneasy peace existed, the strike flared up again. In July 1894, a leaflet signed by ‘Group No 1’, was circulated around the region. This advocated, amongst other things, the murder of 13 pastoralists. At Coombemartin woolshed, a union man was shot, during the roll-call, by a member of the police, Sub-Inspector Carr. This further inflamed the situation between the unions and pastoralists with a number of woolsheds burnt down in the district, with armed men attacking the fortified Dagworth woolshed. The attackers withdrew, the police following them to a waterhole where the raiders had camped, and where the body of a man called Samuel Hoffmeister was found. Hoffmeister had apparently committed suicide at Combo waterhole near Dagworth Station . Three men, including James Martin, were eventually sentenced to hard labour for terms of from 10-15 years for these events. A few months after these events, a young Sydney solicitor, A B Patterson, visited the region, the story of Hoffmeister leading to his writing the words to Waltzing Matilda (Svensen 1989).
The strike (in conjunction with the Maritime Strike of 1890, during which it is estimated that some 50,000 unionists were on strike), called off on 15 June 1891, proved a watershed in the history of the Australian labour movement, resulting in the election of the first labour representative to the Queensland Parliament, T J Ryan, in 1892-93, and the eventual formation of the Labour Party in Australia. Ryan, arrested as a strike leader in 1891 but acquitted, was the first ‘Labour’ representative to be elected to any government anywhere in the world. As a result of losing the strike, the unions, and others in Queensland, formed ‘Labour Electoral Leagues’, which later became the ‘Labour Party’ and then the ‘Australian Labor Party’ (Queensland Heritage Register File No 600021). The Australian Trade Union Archives identify the Strike as a significant event in Trade Union History in Australia. Labour Day in Queensland is celebrated in the first week in May, coinciding with this event. Labour Day in Queensland has its origins in the general campaign for an eight-hour day, which began in the 1860s. Solidarity among the unions in Queensland resulted in the Labour Day march being opened to all workers for the first time in 1890. The linking of May Day with Labour Day occurred in the town of Barcaldine on 1 May 1891 when striking bush workers marched through the streets.
The events were given greater public prominence in 1991, when ‘On the Whipping Side’ (a story of the 1891 Queensland Shearers Strike), a play by Errol O’Neill, was published by the Playlab Press, Brisbane.
|Condition and Integrity|
At the time of listing the Tree of Knowledge was thought to be
approximately 150-200 years old (about 50 years old in 1891). Since the 1950s
various attempts to conserve the tree were made including in particular
conservation actions during 1982, 1986 and 1990. |
By the late 1980s the tree was still growing, although the canopy appeared to be, for the most part, regrowth from the surviving section of the original trunk. By 2006 the form of the tree had been lost, following horticultural work, as was the open nature of the original setting.† In 2005 cuttings were taken to ensure that a cloned replacement could be used if appropriate in the future.
After listing, in 2006, the tree was deliberately poisoned and died. Work to remove the remnant trunk of the tree for preservation began in July 2007. In 2009 the preserved trunk was returned to the site and installed within a permanent interpretive memorial.
Integrity: The place is recognised for its symbolic significance associated with the Shearers Strike of 1891 and its historical legacy.
Oak Street, Barcaldine, comprising Reserve 128 RY159 being
the area entered in the Queensland Heritage List (File 600021), and including the
tree and monument.|
[The] Australian Workers Union website
http://www.awu.net .au April 2005|
Australian Workers Heritage Centre
Department of the Environment and Heritage, Creating an Australian Democracy, 2003.
Hoch, I, Barcaldine 1846-1986, Barcaldine Shire Council, 1986.
Queensland Heritage Register, Tree of Knowledge File No 600021
RNE database report, Tree of Knowledge, File No 4/08/201/0004
Svensen, Stuart, The Shearers War, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1989.
Report Produced Fri Mar 14 20:51:22 2014