History: Looking Back

Looking Back history feature: Women & Unionism

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Looking Back

An artists impression of the blockade at Bulli in 1887 An artists impression of the blockade at Bulli in 1887

By MICK ROBERTS ©

THE wives, and mothers and daughters of the Illawarra’s coal miners became powerful voices in the great industrial union movements of the late 19th century.

They rallied behind their men folk with unbound enthusiasm showing overwhelming support in their industrial battles of the 1880s and 90s.

Unionism had been around in the Illawarra since 1878 but it was not until the 1880s women made a dramatic enrichment towards working conditions for their sons and husbands.

Violent incidents were common on NSW coalfields, especially against non-unionists. Such incidents often started with women shouting threats and beating tins (tin kettling) or throwing stones, with the men prepared to enter the fray if non-unionists or police challenged the women. Cutting telegraph wires, barricading road and rail, intimidating non-strikers, and tarring and feathering were strategies used by the unionists.

A six…

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About Mick Roberts

A Sydney journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of pubs, inns and associated industries in Australia for over 30 years. He is currently working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick has owned and managed several community newspapers. He was one time editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), Sydney based, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW. He currently calls the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills home.

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