During this time when the shelves of your local bookseller groan under the weight of volumes commemorating the Great War, it is valuable and refreshing to be reminded of other defining events in Australian history. Without wishing at all to play down the bravery and sacrifice of those who took part in World War I, similar qualities were shown by the men and women who participated in the Great Strike of 1917.
A number of events and exhibitions were held in NSW in 2017 to mark the centenary of this dispute. The contributions to this special issue of The Hummer were either speeches given at these events by prominent members of the labour movement, or prepared specifically for this publication.
Particularly noteworthy was an exhibition at Carriageworks, on the site of the former Eveleigh Railway Yards, which was at the centre of the dispute. Although this exhibition has finished, some information and images can still be found online at the time of publication at https://whatson.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/events/1917-the-great-strike.
For those unfamiliar with the events, it would be worth reading Lucy Taksa’s article first. Otherwise, the speeches by Sally McManus, John Graham and Tim Ayres in Sydney, and Rodney Cavalier in Goulburn, can be read in any order.
The final items are songs from the show 1917: Strike!, with thanks again to Danny Blackman. The Hummer gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Neale Towart, Unions NSW, throughout the year and in particular with items relating the strike.
The 1917 strike was not a success for the workers and their unions. The strikers were defeated, many lost their jobs, and the legacy of bitterness lasted many years. Yet as the contributors point out, the longer term effect was to galvanise and strengthen the labour movement, with a generation of leaders, most notably Ben Chifley, having been involved in and learned from the dispute.
I have made few editorial changes to the text of the speeches. It seemed best to publish them in a form that, as closely as possible, presented them as given on the occasion before an audience. I trust that you will find them interesting reading.
Editor, The Hummer