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5. Chapter V. The King of the North-East.

A STRONG and well-known personality in the North-East of Victoria was the late Hon. J. A. Wallace, M.L.C. He owned mining leases all over the district, and had big influence in the Mines Department—in fact, was quite a petty king in his way. When the miners at Bethanga began to organize in 1885, his manager posted an intimation that anyone joining the A.M.A. would be dismissed. The men joined in spite of it. A lock-out resulted, and it cost the A.M.A. £100 per week for some weeks to support the miners. The engine drivers stood by the employer, and hence I sent a circular letter to each, appealing to them to join with their fellow-workers in the fight for freedom—to unite for the purpose of improving the conditions of life. These letters were published, and Mr. Wallace and the local secretary had some controversy in the press. One day a constable called on me in my office, and asked for and obtained a copy of my signature. A day or two later I was telegraphed for to go to Melbourne at once. This was by order of the late Mr. (afterwards Sir Graham) Berry. On arrival at his office, the Chief Commissioner of Police (the late Mr. Cholmley) was sent for. The Chief Secretary (Mr. Berry) had just discovered that under an old law of George the IV., then in force


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in Victoria, proceedings had been initiated by the Commissioner against me for intimidation. This meant a minimum penalty of six months' imprisonment. The late Commissioner did not look comfortable. When asked by Mr. Berry upon what authority he had acted, he could only produce newspaper clippings containing copies of my letters to the engine drivers and Mr. Wallace's letters to the same papers. Chief Secretary Berry was very severe on Mr. Cholmley. He said:

“I am astounded at your action. You consult me on the most trivial matters, and yet here you take action involving serious political consequences without consulting me at all. You send a constable to worm the signature out of this man” (pointing to me), “and act without saying a word. If such a thing occurs again I shall take steps to secure a new Commissioner of Police.”

A special meeting of the Cabinet was held, and in the afternoon I was informed that it was “all right.” Subsequently I learned what had taken place. The king of the North-East had moved the Commissioner to take proceedings against me. The constable stationed at Bethanga, when asked to take action, reported that he saw no grounds for action against anyone unless it was Mr. Wallace himself. This did not suit, so it was found that under the old law—long since repealed in England—a case could be made, and the constable was ordered to proceed by criminal summons. At this stage the Chief Secretary heard of it through a member of Parliament. He at once saw that such a case would turn popular feeling against the Government; hence he


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moved at once. When the wires were set in motion, however, it was found the summons had been made out and posted to the police at Creswick for service on me there. The Cabinet were in a dilemma, as no Government could interfere with law at that stage, and what they wanted was to avoid anything coming out. It was got over by the Minister for Mines hunting up the Hon. J. A. Wallace, and, under threat of forfeiture of his leases, he who had initiated the proceedings had to withdraw them. They were only just in time, as about one day will carry the mail from Bethanga to Creswick.

One of the drawbacks to mining development is the evil of “shepherding.” Mining leases are granted subject to certain labor covenants; that is, so many men per acre must be employed or the lease can be forfeited. Syndicates and companies evade this by securing suspension of labor covenants on various pretexts. The A.M.A. very early took a hand in seeing that all suspensions were granted on some reasonable ground. They did not object to time being given to those who had laid out capital in opening up a mine, and who met with difficulties, such as influx of water necessitating new machinery. They opposed the “shepherd”—the man or company who took up a lease and did nothing but merely await a chance to sell and take advantage of the efforts of other men who had proved adjoining country. We had a long fight with the Department and the late John A. Wallace over his Bethanga leases. The Ministers were getting tired of giving him concessions, and at last we were to meet him before the Acting-Minister for Mines (the late Hon.


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Duncan Gillies). The appointment had been made for 11 o'clock on a Wednesday morning at the Treasury, but on arrival in Melbourne we received a message to the effect that the interview was postponed until next day on account of the indisposition of the Hon. J. A. Wallace. However, we went to the Department at 11 o'clock, and were in time to catch our friend Mr. Wallace on his way to see the Minister. He was surprised to see his ruse a failure, and we all went in together, and after much haggling Mr. Wallace was forced to agree to putting on at least ninety men at once or have his lease declared forfeited.

The anti-Chinese movement was one of the early developments of democratic feeling in Australia. So strong was it that in 1861 it led to riot amongst the diggers at Lambing Flat, Burrangong, New South Wales. They drove the Chinese off the field, some of the pig-tailed heathens losing their lives. There were at that time 38,000 Chinese in the two colonies of New South Wales and Victoria— 12,988 in the former, and 24,732 in the latter. But for the action of the gold diggers and restriction of Chinese immigration by a poll tax and otherwise, Australia would have been practically a Chinese possession. The same strong feeling that caused the Lambing Flat diggers to revolt actuated the miners of Clunes, Victoria, in 1876. The directors of the Lothair Gold Mining Company decided to introduce Chinese labor. The miners, who were all members of the A.M.A., determined to resist. The Chinese were to be brought from Creswick, eleven miles distant. Two coaches were filled with Chinese and


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placed under police escort. The miners had mounted pickets out, and were informed of every move. There are two roads to the town, and that on the west side, where the mine was situated, was blockaded by the miners. On discovering this the coaches were turned, and, crossing a deep creek, they made for the town by the other road. The miners rushed across, having about a mile to run, and hastily improvised a barricade, effectually blocking the way so far as the coaches were concerned. The excitement and cheering were great, men, women, and children joining in the resistance. Near by was a heap of road metal, and arming herself with a few stones a sturdy North of Ireland woman, without shoes or stockings, mounted the barricade as the coaches drew up. As she did so she called out to the other women, saying:

“Come on, you Cousin Jinnies; bring me the stones and I will fire them.”

The sergeant in charge of the police presented his carbine at the woman, and ordered her to desist. Her answer was to bare her breast and say to him:

“Shoot away, and be damned to ye; better be shot than starved to death.”

With the words she threw a stone, cutting the cheek of the officer. After that stones flew rapidly; the horses began to plunge, and the Chinese to yell; whilst the terrified director (by name Solomon) in charge crawled into the boot of the coach for safety. In less time than it takes to tell it, the horses were turned and driven off whence they had come, the Chinese invasion was repulsed, and no Chinaman has ever gained a footing in Clunes even


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unto this day. Needless to say a fuss was made by the authorities, but no one was punished. The mayor of the town at the time—a fine old man named Blanchard—was an officer of the local A.M.A. Those who put law and order as superior to the welfare of men, instead of being considered as a power to be used for good, of course found fault with the mayor for not reading the Riot Act and tried to get Blanchard into trouble, but wiser counsels prevailed. Clunes residents were and still are proud of their fight against capitalistic greed and Chinese. A few years later, through the influence of the A.M.A., the Mines Department agreed to insert a clause in every mining lease issued providing that Chinese labor would not be recognized as fulfilling the labor covenants.

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