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Chapter III

Shorn Like Sheep

“HOW many hours do you work?” asked Nellie of the waitress.

“About thirteen,” answered the girl, glancing round to see if the manager was watching her talking. “But it's not the hours so much. It's the standing.” note

“You're not doing any good standing now,” put in Ned. “Why don't you sit down and have a rest?”

“They don't let us,” answered the waitress, cautiously.

“What do they pay?” asked Nellie, sipping her tea and joining in the waitress' look-out for the manager.

“Fifteen! But they're taking girls on at twelve. Of course there's meals. But you've got to room yourself, and then there's washing, clean aprons and caps and cuffs and collars. You've got to dress, too. There's nothing left. We ought to get a pound.”

“What ——”

“S-s-s!” warned the waitress, straightening herself up as the manager appeared.

They were in a fashionable Sydney restaurant, on George-street, a large, painted, gilded, veneered, electro-plated place, full of mirrors and gas-fittings and white-clothed tables. It was not busy, the hour being somewhat late and the day Saturday, and so against the walls, on either side the long halls, were ranged sentinel rows of white-aproned, white-capped, black-dressed waitresses.

They were dawdling over their tea—Ned and Nellie were, not the waitresses—having dined exceedingly well on soup and fish and flesh and pudding. For Ned, crushed by more sight-seeing and revived by a stroll to the Domain and a rest by a fountain under shady trees, further revived by a thunderstorm that suddenly rolled up and burst upon them almost before they could reach the shelter of an awning, had insisted on treating Nellie to “a good dinner,” telling her that afterwards she could take him anywhere she liked but that meanwhile they would have something

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to cheer them up. And Nellie agreed, nothing loth, for she too longed for the momentary jollity of a mild dissipation, not to mention that this would be a favorable opportunity to see if the restaurant girls could not be organised. So they had “a good dinner.”

“This reminds me,” said Nellie, as she ate her fish, “of a friend of mine, a young fellow who is always getting hard up and always raising a cheque, as he calls it. He was very hard up a while ago, and met a friend whom he told about it. Then he invited his friend to go and have some lunch. They came here and he ordered chicken and that, and a bottle of good wine. It took his last half-sovereign. When he got the ticket the other man looked at him. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if you live like this when you're hard up, how on earth do you live when you've got money?’” note

“What did he say?” asked Ned, laughing, wondering at the same time how Nellie came to know people who drank wine and spent half-sovereigns on chicken lunches.

“Oh! He didn't say anything much, he told me. He couldn't manage to explain, he thought, that when he was at work and easy in his mind he didn't care what he had to eat but that when he didn't know what he'd do by the end of the week he felt like having a good meal if he never had another. He thought that made the half-sovereign go furthest. He's funny in some things.”

“I should think he was, a little. How did you know him?”

“I met him where we're going tonight. He's working on some newspaper in Melbourne now. I haven't seen him or heard of him for months.”

She chatted on, rather feverishly.

“Did you ever read ‘David Copperfield?’”

Ned nodded, his mouth being full.

“Do you recollect how he used to stand outside the cookshops? It's quite natural. I used to. It's pretty bad to be hungry and it's just about as bad not to have enough. I know a woman who has a couple of children, a boy and a girl. They were starving once. She said she'd sooner starve than beg or ask anybody to help them, and the little girl said she would too. But the boy said he wasn't going to starve for anybody, and he wasn't going to beg either; he'd steal. And sure enough he slipped out and came back with two loaves that he'd taken from a shop. They lived on that for nearly a week.” Nellie laughed forcedly.note

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“What did they do then?” asked Ned serious1y.

“Oh! She had been doing work but couldn't get paid. She got paid.”

“Where was her husband?”

“Don't husbands die like other people?” she answered, pointedly. “Not that all husbands are much good when they can't get work or will always work when they can get it,” she added.

“Are many people as hard up as that in Sydney, Nellie?” enquired Ned, putting down his knife and fork.

“Some,” she answered. “You don't suppose a lot of the people we saw this morning get over well fed, do you? Oh, you can go on eating, Ned! It's not being sentimental that will help them. They want fair play and a chance to work, and your going hungry won't get that for them. There's lots for them and for us if they only knew enough to stop people like that getting too much.”

By lifting her eyebrows she drew his attention to a stout coarse loudly jewelled man, wearing a tall silk hat and white waistcoat, who had stopped near them on his way to the door. He was speaking in a loud dictatorial wheezy voice. His hands were thrust into his trouser pockets, wherein he jingled coins by taking them up and letting them fall again. The chink of sovereigns seemed sweet music to him. He stared contemptuously at Ned's clothes as that young man looked round; then stared with insolent admiration at Nellie. Ned became crimson with suppressed rage, but said nothing until the man had passed them.note

“Who is that brute?” he asked then.

“That brute! Why, he's a famous man. He owns hundreds of houses, and has been mayor and goodness knows what. He'll be knighted and made a duke or something. He owns the block where Mrs. Somerville lives. You ought to speak respectfully of your betters, Ned. He's been my landlord, though he doesn't know it, I suppose. He gets four shillings a week from Mrs. Somerville. The place isn't worth a shilling, only it's handy for her taking her work in, and she's got to pay him for it being handy. That's her money he's got in his pocket, only if you knocked him down and took it out for her you'd be a thief. At least, they'd say you were and send you to prison.”

“Who's the other, I wonder?” said Ned. “He looks more like a man.”

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The other was a shrewd-looking, keen-faced, sparely-built man, with somewhat aquiline nose and straight narrow forehead, not at all bad-looking or evil-looking and with an air of strong determination; in short, what one calls a masterful man. He was dressed well but quietly. A gold-bound hair watch guard that crossed his high-buttoned waistcoat was his only adornment; his slender hands, unlike the fat man's podgy fingers, were bare of rings. He was sitting alone, and after the fat man left him returned again to the reading of an afternoon paper while he lunched.

“His name's Strong,” said Nellie, turning to Ned with a peculiar smile. “That fat man has robbed me and this lean man has robbed you, I suppose. As he looks more like a man it won't be as bad though, will it?”

“What are you getting at, Nellie?” asked Ned, not understanding but looking at the shrewd man intently, nevertheless.

“Don't you know the name? Of course you don't though. Well, he's managing director of the Great Southern Mortgage Agency, a big concern that owns hundreds and hundreds of stations. At least, the squatters own the stations and the Agency owns the squatters, and he as good as owns the Agency. You're pretty sure to have worked for him many a time without knowing it, Ned.”

Ned's eyes flashed. Nellie had to kick his foot under the table for fear he would say or do something that would attract the attention of the unsuspecting lean man.

“Don't be foolish, Ned,” urged Nellie, in a whisper. “What's the good of spluttering?”

“Why, it was one of their stations on the Wilkes Downs that started cutting wages two years ago. Whenever a manager is particularly mean he always puts it down to the Agency. The Victorian fellows say it was this same concern that first cut wages down their way. And the New Zealanders too. I'd just like to ‘perform’ on him for about five minutes.”

Ned uttered his wish so seriously that Nellie laughed out loud, at which Ned laughed too.

“So he's the man who does all the mischief, is he?” remarked Ned, again glaring at his industrial enemy. “Who'd think it to look at him? He doesn't look a bad sort, does he?”

“He looks a determined man, I think,” said Nellie. “Mr. Stratton says he's the shrewdest capitalist in Australia and that

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he'll give the unions a big fight for it one of these days. He says he has a terrible hatred of unionism and thinks that there's no half-way between smashing them up and letting them smash the employers up. His company pays 25 per cent. regularly every year on its shares and will pay 50 before he gets through with it.”


“How! Out of fellows like you, Ned, who think themselves so mighty independent and can't see that they're being shorn like sheep, in the same way, though not as much yet, as Mrs. Somerville is by old Church and the fat brute, as you call him. But then you rather like it I should think. Anyway, you told me you didn't want to do anything ‘wild,’ only to keep up wages. You'll have to do something ‘wild’ to keep up wages before he finishes.”

“That's all right to talk, Nellie, but what can we do?” asked Ned, pulling his moustache.

“Hire him instead of letting him hire you,” answered Nellie, oracularly. “Those fat men are only good to put in museums, but these lean men are all right so long as you keep them in their place. They are our worst enemies when they're against us but our best friends when they're for us. They say Mr. Strong isn't like most of the swell set. He is straight to his wife and good to his children and generous to his friends and when he says a thing he sticks to it. Only he sees everything from the other side and doesn't understand that all men have got the same coloured blood.”

“How can we hire him?” said Ned, after a pause. “They own everything.”

Nellie shrugged her shoulders.

“You think we might take it,” said Ned.

Nellie shrugged her shoulders again.

“I don't see how it can be done,” he concluded.

“That's just it. You can't see how it can be done, and so nothing's done. Some men get drunk, and some men get religious, and others get enthusiastic for a pound a hundred. You haven't got votes up in Queensland, and if you had you'd probably give them to a lot of ignorant politicians. Men don't know, and they don't seem to want to know much, and they've got to be squeezed by men like him”—she nodded at Strong—“before they take any interest in themselves or in those who belong to them. For those

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who have an ounce of heart, though, I should think there'd been squeezing enough already.”

She looked at Ned angrily. The scenes of the morning rose before him and tied his tongue.

“How do you know all these jokers, Nellie?” he asked. He had been going to put the question a dozen times before but it had slipped him in the interest of conversation.

“I only know them by sight. Mrs. Stratton takes me to the theatre with her sometimes and tells me who people are and all about them.”

“Who's Mrs. Stratton? You were talking of Mr. Stratton, too, just now, weren't you?”

“Yes. The Strattons are very nice people, They're interested in the Labour movement, and I said I'd bring you round when I go to-night. I generally go on Saturday nights. They're not early birds, and we don't want to get there till half-past ten or so.”

“Half-past ten! That's queer time.”

“Yes, isn't it? Only —— ”

At that moment a waitress who had been arranging the next table came and took her place against the wall close behind Nellie. Such an opportunity to talk unionism was not to be lost, so Nellie unceremoniously dropped her conversation with Ned and enquired, as before stated, into the becapped girl's hours. The waitress was tall and well-featured, but sallow of skin and growing haggard, though barely 20, if that. Below her eyes were bluish hollows. She suffered plainly from the disorders caused by constant standing and carrying, and at this end of her long week was in evident pain. note

“You're not allowed to talk either?” she asked the waitress, when the manager had disappeared.

“No. They're very strict. You get fined if you're seen chatting to customers and if you're caught resting. And you get fined if you break anything, too. One girl was fined six shillings last week.”

“Why do you stand it? If you were up in our part of the world we'd soon bring 'em down a notch or two.” This from Ned.

“Out in the bush it may be different,” said the girl, identifying his part of the world by his dress and sunburnt face. “But in towns you've got to stand it.”

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“Couldn't you girls form a union?” asked Nellie.

“What's the use, there's plenty to take our places.”

“But if you were all in a union there wouldn't be enough.”

“Oh, we can't trust a lot of girls. Those who live at home and just work to dress themselves are the worst of the lot. They'd work for ten shillings or five.”

“But they'd be ashamed to blackleg if once they were got into the union,” persisted Nellie. “It's worth trying, to get a rise in wages and to stop fining and have shorter hours and seats while you're waiting.”

“Yes, it's worth trying if there was any chance. But there are so many girls. You're lucky if you get work at all now and just have to put up with anything. If we all struck they could get others to-morrow.”

“But not waitresses. How'd they look here, trying to serve dinner with a lot of green hands?” argued Nellie. “Besides, if you had a union, you could get a lot without striking at all. They know now you can't strike, so they do just exactly as they like.”

“They'd do what they —— ” began the waitress. Then she broke off with another “s-s-s” as the manager crossed the room again.

“They'd do what they like, anyway,” she began once more. “One of our girls was in the union the Melbourne waitresses started. They had a strike at one of the big restaurants over the manager insulting one of the girls. They complained to the boss and wanted the manager to apologise, but the boss wouldn't listen and said they were getting very nice. So at dinner time, when the bell rang, they all marched off and put on their hats. The customers were all waiting for dinner and the girls were all on strike and the boss nearly went mad. He was going to have them all arrested, but when the gentlemen heard what it was about they said the girls were right and if the manager didn't apologise they'd go to some other restaurant always. So the manager went to the girl and apologised.” note

“By gum!” interjected Ned. “Those girls were hummers.”

“I suppose the boss victimised afterwards?” asked Nellie, wiser in such matters.

“That's just it,” said the girl, in a disheartened tone. “In two or three weeks every girl who'd had anything to do with stirring the others up was bounced for something or other. The manager did what he liked afterwards.”

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“Just talk to the other girls about a union, will you?” asked Nellie. “It's no use giving right in, you know.”

“I'll see what some of them say, but there's a lot I wouldn't open my mouth to,” answered the waitress.

“What time do you get away on Thursdays?”

“Next Thursday I'm on till half-past ten.”

“Well, I'll meet you then, outside, to see what they say,” said Nellie. “My name's Nellie Lawton and some of us are trying to start a women's union. You'll be sure to be there?”

“All right,” answered the waitress, a little dubiously. Then she added more cordially, as she wrote out the pay ticket: “My name's Susan Finch. I'll see what I can do.”

So Ned and Nellie got up and, the former having paid at the counter, walked out into the street together. It was nearly three. The rain had stopped, though the sky was still cloudy and threatening. The damp afternoon was chilly after the sultry broiling morning. Neither of them felt in the mood for walking so at Nellie's suggestion they put in the afternoon in riding, on trams and 'busses, hither and thither through the mazy wilderness of the streets that make up Sydney.

Intuitively, both avoided talking of the topics that before had engaged them and that still engrossed their thoughts. For a while they chatted on indifferent matters, but gradually relapsed into silence, rarely broken. The impression of the morning walk, of Mrs. Somerville's poor room, of Nellie's stuffy street, came with full force to Ned's mind. What he saw only stamped it deeper and deeper.note

When, in a bus, they rode through the suburbs of the wealthy, past shrubberied mansions and showy villas, along roads where liveried carriages, drawn by high-stepping horses, dashed by them, he felt himself in the presence of the fat man who jingled sovereigns, of the lean man whose slender fingers reached north to the Peak Downs and south to the Murray, filching everywhere from the worker's hard-earned wage. When in the tram they were carried with clanging and jangling through endless rows of houses great and small, along main thoroughfares on either side of which crowded side-streets extended like fish-bones, over less crowded districts where the cottages were generally detached or semi-detached and where pleasant homely houses were thickly sprinkled, even here he wondered how near those who lived in happier state were to the life of the slum, wondered what

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struggling and pinching and scraping was going on behind the half-drawn blinds that made homes look so cosy.

What started him on this idea particularly was that, in one train, a grey-bearded propertied-looking man who sat beside him was grumbling to a spruce little man opposite about the increasing number of empty houses.

“You can't wonder at it,” answered the spruce little man. “When the working classes aren't prospering everybody feels it but the exporters. Wages are going down and people are living two families in a house where they used to live one in a house, or living in smaller houses.”

“Oh! Wages are just as high. There's been too much building. You building society men have overdone the thing.”

“My dear sir!” declared the spruce little man. “I'm talking from facts. My society and every other building society is finding it out. When men can't get as regular work it's the same thing to them as if wages were coming down. The number of surrenders we have now is something appalling. Working men have built expecting to be able to pay from 6s. to 10s. and 12s. a week to the building societies, and every year more and more are finding out they can't do it. As many as can are renting rooms, letting part of their house and so struggling along. As many more are giving up and renting these rooms or smaller houses. And apparently well-to-do people are often in as bad a fix. It's against my interest to have things this way, but it's so, and there's no getting over it. If it keeps on, pretty well every workingman's house about Sydney will be a rented house soon. The building societies can't stop that unless men have regular work and fair wages.”

“It's the unions that upset trade,” asserted the propertied-looking man.

“It's the land law that's wrong,” contended the spruce man. “If all taxes were put on unimproved land values it would be cheaper to live and there would be more work because it wouldn't pay to keep land out of use. With cheap living and plenty of work the workingman would have money and business would be brisk all round.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed the propertied man, brusquely.

“It's so,” answered the spruce little man, getting down as the tram stopped, “There's no getting away from facts and that's fact.”

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So even out here, Ned thought, looking at the rows of cottages with little gardens in front which they were passing, the squeeze was coming. Then, watching the passengers, he thought how worried they all seemed, how rarely a pleasant face was to be met with in the dress of the people. And then, suddenly a shining, swaying, coachman-driven brougham whirled by. Ned, with his keen bushman's eyes, saw in it a stout heavy-jawed dame, large of arm and huge of bust, decked out in all the fashion, and insolent of face as one replete with that which others craved. And by her side, reclining at ease, was a later edition of the same volume, a girl of 17 or so, already fleshed and heavy-jawed, in her mimic pride looking for all the world like a well-fed human animal, careless and soulless.

Opposite Nellie a thin-faced woman, one of whose front teeth had gone, patiently dandled a peevish baby, while by her side another child clutched her dingy dust-cloak. This woman's nose was peaked and her chin receded. In her bonnet some gaudy imitation flowers nodded a vigorous accompaniment. She did not seem ever to have had pleasure or to have been young, and yet in the child by her side her patient joyless sordid life had produced its kind.

They had some tea and buttered scones in a cheaper café, where Nellie tried to “organise” another waitress. They lingered over the meal, both moody. They hardly spoke till Ned asked Nellie:

“I don't see what men can get to do but can't single women always get servants' places?”

“Some might who don't, though all women who want work couldn't be domestic servants, that's plain,” answered Nellie. “But by the number of girls that are always looking for places and the way the registry offices are able to bleed them, I should imagine there were any amount of servant girls already. The thing is there are so many girls that mistresses can afford to be particular. They want a girl with all the virtues to be a sort of house-slave, and they're always grumbling because they can't get it. So they're always changing, and the girls are always changing, and that makes the girls appear independent.”

“But they have good board and lodging, as well as wages, don't they?”

“In swell houses, where they keep two or three or more girls, they usually have good board and decent rooms, I think, but they

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don't in most places. Any hole or corner is considered good enough for a servant girl to sleep in, and any scraps are often considered good enough for a servant girl to eat. You look as though you don't believe it, Ned. I'm talking about what I know. The average domestic servant is treated like a trained dog.”

“Did you ever try it?”

“I went to work in a hotel as chamber maid, once. I worked from about six in the morning till after ten at night. Then four of us girls slept in two beds in a kind of box under the verandah stairs in the back yard. We had to leave the window open to get air, and in the middle of the first night a light woke me up and a man was staring through the window at us with a match in his hand. I wanted the twelve shillings so I stood it for a week and then got another place.” note

“What sort was that?”

“Oh! A respectable place, you know. Kept up appearances and locked up the butter. The woman said to me, when I'd brought my box, ‘I'm going to call you Mary, I always call my girls Mary.’ I slept in a dark close den off the kitchen, full of cockroaches that frightened the wits out of me. I was afraid to eat as much as I wanted because she looked at me so. I couldn't rest a minute but she was hunting me up to see what I was doing. I hadn't anybody to talk with or eat with and my one night out I had to be in by ten. I was so miserable that I went back to slop-work. That's what Mrs. Somerville is doing.”

“It isn't all honey, then. I thought town servant girls had a fair time of it.”

“An occasional one does, though they all earn their money, but most have a hard time of it. I don't mean all places are like mine were, but there's no liberty. A working girl's liberty is scanty enough, goodness knows”—she spoke scornfully—“but at least she mixes with her own kind and is on an equality with most she meets. When her work is over, however long it is, she can do just exactly as she likes until it starts again. A servant girl hasn't society or that liberty. For my part I'd rather live on bread again than be at the orders of any woman who despised me and not be able to call a single minute of time my own. They're so ignorant, most of these women who have servants, they don't know how to treat a girl any more than most of their husbands know how to treat a horse.”

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The naïve bush simile pleased Ned a little and he laughed, but soon relapsed again into silence. Then Nellie spoke of “Paddy's Market,” one of the sights of Sydney, which she would like him to see. Accordingly they strolled to his hotel, where he put on a clean shirt and a collar and a waistcoat, while she waited, looking into the shops near by; then they strolled slowly Haymarketwards, amid the thronging Saturday night crowds that overflowed the George-street pavement into the roadway.