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1917 Railway Strike

Iron Road

1917 Railway Strike

In 1917 Australia experienced one of its worst-ever strikes. Once again the bitter conflict between worker and master erupted. The strike, which started in Sydney over what we would now refer to as a ‘time and motion study’, eventually spread right throughout the railway, then to allied unions and then interstate. At the height of the strike the railway requested Sydney schoolboys to assist as volunteer labour.

Join the Australian Railway Union

One of the songs that came out of the 1917 strike ridiculed the NSW State Railway for housing its scab labourers in temporary accommodation at Sydney’s Zoo (then at Moore Park). It was called The New Exhibit and is typical of early union songs – it’s a beauty.

Scenes from the Great Depression – Australia



Before Magistrate Parker. The story of a young couple’s persistent misfortune was related.

Horace Hardy, 20, and his wife, Ada Hardy, 19, were charged with travelling on the railway without tickets.

They were found at Wagga, hiding under the seat of a carriage. The woman was dressed in man’s clothing and both were badly scared when discovered.

Hardy informed the magistrate that he had spent his last penny on their tickets at Moss Vale. He had been out of work for some time, and wanted to get to Melbourne in order to look for work, which he couldn’t get in New South Wales.

The pair had not been married long. Each was fined ten pounds and ordered to pay one pound eleven shillings and sixpence compensation, in default nine days imprisonment.

(Published in The Railroad August 1928.

– from train driver to Prime Minister
“I should not be a Member of this Parliament today if some tolerance had been extended to the men who took part in the strike of 1917. All that harsh and oppressive treatment did as far as I was concerned was to transform me, with the assistance of my colleagues, from an ordinary engine driver into the Prime Minister of this country.”

Ben Chifley