Archive for the 'Peter Clayworth' Category

Rangihou Reserve: a slice of New Zealand history in Parramatta

Signs of Parramatta's links with New Zealand (pic: Peter Clayworth)

Signs of Parramatta's links with New Zealand (pic: Peter Clayworth)

On a recent visit to Sydney I found traces of an important part of New Zealand history located in the suburb of Parramatta. Sydney has a long association with New Zealand. It is doubtful whether British colonisation of this country would have occurred without the initial convict settlement in New South Wales. The British invaders established Sydney on the land of the indigenous Cadigal people in January 1788. Ten months later the British colonists founded the town of Parramatta on the land of the Burramattagal clan of the Darug people.

Within a few years of British settlement in Australia, sealers and traders from Sydney began to visit New Zealand. New Zealanders, a term at that time applied exclusively to Māori, began visiting Sydney. They took careful note of the British systems of government, commerce and military organisation, and in particular the fate of the indigenous Australians under British rule.

Parramatta became of particular importance to Māori. It was the base from which Samuel Marsden, the Anglican rector of Parramattas St Johns church, launched the Church Missionary Societys mission to New Zealand. The landing of the first Church of England missionaries, at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands, occurred in 1814. Thomas and Jane Kendall, William and Dinah Hall, and John and Hannah King settled with their families to begin the long and difficult task of promulgating the Anglican version of Christianity to Māori. Marsden gave what is reputed to be the first Christian sermon in New Zealand on Christmas Day 1814.

Samuel Marsden (17651838) is an ambiguous and controversial figure in Australasian history. In New Zealand he is known for his role as the initiator of the first Christian mission to this country. He attempted to direct the mission from his base in Parramatta, but came into conflict with some of the New Zealand-based missionaries. In Australia he is seen by some commentators as a pillar of the colonial establishment, by others as the flogging parson. Marsden was assistant and later head chaplain of New South Wales. He was also a pioneer of sheep farming in Australia. In his role as a magistrate he gained a bad reputation among many of the convicts and other working people of the colony. Marsden became notorious for the severity of the sentences he imposed on offenders. He was also known for his bitter anti-Catholic prejudices, a significant factor when dealing with the high proportion of Irish Catholics among the convict and free settler populations of New South Wales.

Marsden was always interested in evangelism, but made little progress with either the local Aborigines or the nominally Christian convicts. His interest turned to New Zealand through meeting Māori visitors to Sydney and Parramatta. He began to regularly invite Māori leaders to stay at his Parramatta home. Returning from a visit to Britain in 1809, Marsden met the globe-trotting Ngāpuhi chief Ruatara, who encouraged him to establish a mission on his peoples land at Rangihoua. Ruatara stayed with Marsden at Parramatta for eight months, teaching him aspects of Māori language and culture.

With the establishment of the New Zealand mission, Marsden set up a seminary college and farm in Parramatta for the education of young Māori. He purchased around 100 acres (40 hectares) of land on the northern bank of the Parramatta River and built Rangihou College, presumably named after Rangihoua. The school provided accommodation for visiting Māori and missionaries, and taught practical skills such as agriculture and gardening. It remained open until the late 1820s. It is not clear exactly when Rangihou ceased to operate, but it appears it was deemed unnecessary once the mission in New Zealand was strongly established.

Parramatta is no longer a separate city geographically, having been absorbed into greater Sydney. Traces of Rangihou College and Marsdens mission can still be found in modern Parramatta. Part of the original land of Rangihou College is now a pleasant riverside park named Rangihou Reserve. Immediately north of the reserve is New Zealand Street, a street that has borne this name since at least the 1830s.

The Rangihou Reserve site is considered of great importance by the Māori community of Sydney. In addition to being the site of the college, it also contains the unmarked graves of 13 Māori children who died while attending the school. One tragic aspect of Marsdens project was that the Māori scholars at Rangihou were vulnerable to European diseases. The exact location of these graves is no longer known.

Huntly mine disaster, 12 September 1914

Headline for a report on the disaster (click to view on Papers Past)

Headline for a report on the disaster (click to view on Papers Past)

Today marks the centenary of the Huntly mining disaster, an explosion that killed 43 miners.

On Saturday morning, 12 September 1914, 62 men went underground to start their shift at Ralph’s mine. This was a pay Saturday, with only a smaller maintenance crew working. On a normal working day 160 men would have been working underground.

The mine, operated by the Taupiri Coal Company, had a series of old workings. In these sections coal pillars were left standing to prevent the ceiling collapsing, which would cause the Waikato River to flood the mine. A team removing old rail lines took a short cut through one of the old workings. The first worker to enter, John Martin, accidentally ignited a large trapped pocket of ‘fire damp’ – methane gas – with the naked flame on his acetylene cap torch. The large quantities of coal dust in the mine were ignited by the resulting explosion. The explosive wave of fire swept through the mine and killed 41 underground workers. Joe O’Brien, a survivor, described seeing a 1 ton (0.9 tonne) transporting cage blown vertically 200 feet (60 metres) up an entrance shaft.

Rescuers dashed to the mine as soon as they heard the explosion. Twenty-one miners escaped or were rescued from the mine. Two of these men died of burns, bringing the death toll to 43. Had the blast occurred on a normal working day, with the full workforce underground, many more people would have died. It remains the second worst mining disaster in New Zealand history; the worst being the Brunner explosion of 1896, in which 65 miners were killed.

A royal commission of inquiry was convened within days. The commission of three was made up of the chairman Frederick Burgess, a magistrate; John Brown, a mine manager at Denniston; and John Dowgray, a miner and ‘Red Fed’ (Federation of Labour) union leader from Granity. The government appointed Dowgray to ensure that workers would have faith that the commission would really investigate, and not be a rubber-stamp body. The commission’s report found that mine management had a ‘lax and unsatisfactory’ approach to safety.

Before the disaster Ralph’s mine had a reputation as ‘safe’, but it was a gassy mine. A number of miners had been burned in earlier incidents. The local inspector of mines, Boyd Bennie, was judged to have done his inspection job effectively but had been unable to get the mine management to follow his recommendations. The mine management, under manager James Fletcher, had failed to adequately ventilate the old workings, failed to properly inspect those areas and had not provided miners with safety lamps.

Miners, through their union, were supposed to appoint their own check inspectors to ensure mine safety. Up to 1912 the Huntly coal miners had a strong union, with efficient check inspectors. In November 1912 the miners held a one day stoppage to support striking miners in Waihī. The Taupiri Coal Company, led by strongly anti-union chairman Ewen Alison, responded by dismissing the union leaders and recognising a new ‘company’ union. Union militants eventually took over the new union, only to have it destroyed in the Great Strike of 1913 and replaced by another company union. The company unions failed to appoint competent check inspectors. The destruction of effective unionism at Huntly contributed to poor safety inspection at Ralph’s mine.

The royal commission was unable to follow this up, as the alleged victimisation of unionists was beyond the scope of the commission of inquiry. In contrast, the Huntly Miners Union responded immediately, voting in October 1914 to dump their pro-company executive. In its place they elected a militant, pro-Red Fed leadership. The new union secretary was Joe O’Brien, survivor of the Huntly explosion.

Leading into the election campaign of 1914, politicians and labour activists used the issue of the Huntly disaster to attack the pro-business Reform Party government. William Massey, prime minister and minister of labour, was accused of helping to break the Huntly union and with failing to advance new mining safety legislation. Labour MPs John Payne and Paddy Webb were evicted from the parliamentary debating chamber for accusing Massey of manslaughter. Massey in turn declared his opponents were exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

In a courtroom sequel to the disaster, mine manager James Fletcher was taken to court for manslaughter in March 1915. The Supreme Court jury decided Fletcher had no case to answer, a verdict that appalled mining unionists and their supporters.

The Huntly disaster occurred just after the outbreak of the First World War, in a vital war industry. It reminds us that the casualties of wartime are not all on the battlefield. Industrial accidents continue to destroy lives and health in times of war as in peace.

Remembering Ernie Abbott and the Trades Hall bombing

A police poster calling for information on the Trades Hall bombing (click for image credit)

A police poster calling for information on the 1984 Trades Hall bombing (click for image credit)

On Thursday 27 March I was part of a group of over 100 people who gathered in the foyer of Wellington Trades Hall on Vivian Street to remember the death of caretaker Ernie Abbott. Abbott was killed 30 years ago, on 27 March 1984, in a bomb attack on Trades Hall. He had noticed a suitcase left unattended in the foyer, outside one of the rooms in which union meetings had been held that day. When Abbott picked up the suitcase it exploded, killing him and substantially damaging Trades Hall. Ernie’s watch, which stopped at the time of the explosion, showed his death to have occurred at 5.19 p.m. At the memorial gathering this was the time that signalled the start of three minutes of silence in remembrance.

The attack was one of the few acts of terrorism to occur in New Zealand, but no one claimed responsibility. It to this day remains an unsolved crime, despite the offer (now lapsed) of a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the bomber. The bombing occurred at a time of increasing industrial tensions and frequent strikes. This tension was heightened by the wage freeze Robert Muldoon had introduced in 1982. Muldoon, who had been prime minister since 1975, had carried out a long running campaign against what he described as militant unions. Muldoon claimed they were run by ‘pommy stirrers’, bringing British class hatreds that had no place in New Zealand. He also maintained that communists had undue influence in the unions. These claims struck a chord with many New Zealanders holding more conservative and anti-union views.

It seems likely that the Trades Hall bomb was planted by a lone right-winger with a hatred of unions. It was probably aimed at union leaders who were holding a meeting in the hall earlier that day. A number of unionists recalled walking past the case around 5 p.m. as they headed off to another meeting. Abbott moved the case, triggering the explosion, when he was mopping the foyer, his regular activity at that time of the evening.

Peter Cranney remembering Ernie Abbott

Peter Cranney remembering Ernie Abbott

Ernie Abbott was more than just the Trades Hall caretaker. Originally from Liverpool, he had served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. During his careers as a merchant seaman and as a wharfie he had been an active unionist. As Trades Hall caretaker from 1966, he was a member of the Caretakers and Cleaners Union and at the time of his death was union vice-president. In a bitter irony, Abbott had been made a life member of his union the day before the bombing.

At the memorial gathering speakers recalled the events of 1984 and paid tribute to Ernie Abbott. They recalled his role as a ‘stirrer’ at Trades Hall, provoking arguments between ‘poms’ and Scotsmen. Speakers gave differing views on Abbott’s reputation as ‘a grumpy old bastard’. Peter Cranney, who became vice-president of the Caretakers and Cleaners after Abbott’s death, said he always got on well with Ernie, who welcomed the chance to lean on his mop and have a yarn. Cranney also recalled Abbott’s two dogs, Patch and Patch II. Ernie’s first dog called Patch famously jumped off the Trades Hall roof in pursuit of a seagull. Patch survived the fall but thereafter had a limp. His successor, Patch II, was badly burned in the explosion but survived. On his recovery Patch II was fostered out to a new home.

Some of the members of the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band playing in the Trades Hall foyer

Some of the members of the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band playing in the Trades Hall foyer

Speakers compared Abbott’s death to those of Frederick George Evans, killed in the Waihī miners’ strike of 1912, and Christine Clarke, who was killed by a driver breaking a picket line at Lyttelton in 1999. Others compared his death to those workers who were killed each year in industrial accidents. The ceremony included a showing of Rod Prosser’s documentary film The hatred campaign on the 1984 bombing. In fine union tradition, tunes such as ‘The Internationale’, were played by the Brass Razzoo Solidarity Band. There were calls for the memorial ceremony to be held annually in the future.

The 1913 Great Strike – class war 100 years ago

Mounted strike-breakers, mainly volunteers from country areas, line up across Auckland’s Queen Street during the 1913 waterfront strike. Behind them hundreds of strikers, shouting and throwing stones, try to prevent ships being loaded on the wharves. (Click for image credit)

Mounted strike-breakers, mainly volunteers from country areas, line up across Auckland’s Queen Street during the 1913 waterfront strike. Behind them hundreds of strikers, shouting and throwing stones, try to prevent ships being loaded on the wharves. (Click for image credit)

The last few days have seen the centenaries of a series of industrial disputes that sparked off one of the largest and most violent strikes in New Zealand’s history: the 1913 Great Strike.

The ‘great strike’ was in fact a series of strikes throughout New Zealand, occurring from mid-October 1913 to mid-January 1914. The Great Strike saw riots, gunfire and cavalry charges in the streets of Wellington, a general strike in Auckland that paralysed the city for a fortnight, and strikers controlling the coal mining areas of the West Coast for over a month. Around 14,000 workers went on strike at a time when New Zealand had a population of just over a million.

Wellington was the scene of the most violent events of the strike. The government organised large numbers of mounted special constables, recruited from farmers and other rural volunteers. They came into town to ‘restore order’, and were joined by ‘foot specials’: middle class volunteers from Wellington. A series of street battles took place with mounted specials with batons charging the strikers. Major clashes took place at Post Office Square, Featherston Street and Mount Cook. The city was divided between pro- and anti-strike forces, buildings were besieged and revolver shots were fired. Servicemen with fixed bayonets backed by machine guns were deployed at Buckle Street and on the wharves, but fortunately these weapons were not used. Many people were injured in the conflict but, somewhat miraculously, no one was killed.

A large group of Massey's Cossacks ride down Hanson Street, Wellington (click for image credit)

A large group of Massey's Cossacks ride down Hanson Street, Wellington (click for image credit)

The strike wave of October 1913 began with two relatively minor disputes. The miners’ union at Huntly went on strike on 19 October in protest at the dismissal of 16 men, all union activists. In Wellington, on 18 October, the small Shipwrights’ Union struck over travelling time, pay and conditions. This escalated into a major strike on 22 October, when a dispute arose between employers and the powerful Wellington Waterside Workers’ Union over a stopwork meeting held to discuss the Shipwrights’ Strike. Watersiders and miners around the country went on strike to support their fellow unionists. They were later joined by seamen, drivers and builders’ labourers. There was even a strike in Lyttelton by the local newsboys.

The great strike affected most port towns and coal mining settlements. Generally the ‘moderate’ unions refused to join the strike. In Auckland, however, there was a general strike from the 8–22 November, involving over 6,000 workers from moderate and militant unions.

The key issue of the Great Strike was in fact a power struggle, with militant unionists against organised employers and farmers, backed by the government. Most of the striking unions were affiliated to the United Federation of Labour (UFL), also known as the ‘Red Feds’, a union of militant and moderate unions (the UFL inherited the ‘Red Feds’ name from the militant unions that had been part of the Federation of Labour). They had withdrawn from the country’s industrial arbitration system in favour of direct negotiations with employers, reserving the right to strike. The Red Feds believed in establishing strong industrial unions able to control particular industries, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing capitalism and establishing a socialist society.

Crowds gather outside the gates to the Wellington wharves during the 1913 strike (click for image credit)

Crowds gather outside the gates to the Wellington wharves during the 1913 strike (click for image credit)

The strikers were opposed by the New Zealand Employers’ Federation and the Farmers’ Union, who saw the Red Feds as a serious threat to their economic power. Farmers and rural labourers formed the core of the mounted special constables, known derisively as ‘Massey’s Cossacks’. Rural people generally saw the strike as a threat to their livelihoods and viewed the socialist ideas of the strikers as an insult to their patriotic values. The specials were sent into the main urban centres to open up the wharves. Prime Minister William Massey‘s Reform Party government gave full state backing to defeating the striking unions.

The strike was finally defeated in December 1913, although striking miners did not return to work until January 1914. Strikers were generally forced to join pro-employer ‘arbitration unions’. The employers’ victory was not complete, as the militant workers eventually regained control of many unions, while employers failed in their goal of destroying the UFL.

The strike also turned many ‘militants’ towards political solutions, rather than relying largely on industrial action to change society. They went on to found the Labour Party in 1916. The dramatic events of 1913 were soon swallowed up in the public memory by the cataclysm of the Great War of 1914–18 (the First World War), which broke out less than a year after the Great Strike.

A range of activities and projects have been organised to commemorate the 1913 Great Strike:

So, whether from the comfort of your own home or out on the streets, you now have an opportunity to relive the heady days of 1913.

Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift: writers remember Iris in Whanganui

Poet Janis Freegard poses with Robin Hyde

Poet Janis Freegard poses with Robin Hyde

On Saturday 17 August I was in Whanganui for an event with the intriguing title Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift. The renowned New Zealand writer Iris Wilkinson, better known by her pen name Robin Hyde, spent a year in Whanganui in 1929–30. She worked as reporter on the Wanganui Chronicle, creating scandal in the district by refusing to follow conventions and by her affair with a married man. According to one of her Whanganui associates, Hyde’s ‘dangerous gift’ was her ability to very quickly make people either love or hate her.

Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift was organised by Whanganui-based writer Ann-Marie Houng Lee in association with the Sarjeant Gallery. While Hyde is best known as a prose writer, she was also a noted poet, and this literary soiree was held in conjunction with New Zealand Post National Poetry Day, which occurred the day before on Friday 16 August. There was also a related exhibition at Whanganui UCOL‘s Edith Gallery. Also entitled Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift, it consisted of art works by Whanganui UCOL students in response to various Hyde poems.

Robin Hyde in 1936

Robin Hyde in 1936

National Poetry Day also happened to be the day of the most-recent large Seddon earthquake. The quake was strongly felt in Whanganui and the Sarjeant Gallery, which was to have been the venue for the event, was promptly closed for earthquake inspection. Undaunted, Ann-Marie Houng Lee organised a new venue at the Element Café, in the beautiful old bank building on Victoria Avenue.

Around 80 people turned up to hear the distinguished list of presenters. Mary Edmond-Paul, editor of Robin Hyde’s autobiographical writing collection Your unselfish kindness, gave the audience insights into Hyde’s life and writing.

Historian and self-confessed Hyde fanatic Redmer Yska spoke of Hyde’s life in Northland, the suburb of Wellington where he also resides. He gave a moving rendition of Hyde’s poem ‘The white chair’.

Wellington poet Janis Freegard gave fine readings of a number of Robin Hyde poems, along with some originals from her own works Kingdom animalia and The continuing adventures of Alice Spider.

The day was capped off by a performance from poet Glenn Colquhoun. Glenn presented his own poems, including a number in te reo Māori. His poems all dealt with the subject of longing, through which he explained his love across the ages for Robin Hyde.

There was an enthusiastic response from an audience that included people of all ages. While most were locals, a few had come up from Palmerston North and also a number from Wellington. My congratulations to Ann-Marie Houng Lee and everyone else who made Robin Hyde – A Dangerous Gift such a success.