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4. Chapter IV. “He Vos Come Back No More.”

ABOUT 48 years ago, rich copper deposits were found on a part of York's Peninsula, S.A., now called Wallaroo and Moonta. It was so rich that something like £1,500,000 has been declared in dividends without investment of any outside capital to develop the mine. To work it a large body of miners were brought direct from Cornwall, England. For many years they lived isolated from the rest of the colony, remaining more Cornish than Cornwall itself. Eventually the iron horse reached Kadina and Wallaroo, twelve miles away. The discovery of silver at Broken Hill drew away some of the young men, and so it came about that the sons on their visit home told the older men of the advantages of Unionism. It caught on like a new gospel, and a strong branch of the A.M.A. was organized. The Cornish miner is generally a man who can do his share of grumbling, and frequently reckons he knows how to run a mine better than the manager, so when Unionism caught on they realised that many injustices might have been remedied years ago had they been organized and pulled together instead of merely growling as individuals. This feeling led to concentrating, as it were, all the grievances of a quarter of a century into the living present. There were enough genuine grievances without that, but the strong feeling so common when “strike” is in the air partakes of memories of the past as well as


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exaggerations or misconceptions of the present. Certain concessions were asked for, which the company refused, and so a strike was threatened. This was in 1889. The rules of the A.M.A. prohibited any strike being entered upon without the authority of the Executive Council, who had first to exhaust all means of amicable settlement. The President, Mr. J. B. Burton (since a Minister of the Crown in Victoria) and myself at once visited the district.

Moonta mine had, owing to its isolation, made provision for almost every requirement, and had extensive surface works, such as a foundry and other large workshops. It had its own little railway over the works, telephone and telegraph, etc. Until the railway came to Kadina it was, in fact, a self-contained community. To get at the facts, we wired ahead asking that representatives of all the various departments of labor on the mine above and below should meet us. They did so, and we had a few hours of cramming with the grievances of all and sundry. Moonta miners are a fine body of men, and they selected intelligent men to state the case to us. It was after closing hours when we reached our hotel, but we had no sooner said good-night to our friends and got inside when we were informed that four men wanted to see us privately. We met them in a parlor, and after seeing that the door was locked, they introduced themselves. They were four sensible miners, past middle age, and after satisfying themselves of our privacy, one of them said:

“See here, we do know that thee two be'est come here to do a fair thing by us miners, so we just come to tell 'ee that things ain't so bad for we


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underground men as some ov 'em do make out. Some ov 'em got nice little bit in the bank yon. It's they surface men wot's worst treated.”

We found out afterwards that there was truth in what the old chaps had told us, and that and other information proved very useful. On retiring to our room after seeing them out we overheard a dialogue in the adjoining room. Two men, one of whom was a German, were loudly discussing the threatened strike.

“Ach, you vas vant to do like dey did in my gountry vonce.”

“What was that?” asked his companion.

“ Vell, ve try all vair means. Ve ask dem to meet mit us und dey say no. Ve find de boss he act de tyrant, and vill not do away mit de injustice. So von night, bretty late, ve march oop, a goot many oondreds, to de hose of de manager, and ve say, ‘Come oudt,’ undt he come oudt. Ve ask if he vill give us justice, und he tell us go to 'ell; so ve surround him and march avay mit him into de bush a long vay. Den ve all come back but dot manager; he vas come back no more.”

Next morning we had arranged to see the general manager, Captain Hancock. Representatives of the branch had been appointed to go with us; but the Captain objected to seeing them if they retained as one of their number a man who had led in some trouble some time before, and who had since been boycotted by the company. He still had the confidence of the men, and they stood by him. Fault was found with us for not taking up their attitude, until we explained that we were there to steer clear


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of local heat or difficulties, and to get the true hang of things so as to advise our Executive. We found in Captain Hancock a rather nervous, elderly gentleman, but we readily got all the information he could give us, and then we decided to go to Adelaide and meet the directors. On our return to the hotel the landlord told us that a big Cornishwoman had just been there to borrow his stable broom because, as she said, “it had plenty of wood in en” and she “might want en to sweep Captain Hancock out.” It appears that the Captain's predecessor had been swept out of Moonta by the women, carrying a broom each. The German's remark of the preceding night, “Dot manager he come back no more,” was given a new significance, and fully explained the very evident nervousness of Captain Hancock. We met the directors, and put what we felt was a strong case before them. Their reply was not a denial of some of the grievances, but simply that at present prices of copper they could not grant the requests, as the mine would not pay them, and if the men persisted they would have to close the mine and let it stand idle. They said, however, they realised that we only wanted to be fair, and so they did not ask us to take their assertion as to whether the mine would pay, but had given their secretary instructions to allow us to examine and inspect the company's books and ascertain for ourselves the exact cost of the production of a ton of copper. We accepted the offer, and by that means were enabled to explain away several errors which the officers and members of the branch had quite naturally fallen into.

Photograph facing p.40. HON.T.PRICE, M.L.A., Labor Premier, South Australia. Died 31st May, 1909.






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If the example set by that board of directors was followed by others, many a serious strike would be prevented. Troubles arise from a want of frankness on the part of employers. They make the mistake of ignoring the workers as if they had no interest in the industry or its success. At the same time the employers are often loud in their complaints that the workers do not consider the losses. If the workers make a suggestion they are charged with wanting to dictate to the employer how he shall manage his business, whilst the employer assumes a dictatorial attitude all the time. Instead of treating the worker as a partner, he is looked upon as one who constantly wants to take advantage of those who stand in relation to him as owners of the industry upon the success of which his living depends. We had an interview with the directors of the Wallaroo mines before returning to Moonta, and gained some slight concessions from both companies, but failed to secure what the men were asking.

The delivery of our report and ultimatum to the miners was a scene never to be forgotten. Excitement ran high. The brooms were ready, and their plucky owners equally so. No sooner had the signal bell rung for knock off work at 5 p.m. than the men assembled around the platform of the tramway, from which we were to speak. All hands came just as they were. The women stood generally in the outer circle of the crowd. They left the work of decision to the men, but were prepared to loyally carry it out whatever it might be, even if it meant going hungry in order to secure justice. About 2000 persons were


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present, and ere the meeting ended torches were lit, giving the gathering a more varied hue and more intensity. Mr. Burton and I had an unpopular report to deliver to them. We had to explain away many exaggerations. We had to give them solid, hard facts. We had sifted every grievance. Most were genuine; in fact, generally those touching wages were so. We had to show that in many things they had wrongly blamed the manager, as we had seen the press copies of instructions sent to him by his board. Having gone through the books, we had ascertained for ourselves the exact cost of production. Having secured certain concessions, with a better understanding and recognition of the men's claims, we recommended that no strike should take place. Others spoke, and amongst them one who, with fine voice and elocution, delivered an oration in rhyme. I think it was a parody, but it was a good one. He had put it together, and there must have been about thirty verses. It was expressive of the idea common to most—namely, that we were bound to have gained for them all or nearly all that they were asking; so it was a song of victory, and likened us to Moses and Aaron, who were to lead the miners of Moonta out of the bondage of slavery, and our names were to live when those of the “tyrant directors had sunk in the dead sea of forgetfulness.” The meeting fully accepted our recommendation, expressed confidence in us, and later were specially glad that no strike had eventuated, and that there had been no need for that broom with “plenty of wood in 'en.”




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In the detail of the Moonta trouble several instances came under our notice typical of what will be found in all industries where men are not organized. We found grown-up young men working for from 2s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. per day, and in more than one case they were married. Starting as boys, it was apparently forgotten by all concerned that they had grown older as time went on. As their producing power increased so their share of wealth decreased. It was only when unionism came and the body took up their cause that their wages were increased. We found in charge of pattern-making in the foundry a first-class tradesman working for 7s. per day. He was a very superior tradesman, with considerable genius for invention. He was of the type who take a keen interest in their work for the work's sake, and but little in what they receive for it. Quiet and unassuming, and content with a living wage, his only ambition was to excel in the quality of his workmanship. At an exhibition in Adelaide the manager of the mine had been accorded great credit for a rock drill with improved jacket. The drill was the unacknowledged patent of a Victorian, and the improved jacket the invention of the workman paid 7s. per day, while his market price anywhere else was at the lowest 12s. per day. Naturally we made a good deal of this man's case, and as it was published in the press it came under the notice of a big firm at Gawler, whose manager was waiting on the railway station at 6 o'clock in the morning to intercept us and offer the man 12s. to come to their firm. We declined to give his name at that stage, but promised to tell the man himself of the offer. Some


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time after this I met the man referred to at Waukaringa, earning double the wages he had been paid at Moonta, and of course more highly appreciated. Union officials should be careful to be thoroughly honest and just in their dealings with the other side. It always pays, to put it at the lowest. In the Moonta case Captain Hancock sent his second in command all the way to Kadina to thank us for clearing his name, and to ask our advice on a certain matter connected with the mine and the men. He honestly carried out our recommendation.

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