A Movement That Sings (Will Never Die)

Danny Blackman

For this issue of Hummer, in which we commemorate the life and death of labour movement hero Percy ‘Jack’ Brookfield, we offer you two songs associated with Brookfield.

The first song is a lament on Brookfield’s death on 22 March 1921 in Adelaide hospital, as a result of bullet wounds inflicted on him that morning at the Riverton (SA) railway station by deranged Russian émigré, Koorman Tomayoff. The lyrics below are as recorded by Warren Fahey in 1973 from the singing of Harry Chaplin of Broken Hill[1]. It is not clear who wrote them, or when, but the style and use of language suggest that the song may have been written not long after Brookfield’s death.

Percy Brookfield

From North, South, East and Westward,
He was loved by all who slave,
And to save the lives of others
His noble life he gave.
He did not want the asking,
He was ready for the fray,
And won a name in history
On that immortal day.


Australia, Australia,
The loss of Brookfield may you mourn.
He faced the gun, our noble son,
And from our ranks he’s gone.
He loved his fellow workers
And for them his life he gave.
And now he’s sleeping peacefully
In a hero’s grave.

The train was late that morning
To Adelaide on its way,
When a man ran amok at Riverton
And held the crowd at bay.
Jack Brookfield in a moment
Said something must be done,
And bravely rushed the murderer
And tried to seize his gun.

Our second song, ‘Should I Ever Be a Soldier’, written in 1913 by US labour movement hero Joe Hill, was apparently Brookfield’s favourite song and was sung by a chorus of thousands at his funeral in Broken Hill three days later on 25 March, along with ‘The Red Flag’. Brookfield’s funeral, attended by most of the town’s 24,000 inhabitants, remains the greatest ever held in Broken Hill.

Should I Ever Be a Soldier

Lyrics by Joe Hill (1913)[2]; tune “Colleen Bawn”

We’re spending billions every year
For guns and ammunition
“Our Army” and “Our Navy” dear
To keep in good condition;
While millions live in misery
And millions died before us,
Don’t sing “My Country, ‘tis of thee”,
But sing this little chorus


Should I ever be a soldier,
‘Neath the Red Flag I would fight;
Should the gun I ever shoulder
It’s to crush the tyrant’s might.
Join the army of the toilers,
Men and women fall in line.
Wage slaves of the world arouse!
Do your duty for the cause,
For Land and Liberty!

And many a maiden, pure and fair,
Her love and pride must offer
On Mammon’s altar in despair,
To fill the master’s coffer.
The gold that pays the mighty fleet,
From tender youth he squeezes,
While brawny men must walk the street
And face the wintry breezes.
Why do they mount their Gatling gun
A thousand miles from ocean?
Where hostile fleet could never run –
Ain’t that a funny notion!
If you don’t know the reason why
Just strike for better wages
And then, my friends – if you don’t die –
You’ll sing this song for ages.


[1] Warren Fahey, The Balls of Bob Menzies: Australian Political Songs 1900-1980 (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1989) p.118.

[2] Lyrics reproduced from I.W.W. Songs and Poems to Fan the Flames of Discontent (Australian Administration of the Industrial Workers of the World, 5th Australian edition, reprinted by the NSW Branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, 2017) p.32.