A Memorable Strike Photo

In the course of assembling photographs for the exhibition ‘At work and play. Our past in pictures’, currently on show at the State Library of New South Wales, Alan Davies, the library’s curator of photographs, stumbled across the above gem from the 1917 strike. It depicts scabs from Nambucca who as the caption in the exhibition suggests were clearly ‘well prepared with suitably determined expressions and crude but effective weapons’.

It seems likely that the pleasant gent seated second from the left has some sort of compressed air gun or primitive blow pipe. Let us all hope he inhaled rather than exhaled.

On 12 August 1979 the Sydney Morning Herald carried an interesting article on the exhibition. An amusing anecdote emerged about the circumstances under which the photograph was located. Davies’ practice was to set himself up in town and wait for the locals to appear with photographs. In Nambucca, [unnamed in the Herald article] ‘disaster was only narrowly averted when a staunch trade unionist who had brought photographs of his forebears at union meetings encountered a fellow citizen who had brought photographs of her forebears – all strikebreakers, armed with rocks, bricks and compressed air gun.

“Scabs! Scabs!” cried the unionist, working himself to fury. He then, according to Alan Davies, made “threats of a bellicose nature towards the woman and all her relatives. It was all I could do to restrain him from tearing up her photographs.”