Sunday’s commemoration of the Rothbury Riot was timely. The 90th Anniversary comes at a time the coal mining industry is under siege from left wing activists and the Morrison Government is trying to make it more difficult for trade unions to represent their workforce.
The North Rothbury Mine lockout was not preceded by a strike. Rather, a fall in coal prices prompted mine owners to seek to lower the costs of production. In doing so, they sought to reduce the wages of the workforce by 12.5 percent. They also sought to reduce certain hard-won conditions including the regard for seniority. When the miners refused to cop the pay cut and the other changes, the bosses locked them out.
That was on March 2, 1929. By December 16 that year, the situation was ay boiling point. The conservative Nationalist–Country Party Coalition Government led by Premier Bavin, had taken over the operation of the mine and brought in scab labour. It had also passed the Unlawful Assembly Act to supress mass public protest.
When the miners marched towards the locked mine gate on December 16, a violent clash with Police occurred. Tragically one of the miners, Norman Brown, was shot dead by a police officer. It is said the Police were under instruction to fire only above the heads of miners and the bullet had ricocheted onto Brown. Either way, the result is the same. Interestingly, and to their credit, some local Police refused to be part of the fight with the miners and reinforcements had to be brought in from elsewhere.
By June 1930, poverty and starvation had defeated the miners and they accepted the pay cut and returned to work. But while the battle was lost the determination and energy of the Miners’ Union grew, many working class people have benefitted from that hardened resolve over the decades since.
I thank the Tidy Towns Committee for ensuring the Anniversary was appropriately commemorated. I also thank the CFMEU, the North Rothbury Rural Fire Service (as if they don’t have enough to do), and all those who helped to make the event such a great success.