Chapter seven


What could possibly show better the character of the capitalist mode of production, than the necessity that exists for forcing upon it the simplest appliances for maintaining cleanliness and health?

K. Marx, Capital, I.[1]

10,390 WORDS


The labourers’ fight to improve conditions around construction sites became part of the labour movement’s struggle for a healthy environment in every area of life. Exploitation at work went hand-in-glove with swindling wage-earners out of their earnings by diluting beer and adulterating food. Wholesale grocers contaminated their brands and lied about ingredients. A Labor politician asked: if you cannot trust capitalists to supply pure milk to babies, what can you trust them to do? One hundred years later, Nestle profited from pushing infant formula which contributes to deaths from dysentery among Third World families.

From the 1930s, building unions campaigned to make investment in the construction industry serve working people. Affordable and decent housing became the prime demand. The unions also called for more state schools, hospitals and community services such as sporting facilities and libraries. These social issues supplied a political context for the struggles at work around safety and amenities.

Involving the ABLF from 1968 in protection of the built and natural environments deepened its rank-and-filers’ understanding of amenities beyond their places of work. The horizon of struggle extended to social issues. For instance, during 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons, the South Australian government told new hotels to provide 5% of their rooms for the disabled. With Adelaide’s Hilton under construction, its owners were obliged to fit out 20 of its 400 rooms until the chain got an exemption to offer only two. The 80 labourers on site imposed a work regime which crippled construction. Within days, the owners agreed to provide the 20 rooms, and to adjust phones, lifts and parking to ease the burden on the disabled. The Hilton BLs donated wheelchairs to two youngsters.[2]

The effort to improve amenities on-site will be surveyed through the provision of lavatories, sheds, food, and hot and cold water. The policy of pursuing dirt money and disability allowances in place of these conditions is re-considered. The chapter concludes with five battles for conditions spread from the 1920s to the 1970s. Although amenities are being discussed separately from health and safety, they are connected in practice. Late in 1973, the NSW Branch worked with the BWIU over nine weeks to clean up a job at Penrith where the ABLF organiser reported: “Safety bad, toilets filthy, no doors; change rooms, eating room and tool shed all in one. After the company (W. P. Maher) agreed to rectify all these things, they sacked everyone.”[3] Each offence is part of the same struggle.

In 1884, 1,000 navvies lived rough in camps at the Prospect Dam (NSW). The contractor saved £50 by not providing cesspits and manure depots, forcing the men to use the bush above the creek that supplied their drinking water. Typhoid spread to the nearby settlements. The same happened four years later on the Goulburn Weir in Victoria. In 1890, nearly 800 men laboured along the Watts and Upper Yarra where the managers lived on the hills in the belief that they were above the infectious breezes (miasmas). They too needed water. Their children died along with the navvies.[4] Public health was no better in Marvelous Smelbourne until after a start on sewerage systems in 1894, typhoid having killed 400 citizens in 1889. Once the germ theory convinced the high and mighty that Toorak was not above the fever line, public works underwrote public health. Pure science, however, did nothing to provide hygienic lavatories where builders’ labourers were connecting houses to sewerage. Those amenities depended on the strength of working-class organisation.

The Federation’s 1913 Log asked for no more than “suitable sanitary” provision. Employers replied that they were so committed to tat principle that the Commission need not write any requirement into the Award. The union knew better. For five months at Rippon Lea, the employers had provided two iron sheets and a hole in the ground, while conditions were not much better in Collins Street. Justice Higgins told the employers that “a thing of this kind involves common civilisation.” (pp.160 & 355)[5]

Until tribunals spelt out the criteria for “suitable”, the employers could pretend that they were meeting the standards required. The union had to press the contractor on a bank in Collins Street in 1926 to provide lavatories.[6] Even Sydney’s Sewerage Board was a principal respondent to a 1925 Award which merely listed “suitable sanitary conveniences” as one of the General Conditions of employment. The 1937 Award added “adequate” to “suitable”. The Factories Act and the Public Health Act laid down some rules, which inspectors from the local council were supposed to enforce, but they were no better at fulfilling that task than they had been at making scaffolds safer.

Regulations were precise for the construction camps around Canberra in the 1920s. Latrines had to be 100m. “from the tents on the leeward side, and as far from the kitchens as possible.” Chlorine of lime or quicklime limited contamination. Because the campsites had no electric lighting, the men were reluctant to walk 100m. in the dark, and so the authorities issued each man with a pan for night use. Wheat sacks filled with sawdust served as urinals.[7] The Sydney Harbour Bridge was a monument to industrial civilisation but not for the men who built its arch. They shat in bags which they tossed into the water. The driver of an elevated steam crane used his square shovel as a pan.[8]

For as long as Awards did not specify the number and quality of lavatories. One pan for twenty workers was common. Many Awards contained clauses limiting the provision of lavatories to “where practicable”. The Victorian Branch protested in 1937 at the “deplorable sanitary conditions … on most jobs”, insisting that the employers provide conveniences irrespective of the number of men employed.[9] The 1950 Western Australian Award moved towards that basis when it specified that the conveniences “be kept in a clean and hygienic condition and where sewerage facilities exist proper connections must be made. If a pan system is used, thunder boxes are to be installed.”[10] Clause 27 of the NSW Award laid down that lavatories must be roofed, have walls and a door, the pan had to have a seat and there had to be sufficient lime to serve as deodorant. That a tribunal needed to spell out such essentials showed up the failure of employers to meet “common civilisation”. The worst sites did not provide even a hole in the ground. There was no lavatory at all for nineteen labourers at Service Town (Q) in 1951.

During the 1960s, labourers on blocks of flats finished most of their work before the units were connected to the sewerage. It was rare for a pan be installed on the upper levels. Organiser Norm Wallace dealt with sites in Prahran where contractors told the men to shit on the floor and bury it in the yard.[11] More often, they had to piss against a wall or slip into the nearest hotel to shit.[12] Likewise, new suburbs were opening up before the sites had been connected to the sewerage or a septic tank. Hence, the amenities for building workers were rough, if there at all, while the 1962 Federal Award remained vague, with Clause 30 (a) referring to “suitable and adequate sanitary conveniences in accordance with the requirements of the local health authority.”

For as long as labourers put up with pigsty situations, the employers treated them as deserving no better. One of the union’s tasks was to educate its members to insist on adequate lavatories. Selfishness in using lavatories forced men to squat over the seats, known as “kangarooing”. Activists had to clamp down on labourers who fouled their own nests. This was never easy with so many newcomers every few weeks. Education was made harder when labourers had immigrated from villages with neither running water nor sewerage. Moreover, many aspects of life in Anglo-Celtic households were catch-as-catch-can until the 1970s. The affluent Fifties did not arrive in Australia until after 1962. Plenty of suburban homes had neither sewerage nor a septic, and toilet paper meant newspaper.[13] The percentage of Brisbane dwellings connected to sewerage had been shrinking before the Labor administration from 1961, and much of Western Sydney was unsewered until the Whitlam government supplied funds in 1973.[14]

The lack of sewers did not hold up as an excuse at the David Jones store along Adelaide’s main street. In August 1964, the South Australian Director of Public Health ordered that lavatories be connected to the main sewer or to a septic tank on any site working for three months or more. That ruling still allowed large contractors to operate in the heart of the city for twelve weeks with makeshift lavatories.[15] Next year, a Brisbane Council inspector agreed to prosecute building employers whose lavatories were health hazards. Two years later, the Queensland Branch referred the lavatories and washing facilities on a major site in the CBD to the City Health Department. Each improvement had to be won and then defended, often more than once. The men on a job in Sydney’s Margaret Street were intrigued to find that the Clerk of Works had his claim to his own shithouse written into his contract: “We say that if he craps physically half as much as he does verbally”, then he needed it. A few months further on, an excavator in Elizabeth Bay thought he could get away with a pan toilet.[16]

Complaints about the inconveniences revealed other problems. Labourers on an apartment block at the Gold Coast in 1981 complained that a view of the surf from the porta-potty on the sixth floor did not make up for its being the lone lavatory. Fixing that problem brought a clean-up of other amenities. In the process, the members objected to the long hours demanded of them on cranes working from dawn until close to mid-night. The Branch meeting voted to ban their operation after dark. That ruling removed the danger from poor light and from the exhaustion of an 80-hour week.[17]

When the Grollos won approval from the National Trust in Victoria to redevelop the site around the Menzies Hotel they promised to preserve its external fabric, including a suite of galvanised-iron urinals overhanging Flinders Lane.[18] Their survival is as much a monument to the “common civilisation” for which the ABLF battled as is the 9x27m. mural that the union had placed on the south wall.[19] As Alan Harris in South Australia reflected in 2006: “I’ve been organising for 22 years. My first assignment was to get toilets onto a site. So what do you think I’ve been doing this morning?”[20]

In 1960, a joint union journal in Tasmania delivered some away-from-home truths about the responsibilities that workers have towards each other:

The prospect of having to use a dirty, fouled closet, or a makeshift pan in a rickety lean-to, can hang around in the back of the mind for half the day. Having to queue up or dodge around in the hope of getting into the “one and only” W. C. is a bad thing from everybody’s point of view. When a man’s mind is only half on his job, efficiency falls off.

If the job is not connected to the main sewer, in all probability a pan will be provided. Make sure that the Sanitary Collection Serviceman can get to the pans to change them over. He usually calls in the “wee sma’ hours” and it’s not much good if the place is nailed up or the compound gate locked.

One last point. It’s one thing to ask for, and get, decent civilised toilet conditions, but it’s another to get the men on the job to use them with consideration for their mates. One or two drongoes can reduce a clean, serviceable toilet to a filthy, stinking dump in less time than you’d believe possible. Line up with the clean, decent blokes and bring pressure to bear on these “no-hopers”. Put a stop to the all-too-ready accusation, “What’s the good of providing decent toilets – they foul the place in a couple of days and make a mess of it whatever we put up.”

A good unionist not only sets a good example but also keeps in mind the good name of his trade.

This might seem to be a very small thing, but it registers more than you’d think.[21]

Labourers needed sheds to lock-up the tools they were required to supply – picks, shovels, larries and hods. Witnesses to the 1913 Award hearing reported that “on large jobs there are tool sheds for this purpose, but on the majority of jobs there is simply a shed where you lay them down.” Labourers complained that their hods had disappeared: “A man who would take that would be very hard pushed.” The union wanted a “place under lock and key – a door with a lock on it. There is no watchman kept on these suburban jobs at all. Children may go in.” The key could be kept by “whoever had the key of the lime shed or office. It could be planted in a certain place and the first man who is there would know where to go.” The union did not expect the employer to be responsible in the event of burglary. The men also needed a shed in which to get changed. One explained that “a large number of the labourers go to work now in decent clothes. I always take a change of boots and overalls.” They were happy to get dressed in the tool shed. The MBA representative responded that the provision of a shed was part of every contract but backed and filled when pressed to accept a clause to that effect. The upshot was that the 1913 Award provided for only “a safe and suitable space for the tools of the employees.” (pp. 157-8 and 354)

It was a long time before the  labourers’ concern about sheds shifted towards personal comfort. Beneath the rising Sydney Harbour Bridge, an apprentice recalled:

There were no canteens, no showers or dressing rooms. Just folded your coat up and put it somewhere, wherever you could. No morning teas, afternoon teas, like there are today. It was tea by the billy each lunch time … The washing facilities there, well you went to a tap and washed your hands. You should have seen some of the times when you peeled an orange what color it was … Well the floor was a dirt and ash cinder floor and would get very dusty at times. They would have to water it down. Bed it down a bit at various times, especially if they got a wind off the harbour. The wind could whistle through those workshops and it was bitterly cold. The dust would fly everywhere. It was dreadful at times, but, however, they were the conditions you worked under …[22]

More than 30 years on, the 1962 Award took a leap forward by stipulating designs and dimensions:

suitable mess and dressing accommodations with a dry floor and including seats on all jobs, unless it is impracticable to do so due to the site, conditions or building regulation. In order to comply with their provision, where five or more men are employed and the work is estimated to last two weeks or more, a shed based on six square feet per employee but with a minimum of 50 square feet shall be provided and shall be for the exclusive use of employees and shall not be used for the storage of building materials.[23]

Labourers still had to strike to get sheds of any kind. On a Queensland Public Works Department job near Ipswich in 1962, the lavatories, water bags and accommodation were inadequate, change sheds doubled as storerooms and meal rooms, and in some cases, the sanitary pan was in there as well.[24]

During the winter of 1965, the Victorian employers had to be strong-armed into fulfilling an industry-wide agreement amenities which the MBA had signed. Strikes won such marks of “common civilisation” as heaters, food warmers, soap, lavatory paper and rubbish pins proofed against flies and rates. Unionists on a Leightons’ job in Russell street went out for 14 hours to get these necessities and then for a further hours to secure their wages for the time they had lost.[25]

In July 1970, the men on one job in the Sydney CBD were eating in a laneway, until the union threatened to strike to get the firm moving. When stoppages failed to improve conditions, vigilantes demolished “amenities” that breached the Award. After labourers dispatched a Brambles shed at Kings Cross in late 1970, the company applied to Mundey for $45 in damages. Did they expect to get paid? An MBA representative blew into Jack’s ear that Brambles had to ask for the money before going to their insurers:

However, we both know that Lance [the head of Brambles] could never say that a day has passed that he has not ignored company rules or the law of the land. He does have a regard for your personal integrity in that when your word has been given on anything then that in fact happens.

Brambles wanted Mundey’s promise that he had taken his “marauders” to task: “Don’t contact him [Lance] especially but next time you are in contact just let him know that Brambles is safe in future.”[26]


NSW organiser, Mike Keenan, left this list of duties for the delegates on a Nestle job.

Toilet paper, hand soap and disinfectant – employees to see that supply is kept up.

Eating shed – lined walls, with lights, strip heater, table and seats, hot water urn, pie oven, and refrigerator. Shed to be big enough to fit all workers on the job if it is the only one provided.

Change shed: lights, strip heater, clothing hooks (not Nails). One shed for labourers and separate ones for sub-contractors etc.

Broom and mop.

Nipper who will take smoko and lunch orders from all workers on the job and make the tea. Nipper will clean the sheds twice every day and the toilet. Only a labourer will perform these tasks.

Nipper’s job is almost a full-time job. Other work will not interfere with the nipper’s tasks as outlined above.

Toilets must be cleaned everyday. Toilet must have a urinal trough. The toilet paper and soap supply must be kept up.

Showers – within two weeks this job must have showers big enough for all the workers, with hot and cold running water.

Time Lost
We have lost time on this site because the firm has made no serious attempt to rectify the job conditions. The firm was warned at least 3 days beforehand yet could not be bothered to even walk across the road to buy toilet paper or soap. We view this as a provocation. We demand full pay for all time lost.

Site to site
Sick of fighting from site to site for their conditions, the NSW labourers decided on an industry-wide approach. Mundey informed the MBA that, as from 1 January 1971, the union planned to enforce the Award. Work would not start on any site not up to the mark: “The only acceptable sheds on any site will be those fully lined, with adequate lighting, heating, ventilation etc.”[28] Many sheds had no windows; others had windows that could not be opened for security reasons. The solution was to install air conditioners. Shortly afterwards, the union insisted on fridges in each mess hut and that all huts be weatherproofed.

The union laid down rules, but only job action could enforce them, as was demonstrated by the following four examples. At starting time on 26 April 1972, Sydney labourers on a city site met to deal with the lack of a shed and an urn. In addition, the only toilets belonged to the nearby wool stores. Men working for the sub-contractor (ARCOS) walked off after the firm refused to provide a shed because the job was for only nine weeks; anyway, ARCOS said, washing facilities and toilets were available in the wool sheds. The MBA instructed the company to comply with industry standards and ARCOS also paid for the hours that the men had lost.

A year later, on 9 May 1972, workers struck over amenities and safety on the Lend Lease job at Eastwood. Once the company agreed to fix the site up before starting time the next day, the BLs went back with full pay for the time they had stopped. Three days later, at the Eye Hospital in Woolloomooloo, the contractor agreed to begin to fix up the amenities. Next morning, the BLs, carpenters and boilermakers walked off because the company had made no effort to improve the situation.

Meanwhile, labourers in Canberra were being reminded that strength on site decided conditions, not scraps of paper. On 26 April, a Commissioner agreed to hear complaints about amenities at the Citra job in Kingston only if the labourers returned to work. They got no support from other Citra jobs, and the BWIU Branch gave brickies permission to mix their own mud.[29] The delay contrasted with the prompt resolutions, and no loss of pay, which militancy assured around Sydney.

Awards continued to include terms such as “adequate” and “reasonable”. A history of failure by employers to live up to the spirit of those requirements saw the union insist on the right to refer disagreements to industrial tribunals. The more specifications that an Award contained, the easier it was to prove a fault. For instance, the West Australian provisions for a shed detailed its size, lighting and ventilation, and that tables had to have non-absorbent, washable tops with not less than 400mm. x 450mm. space for each labourer.[30] The enforcement of conditions depended on the willingness of the workers on each site to act, and the capacity of their union to sustain them, financially and industrially.

Waiting for Gallagher
[Demarcation disputes between the FIA and the ABLF became more intense once the Groupers took charge of the FIA around 1950, after which its officials became as scabby as the AWU leadership. In June 1981, the ABLF won a High Court case giving it coverage of metal towers. The following item came out of the struggle to get that work transferred to BLs.]

A one-act play, without dialogue, which is re-enacted every day in a multitude of places with a constantly changing cast.

Scenario – Cranbourne, via Melbourne – a construction site for the erection of Transmission Towers.
A three-sided shed sits plumb in the middle of a paddock.
The wind whines in the transmission lines overhead.
Three men huddle in the rear of the shed to escape the driving rain.
There is no floor, no table and no seats.

Builders’ Labourers’ Organiser Barry (Clarke) Kent enters from off stage.
He speaks to the men. They answer. [No sound can be heard over the roar of the wind.]

Suddenly, the three men interrupt the conversation and spring to pre-appointed positions along the walls of the shed. The wind has changed direction. Organiser Kent gives a hand to rotate the shed to the east.

Everyone settles again. One of the men is obviously uncomfortable. He shifts position, staring dubiously at the rain. His mind is made up. Grasping a long-handled shovel and a copy of yesterday’s Age, he stoically strikes off into the sleet.

Who are these men? Who do they work for? Suddenly the wind changes again. Once more, organiser Kent helps the men to swing the shed – this time to the south. It is a lot more difficult now there are only three of them.

As the shed swings, the curtain slowly descends, but the audience has time to see the letters ASCOM painted luridly on the back of the shed, and the third man caught with his pants down, where the side of the shed had previously been.

Postscript: This play will be incomprehensible to builders’ labourers, unless they have worked for some time as a member of the Federated Ironworkers Association.[31]

If lavatories and sheds were sub-standard, other amenities remained poor or non-existent. While labourers battled to get boiling water for a billy of tea on time, the employers dismissed as a luxury their call for even cold water in which to wash up. In 1913, the labourers’ request for hot water to wash their hands “caused a great amount of hilarity amongst the Master Builders. They wanted to know if we wanted it for a bath, and tiled bathrooms and so on.” (p. 356) Employers looked down on demands for “common civilisation” as an affront to the natural order of class privilege. Labourers needed to wash-up so that they did not ingest dirt and poisons with their food. That health measure required plenty of hot water close to their work to reduce the time needed to clean up. Disputes then arose over in whose time the labourers washed their hands.[32] The camps for labourers building Canberra in the 1920s offered only cold showers. To enjoy a bath in winter, 150 men had to wait their turn to fire up a pair of coppers before carrying buckets of water to the ablutions block.[33]

In 1961, the Queensland Branch turned to the City Council to get even cold water for washing onto a site in the settled suburb of Toowong.[34] Conditions in the outer fringes needed even more vigilance. Neither the 1962 nor the 1978 Award said anything about a place or time to wash up, and called for hot showers only “where practicable”. Labourers were still expected to use the taps for the building operations. Sometimes a requirement was written into site provisions. The NSW Branch insisted on “hot and cold showers” for an apartment block in 1978. On the Melbourne Underground Loop in 1981, the contractor had to supply “personal washing facilities with hot and cold running water and an adequate supply of soap”. One reason why the ABLF banned the demolition or renovation of workers’ pubs in the CBDs was to preserve places for concrete-encrusted members to get a beer.


From the 1850s, building workers had linked their fight for an 8-hour day to the danger of heat stroke.[35] More than 100 years after labourers first secured the boon of a shorter day, a survey found that about half of NSW building workers in 1964 were dehydrated.[36] Labourers needed to refresh themselves more often than they could during meal breaks or at smokos. Fluid loss added one more danger through its effects on mental and motor skills, contributing to mis-judgements and falls. Over time, an inadequate intake damaged kidneys and livers.

Most early Awards made no mention of cold drinking water. By 1937, the NSW Award stated: “Employers shall provide pure drinking water for employees. Where the water is not conveyed by pipe it shall be kept in a covered receptacle.” The 1962 Federal Award stipulated no more than “reasonably accessible drinking water”. By 1978, the ABLF had won a ruling that drinking water be “cool, clean” and supplied “at all times”.

Navvies got the worst deal because so few facilities were on sites until after the excavations. The 600 men sent from Perth to clear land for farming at Lake Cronin in 1928 got 18 litres of water for week to cook and to wash themselves and their clothes.[37] In the settled areas, the navvies had to seek water from neighbours, if any. Hence, suitable drinking water was not always available. The water in buckets was too warm or too dirty, and the only tap was often for washing or for concreting. Water could be cooled in a canvas bag, if there were any shade or a breeze. The water was best at a couple of degrees below shade temperature since iced water upset the digestion. Eventually, air-conditioned sheds with refrigerators allowed for a cool drink.

Labourers learnt to pace their fluid intake as another of the knacks of making it through the week. If they drank too much too quickly they pissed too often. Getting the balance right was harder if a labourer began the day hung over. From the 1960s, the increased frequency of a few beers at lunchtimes cut across the intake of other fluids and the maintenance of safety. In 1989, a Queensland Liberal politician alleged that “a very high percentage” of injuries on building-sites were due to alcohol.[38] Did he mean boardroom fridges and tax-deductible corporate lunches? Blood tests on fatally injured NSW construction workers between 1989 and 1992 showed that 93% had no alcohol and that another five percent were under the legal limit for driving.[39]

The 1909 Builders’ Labourers’ Award in NSW required employers to provide “a sufficient supply of hot water at meal times,” which the tribunal qualified by adding the let-out of “where circumstances permit”. Thus, the provision took effect only when workers had the industrial strength to enforce it. In presenting its 1913 Log, the ABLF wanted the Commission to make the employers “provide on the works such hot water as may be reasonably required at meal times by employees.” Organisers reported that, on the big jobs in the Melbourne CBD, “[T]he contractor generally has a lad, and he looks after the water. If not, one of the labourers is sent to boil it. If there are 20 or 30 men on the job they usually have a kerosene tin or copper.” (pp. 160, 175 & 356) However, hot water at meal time was not the rule around suburban jobs:

The labourer is not allowed to do it and very often the employer will object to allowing anyone to do it. This is generally when it is piece work, and the result is that the men have to wait until half past 12 o’clock before they can get hot water for their dinner.(p. 161)

In drafting the 1940 Log, the men wanted the water to be boiling before meal time. The 1962 Federal Award went no further than requiring employers to provide “boiling water” at lunch and smoko. The 1978 Award expected “reasonably accessible boiling water at meal times and rest periods.”

“More jobs than breakfasts”[40]
In the nineteenth-century, the custom was for building work to start at 7 am and to stop an hour later for breakfast. As operations became more mechanised, the employers insisted on only one meal break a day, at midday, although they allowed the men to come in early to boil up before the first whistle.[41] The distance that men had to travel to sites affected the kind of breakfast they got. If they were chasing work, they might not have had the time, or the money, for more than a cup of tea. Their nomadic habits determined the quality of their meals. Married men, like single ones living at home, were taken care of. Boarders depended on their landladies for a cut lunch.[42] On a Victorian construction site at Charlton in November 1926, the hotels and boarding houses refused to feed their labourer guests for a 5 am start. The men, therefore, refused to begin at that hour until the contractor provided tea and sandwiches for free if the men brought their own mugs.[43]

Many labourers started work too early to feel like a substantial breakfast, even if they had time for one. They consequently pushed for a morning smoko long before they demanded an afternoon one. That early break meant more than a mug of tea, and could be the first major intake of food. Hard work on little or no food drove men to gorge on sugars and fats, washed down with high-sugar beverages – tea or soft-drinks. A lack of calories at the start of the day followed by a rush of sugars disturbed judgement in tricky situations. The hour between 9am and 10 am sees twice as many injuries as at any other time, and more serious ones.[44]

Employers opposed more than one break in the day because even that disruption reduced the labour-time from which they extracted value. Some realised that a rest break improved performance, both in quality and quantity. However, most managers suspected that any benefit to profit-taking from a smoko was outweighed by its disruption to the flow of materials. Once labourers won the right to a morning break, Messrs Construction Capital determined to limit its effect on the production of value. In 1950, the West Australian Award included a morning break but laid down that “the period of seven minutes shall not be exceeded by any circumstances.”[45] The smoko was abolished in 1953 because it had been abuse and, in 1960, the Court refused to restore a formal break but expected the employer to allow one “so long as the progress of the work is not unduly interfered with”.[46] A Dutch corporation sacked Sydney building workers in 1957 for being late back from smoko, and even for sitting down during their break. After a strike got them reinstated, the supervisor admitted that the sackings had been intended to intimidate the men into working faster.[47]

What labourers ate varied over time. A contractor recalled Grollo’s cement gangs from the 1950s: “Lou would roar in with a small truckload of blokes! And they’d bring out their loaves of bread and a bit of grappa.”[48] In recent years, labourers have grabbed pies to eat on the way back to work following a few beers. Into the 1960s, the majority were still bringing their lunches but more often the Billy Boy, or “Nipper”, was going out to the shops for food. A Melbourne old-timer, George Fitton, recalled a more exotic fare:

We used to barbeque our meat on a shovel over our fire. In those days our shovels used to be spotless – if you couldn’t see your face in ‘em you used to be sacked – mind you it didn’t do much for the temper of the shovels, so the boys made sure they didn’t use their own.

The prevalence of sandwiches for lunch meant that many labourers did not get a hot meal until the evening. Pies offered the chance for some hot fare, making pie-warmers another part of occupational safety.[49] Workers had to protect their cut lunches against ants and flies. The latter were worse where lavatories were inadequate; the pans became known as “honey pots” for their attraction to blowflies. Air-conditioned sheds were a way of encouraging men to eat an adequate lunch.

The gutter press attacked these achievements as luxuries. What Murdoch columnist would work without them? More importantly, the likelihood of accidents from the lack of refreshing fluids and appropriate foods is greater on a 7m. scaffold than in front of a computer screen on the 7th floor of an air-conditioned office block.

Poor diet had long-term effects for the heart, kidney and diabetes. After Victorian organiser Terry O’Connor dropped dead in 1974, aged 50, the Branch paid for annual health checks on its officials. Diet was another area where Workers Health Centres were invaluable at preventive care. The CFMEU sponsored breakfasts in disadvantaged schools. A similar programme was needed around the sites. In 2006, the ACT Branch attached a hot food café to its office opposite construction projects.

A duo of labourers served hot lunches at a canteen on the World Trade Centre in 1982. That year, the ABLF journal included a page on “Dare to Cook”, its first food column drawing more responses than any earlier item. The aim was to immortalise the barbeque as a democratic institution while “improving the quality of what goes down the digestive tract of the BL.” Barbies on building sites were now more than a sausage sizzle.

Rule one was to get a steady fire going. Banskia gave the best smoke but shoddy planks were “much safer on the fire” than in a scaffold. Rule two was to keep the fire slow because otherwise everything burnt faster than a boss could say “out the gate”.

The recipes were as varied as the workforce. One adapted Chinese chicken to the barbeque. Mix a marinade of garlic, ginger, oil, soy sauce, sherry and pepper in a painter’s tray no later than at smoko. After a few minutes on the grill, test the thighs and breasts with a 4-inch nail.

Another page recommended taking a rest from the meat pie in favour of spaghetti marinara, a-la-BL. Crush the garlic with the base of a trowel onto a plas-ply chopping board and then use the face of the trowel to scoop the garlic into the pan and to break up some tinned tomatoes. After 30 minutes of simmering, the sauce should end up with the consistency of a good slurry. Get the Billy-boy to detour from the TAB to bring back fresh seafood. If you’ve had a win, tell him to lash out on prawns, and if the rent isn’t due, crabmeat will make the crew go weak at the knees.

The lesson was: what you eat today, struggles tomorrow, or, as one stalwart put it: “Once you’re filleted, you never get you backbone back.”[50]

The 1950s ended with talk of an affluent society while amenities in many workplaces still flouted a “common civilisation”. In adjudicating an ABLF demand for paid time in which to wash up, a NSW Commissioner acknowledged in 1960

that amenities such as canteens and bath rooms are non-existent on the project, but generally speaking, this is true concerning building projects generally, and is a factor taken into account when making the State Award.[51]

Inadequate, even filthy conditions were not confined to building sites. Few factories, offices or stores provided their employees with lunch rooms.

Accepting cash in lieu of amenities was no answer although such swaps were more acceptable than taking money for risks. The flaw in that distinction is that an employer who provided inferior amenities also neglected safety. However, as with OHS, the Federation exacted retrospective “dirt money” as an incentive to make employers behave. An example of combining improvements with penalties appeared in June 1972 at Wynyard station where Parkes Development Corporation had brought extra men on site but provided no additional amenities. The small shed was dirty. The on-site manager offered the BLs use of his office and to pay double time until proper sheds arrived. Work resumed on the morning that the dispute began, with no loss of wages.[52] Similarly, crane drivers came out of a long strike in 1973 with 25 cents more an hour until amenities met the required standard.[53]

Management experts warned employers in 1953 that “dirt is a most expensive commodity.” The turnover of labour and absenteeism were higher on dirty jobs: “Dirt breeds discontent”, and discontent produced militants. Whenever the union became active, dirty sites added to the direct and indirect costs. Moreover, a dirty site was an unsafe site.[54] That combination of faults continued into the 1960s on major infra-structure projects and high-rises around the CBDs. Mundey’s lament that bosses did not provide labourers with a nail to hang their coats was not the half of it.[55]

Our quintet of examples begins in the 1920s with the camps for the labourers sent to Canberra to construct the nation’s capital and at Victoria’s State Electricity Commission in the LaTrobe Valley. The third segment focuses on the munitions factory at Salisbury (South Australia) in the early 1940s before widening out to Queensland construction camps for the war effort. Attention then shifts to two changes to the construction industry after 1960. The first of those forces went outwards to install the infrastructure for resources projects in the coal fields of Central Queensland. The second thrust upwards with high-rises across the central business districts.


“Men, Money and Markets” became the slogan of the Federal government during the 1920s. The “men” included 200,000 servicemen who had to be resettled, and as many immigrants making Australia their home. The population grew from 5 to 6 millions. Behind the rhetoric was the scramble for jobs and housing. Building Australia took a turn towards heavier industry: BHP developed Whyalla as a port to supply iron to its steel works at Newcastle; a rail line linked Mt Isa copper mine to the coast; steelworks opened at Port Kembla. Governments commissioned reservoirs, such as at Eildon. A rural township expanded at Griffith. Two settlements began. One was the national capital in Canberra, the other a company town at Yallourn to supply secondary industry with electric power from brown coal. A Jazz Age in the Roaring Twenties was not reflected in the conditions for labourers employed on the emblems of modernisation.

Preliminary works had got underway from 1911 once parliament agreed on a site for the national capital in sheep country with millions of flies. By 1915, the ABLF had set up a Branch for members working on Defence projects such as Duntroon Military College. The labourers were, in several senses, marooned between Sydney and Melbourne. A train from Queanbeyan, 15 km away inside NSW, connected them to the former. The employing authorities, however, were in Melbourne where the strength of the Victorian Branch gave ACT labourers access to the Department of Home Affairs.

During an interview between union officials and the Department on 3 December 1915, the ABLF made requests on behalf of its Canberra members. Only one was granted, namely, the payment of a living away from home allowance to compensate for the crude conditions under which the men and their families had to exist. The Minister declined to pay for a free cook at the Yarralumla Woolshed, since only six of the 80 labourers were living there; the rest preferred to be in tents with their families, or friends. The same reasoning stopped a distribution of free firewood.[56]

War interrupted the works, which resumed in 1921 when peace required settling ex-servicemen into jobs. During 1922, the Federal Government brought 200 of them to Canberra as labourers. No sooner had they arrived, than they prepared to strike against a cut in wages and an increase in hours. Adding insult to injury, the authorities had no blankets to issue and too few tents, squeezing four men into the space for three. Candles supplied most of the lighting. To ward off the winter, men contrived to attach tin fireplaces to their tents. Only one worker was burnt to death in his bed.[57]

Living conditions for labourers were like those in the army. The camps were split between single and married men. The former were graded according to occupation. At the bottom were the navvies, next came the horse-and-dray men and tradesmen, with officials at the top. The single men played sport and two-up, and got beer from the closest pub in Queanbeyan, where the shops were. Until 1928, the ACT was “dry” – no alcohol could be sold. Although gambling or possession of alcohol in the camps brought dismissal, one man died in a drunken brawl. The labourers worked 44 hours over five-and-a-half days. In mid-1925, they voted to perform their 44 hours in five days to get home for a weekend. One carpenter pedalled 100 km. towards Braidwood every second Friday and back on the Sunday.[58] Rough as living was for the labourers building the nation’s capital, their conditions were better than on the silos, reservoirs, bridges and railways that were not in the public eye.

Latrobe Valley
Victoria’s State Electricity Commission (SEC) became the State’s largest employer of construction workers. Labouring for the SEC on the open-cut brown coal pits and power-stations around Yallourn differed from most jobs by offering long-term employment because the infrastructure would take years to build and need maintenance. The likelihood of expansion was great. Planners hoped to hide the industry and mining with a garden city designed for family homes. When AIF commander General Monash accepted the job as the SEC’s general-manager in 1920, he dreamed of a community.[59] The result was more like a military camp with three levels of accommodation: one for his officers, a lesser standard for his NCOs, and bare minimums for the other ranks, whether tradesmen or labourers. Because of the shortage of accommodation, Monash had to put his senior staff into cottages intended for the workers. The latter created their own community by escaping from the paternalism of a company town.[60]

SEC executives recognised the impact that housing had for industrial relations. Married men in company-owned houses were likely to be more tractable than the “agitators and hoboes” feared by the superintendents. In line with the spread of support for eugenics among a bourgeoisie fearful of working-class activism, one SEC manager declared in the 1930s that some of its workers were born slum-ites, unfit for decent dwellings.[61]

On arrival, the labourers went into camps, but were promised houses. The cheapest dwellings were of wood, and offered two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and lean-to bathroom with laundry. This design represented the triumph of class prejudice over demographic fact. Working-class families had more children than could fit into a single bedroom. When the cheapest houses were made available to labourers, the rent was 22s 6d, almost 50% higher than the 15s that Monash had planned. The daily wage was 14s 3d. Something had to give. Either rents had to be subsidised or wages increased to meet the socially necessary cost of reproducing labour power. The SEC rejected both.[62]

The labourers on site never stopped battling for wages to match the expenses of living away from home in an area with no public amenities and higher than average food prices because of a monopoly grocer. At Morwell, late in 1923, the SEC men wanted 10s more, to lift their wages to 27s a day. They were solid, with backing from the carpenters. The Branch Executive saw the push as “the biggest thing the union had taken on for years and that it was highly desirable that good and efficient attention should be paid to it.”[63] An organiser reported on 11 February 1924 that he had “experienced great difficulty in restraining the men from indulging in a strike.” The BLs were “restive” because the SEC would not comply with its agreement. Sanitation was poor.[64] The ABLF accused the SEC of interpreting the Award by “its circumlocutions”. The workplaces saw endless pin-pricks from both sides; discussions were on, and then off. The LaTrobe labourers insisted that their Federation “seek redress by way of summons.” In May, the men became more than stroppy.[65] Contests over wages persisted as the ABLF warded off coverage by other unions, inevitably, the AWU. Early in July 1927, Secretary Smith complained that the SEC treated the Federation “like a shuttlecock”. Negotiations got nowhere because of the difficulty in determining “who were the real employers” - the SEC, or the principal contractors, Messrs Armstrong Whitworth. That division of authority remained a stumbling block on every issue.[66]

Yallourn felt the shrinking of the economy. During 1930, conditions were driven down so much that some BLs were not getting the Award wage. Accident pay was unknown and injuries were not being reported.[67] The organisers found that “if a man were an active unionist and did not take an interest in the welfare of the town, things were made rather warm for him.” George Coulson was punished for his principles, and had to quit the works. [68]

In defiance of regulations that workers live within the boundary of the Commission’s model town, the labourers voted with their feet. They drifted to a mining settlement known as the Brown Coal Mine, or more popularly as BCM. Outlying settlements sprang up around that centre, which itself was hardly more than a straggle of corrugated-iron huts. The land rent was a shilling a week. The newcomers fashioned homes from bark, packing cases, tin drums and bagging, plastering the walls with clay before whitewashing them. Perched above the model town, a sagging BCM was a reproach to the SEC’s inability to provide for its workers.[69] In that regard, the Commission was no worse than the capitalists whom it had been set up to service.

The BCM-ites, or “coalies”, displayed community spirit and independence, their Aussie Rules team taking on all challenges. Nonetheless, some conditions were sub-standard even for the times. Epidemics were more common than in Melbourne slums, with gastro killing seven infants at the BCM in fourteen days during 1928. Press reports of the deaths shamed the SEC into providing clean water and disposing of the sewerage. Thereafter, dwellings up on the BCM could be more salubrious than in the model town, which was “often buried in fog and coal dust.”[70]

A 1944 bushfire tested the view that those who could afford higher rents possessed superior ideals of citizenship. A Royal Commissioner saw the failure of the townspeople to defend themselves against the blaze as a result of the way that the SEC had treated its employees:

Here indeed the townsman enjoys all that the heart of a man may desire – except freedom, fresh air and independence. He has no authoritative voice in the management of the town. There is no public library. There is no hall where the townspeople may publicly assemble as of right. There is no place where refreshment of any kind may be obtained at six o’clock in the evening. There is a cinema. There is no municipal democracy.[71]

Did Yallourn burn because the SEC had taught its residents to believe that it deserved no better?


Conditions on sites deteriorated during the 1930s depression as they did in working-class homes.[72] Along the track, labourers took scraps of work, ate what they scavenged before sleeping where they dropped. The situation improved during the 1939-45 war, though it still varied with time and place. Those differences will be introduced through conflicts during the establishment of a small-arms and ammunition plant at Salisbury, 20 km north of Adelaide, before moving on to the Civil Construction Corps (CCC).

In November 1940, the Commonwealth began to establish the largest of its new munitions projects at the hamlet of Salisbury on 1,200 hectares of wheat fields. The decision to build in South Australia had been driven politically. The State government attracted the factory by offering to supply roads, power, water and sewerage. The Commonwealth’s failure to acquire the land until building works had been underway for months highlighted the slackness of the administration. Workers suffered from the gap between promises and implementation. The Official War Historian praised the speed at which the engineers got the site operational, working from their offices, and supplied with automobiles.[73] Not a word appears about the labourers who “toiled in the heat, in the cold, and in the rain” to make those blueprints a reality.

The managers achieved their record times at the expense of safety. In April 1940, the ABLF again called for amendments to the Scaffolding Act to extend inspection beyond the Adelaide area. After Bro. Arnold was killed at Salisbury in January 1941, the Branch referred the scaffolding to the Building Trades Council after voting to “deprecate the speed-up tactics employed on most Defence building jobs.”[74] The lack of official concern about safety was on a par with the failure to provide basic services. The nearest rail stop was an unsheltered siding from which labourers were transported on open trucks in all weathers.[75] Once at the site, they found sheds, lavatories and water supplies which were not up to even the usual sub-standard. The water was not fresh and was being boiled in buckets, not coppers. Members complained that, as a result, “men had been washing their hands, washing shovels, etc in the water allotted for the men to make their tea with.”[76] Resentment over the conditions at Salisbury was so strong that the Communist-influenced Branch continued to oppose overtime until March 1942,[77] eight months after the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, and three months after Japan’s entry into the war. The South Australian Branch adjusted its attitude upon conscription for civilian labour, but the New South Wales leadership resisted longer hours into 1943.[78]

Allied Works Council (AWC)
In March 1942, the War Cabinet moved beyond Manpower controls to direct the workforce: “A civilian labour corps is to be established from persons called up under military impressments [“manpowered”]. Service will be compulsory on the same lines as the military forces.”[79] Induction into the Civil Construction Corps (CCC) – referred to by its director, Frank Packer, as “Curtin’s Clueless Cunts”[80] - began in May. By the end of July, 51,000 men were working on AWC projects, a level maintained for the next twelve months, but halved by June 1944.[81]

Fighting the First Pacific War required sending labourers into remote areas where they had to construct their camps along with the defence works. For instance, thousands of NSW builders’ labourers went to North Queensland to lay 800 km. of road. The ABLF wanted to know on what terms these members were to be employed. Would they be paid at the lower Queensland rate? If not, would the locals have their pay increased? When the AWC asked Mr Justice O’Mara to apply the wisdom of Solomon, he recognised that the only solution was to get the Arbitration Court to determine a uniform set of conditions. The Federation would have preferred to take the best from each of the States, but accepted that such a bonanza was not achievable. The union put higher wages above an improvement in conditions. The government, in turn, found it easier to pay a disabilities allowance than to provide amenities.[82]

The men conscripted into the CCC were sent to jobs far from their homes. On arrival, most had to build their own accommodation and facilities. Food was poor and services non-existent.[83] In October 1942, eight construction workers, who left their Clermont (Q.) camp for Sydney to protest about conditions, faced arrest as deserters.[84] Representatives from eight camps joined Queensland BTG officials to meet the AWC in June 1943 to deal with “bad lighting, vermin-infested huts, wash-tubs, clothes lines, banking facilities, tobacco, sandshoes.”[85]

Federal Secretary Fred Thomas reported that conditions around Brisbane were fair enough. He accepted AWC assurances that the horrors further out resulted from problems with transport; in some places, there were no roads. The AWC also promised a clean-up. Whether Thomas visited any of the distant camps, such as Clermont, is debatable. A NSW organiser accused him of staying in Brisbane and pocketing the expenses. That behaviour was more in keeping with Thomas’s known character than was undergoing the rigours of bush life.[86]

Most officials encouraged labourers to accept wartime shortages and some lack of “common civilisation” as part of the sacrifice for the defeat of foreign fascism. Members compared their conditions and dangers with those of the fighting forces, and knew they could be worse off. As soon as the war ended, however, Victorian BLs applied go-slow tactics to get amenities back on the jobs.[87]


Central Queensland
From the early 1960s, the Queensland Branch found itself grappling with everyday life on resource projects hundreds of kilometers from Brisbane. As ever, the labourers went in first and so endured the roughest conditions. A 1967 agreement required that tents be replaced with huts, while the catalogue of the other equipment that employers had to supply was a sign of how crude the amenities remained.[88] The scale of the challenge to the Queensland Branch was obvious at Blackwater which, in 1962, consisted of a scatter of houses, one hotel, a general store, the railway stop and a one-room school. By 1969, its population had gone up to 700, before reaching 6,000 in the late 1970s. Even where the projects were close to regional cities, such as Rockhampton, the arrival of hundreds of men, some with families, required a boost to spending on public services.

The nature of that work and the state of the sites presented organisers and members with issues far beyond wages, hours and amenities. The infrastructure at the camps began as a throwback to those for navvies on railways and reservoirs in the nineteenth century. The Branch’s most recent experience with such situations had been for the Civil Construction Corps, responsible to the government. Whereas the resource projects were undertaken by the world’s biggest and toughest construction corporations, such as Utah and Fluor, Bechtel and Dillinghams. Secretary Delaney acknowledged in May 1966 that “when agreements had first been made we had been in our infancy in major construction.”[89]

The infrastructure sites added layers to the battle for amenities. The Log of claims now went beyond sheds, lavatories and hot water as the union negotiated over full board and accommodation. Some disputes were about the prices charged, and others over the quality of food and bedding. Thus, the resources boom involved the Branch in social issues - health and education - that it had left to the Labor Party. The union needed to win housing, schools and entertainment from an anti-labour State administration and anti-union contractors.

Most companies tried to use board and lodging to reduce wages or to break strikes. In July 1963, the contractor on the Calcap powerhouse deducted ₤2 4s for board and keep. When the men refused to accept this wage cut, the company put them out of the camp before the union got them back into the dining room without any charge for their food.[90] In 1966, the Calcap men went out for three days. In response, Holland Constructions made them pay $4 for the nine meals they had eaten while on strike, only to back off once Gallagher put the squeeze on its Melbourne jobs.[91]

Accommodation remained a flashpoint. Many men were living in caravans. To meet union demands, one company offered to construct a caravan park with all amenities adjacent to the site. Employees living in the park received $10 per week in lieu of accommodation and they got an additional $4 a week until the site was complete. The company also conceded fares and traveling time for those still driving in for shifts from Biloela. Meanwhile, the Collinsville site still had no car park.[92]

The 1966 agreement at Blackwater showed how many benefits union action could deliver. The employers paid $7.50 as the site allowance, and provided a wet canteen, a public phone and a weekly movie. They also funded an ambulance man, an emergency vehicle and a first-aid room on site.[93] By contrast, Christmas Day 1965 at the Hammersley project on the other side of the continent confirmed that construction workers got no joy without struggle. Having worked the men for three months without a day off, the company served cheese, bread and tinned meat. A riot rewrote more than the menu.

Gladstone’s population continued to grow. From 7,000 in the early 1960s, it had reached 31,000 by 1981, with no sign of slowing. Caravans were the common lot of families moving there, with some surviving out of the back of utes. House rents skyrocketed. Because the corporations sped the construction of the infrastructure to hasten the sale of the resources that realised their profits, social infrastructure did not get a look in. The closest welfare office was 136km. away in Rockhampton. Once more, the unions looked beyond their worksites to battle for social environments. On 1 July 1981, 4,000 members stopped work, banning resource projects until their communities were guaranteed funds for hospitals, schools, sporting and cultural facilities.[94] Premier Bjelke-Peterson proclaimed “States’ Rights” for the benefit of overseas investors at the expense of Queensland citizens.[95]

If rough and ready conditions were to be expected at the start of resource projects, the failure of big companies to come up to scratch in the business districts demonstrated that the Masters did not abide by the Award unless under pressure. In 1969, job delegates from across Brisbane began phoning the Master Builders’ Association to complain about each and every lack of amenity. This activism made the employers’ journal realise that “Whilst costs cannot be ignored, it must in the long run be less expensive to provide at least the minimum standards” so that “disputes and stoppages cannot occur.”[96] Throughout 1970, the Queensland Branch of the ABLF dealt with woeful amenities from big name firms in central Brisbane.[97] High rises altered the labourers’ demands, for instance, transforming their requirement for lavatories. What was the point of amenities on the ground, if the majority of labourers were several floors up and with limited access between levels? The union now insisted that lavatories be available on at least every fourth floor. Stopping work won those amenities on the Brisbane office blocks under construction for the two domestic airlines.

Sydney building boomed at the expense of its workforce until the NSW Branch tamed the concrete jungle. On May Day 1972, work stopped on the Law Courts where the contractors had agreed to supply pans on the upper floors for the riggers. The BLs blacked this area until the pans arrived, and also insisted on washing facilities at the top. On 11 May, the company again assured its labourers that lavatories and washing troughs would be installed higher up, but two weeks later, they were still only on the flood floor. The workers then refused to go higher than that level. The company once more promised that a trough and taps would be on the sixth level on the following morning, and lavatories by Tuesday.[98] The right for “common civilisation” had to be fought from floor to floor, not just from site to site.

Activists linked campaigns for amenities with demands for wages, safety and job control. Under the 1978 headline “Green Bans to Stay”, the NSW Branch journal reported that jobs did not provide without “top CONDITIONS and amenities”. (Emphasis in original) For example, a project facing Centennial Park saw:

  1. Separate changing and eating sheds, with fridge, chairs, heaters, lino etc;
  2. Toilets - concrete floors, sewered, lights, deodoriser, cleaned every day etc;
  3. Hot and cold showers, proper first-aid facilities, afternoon smoko of 15 minutes, perimeter scaffolding, and better than D.L.I. [Department of Labour and Industry] safety conditions.[99]

In helping the Federal Office to take over New South Wales, the MBA was left holding the ABLF tiger by its commitment to environments at work.

[1] Karl Marx, Capital, I, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow , 1958, p. 481.

[2] Builders Labourers’ Federal Journal (BLFJ), November 1981, p. 9.

[3] Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, NSW Branch Records, List of Industrial Disputes, 23 October 1973, Mitchell Library (ML), MSS 4879, Box MLK 04261; for a BWIU statement of the interlocking of these demands, see Report of NSW Royal Commission on Building Productivity, NSW Parliamentary Papers, 1992-93, Second Session, vol. XXI, Paper 271, pp. 422-3.

[4] Argus, 20 May 1890 , p. 8d-e.

[5] Transcript of 1913 Award Hearings in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Australian Builders’ Labourers’ Federation v A. W. Archer, Australian Archives B1958 (B1958/1) 9/1912, the page references are given in brackets.

[6] ABLF, Victorian Branch Records, Minutes, 9 August 1926 , ANU, Noel Butlin Archive Centre (NBAC), Z398/20.

[7] Ann Gugler, Builders of Canberra , 1909-1929. Part one, Temporary camps & settlements, Canberra , 1994, p. 39.

[8] Peter Lalor, The Bridge, Allen & Unwin, Sydney , 2005, pp. 201-2.

[9] Victorian Minutes, 3 April 1937 .

[10] Western Australian Industrial Gazette (WAIG), volume 30, 1950, p. 202.

[11] Interview, Melbourne , 19 May 2005 ; Unity, December 1966, pp. 10.

[12] Stan Sharkey quoted Lindie Clark, Finding a Common Interest, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, 2002, p. 70.

[13] John Stubbs, The Hidden People, Poverty in Australia, Cheshire-Lansdowne, Melbourne, 1966, p. 51; Sharkey quoted Clark, Finding a Common Interest, p. 70; Janice Newton, “Dunnies and Australian culture: looking backward and forward to explicate community memory”, JAS, 91, 2007, pp. 81-92.

[14] E. G. Whitlam, The Whitlam Government, Viking, Ringwood, 1985, p. 372.

[15] Builder (SA), 15 May 1964 , pp. 13-15.

[16] NSW Builder’s Labourer, April 1973, p. 37, June 1973, p. 9.

[17] BLFJ, November 1981, p. 22.

[18] Graeme Davison, “ Rialto Story”, Victorian Historical Magazine, 58 (1), March 1987, pp. 6-19.

[19] Unity, March-April 1985, p. 12, and August 1985, p. 12.

[20] Interview, Adelaide , 4 July 2006 .

[21] Building, Transport and Timber Workers’ trades union Journal, December 1960, p. 27.

[22] Ian Ferrier quoted Caroline Mackeness (ed.) Bridging Sydney, Historical Houses Trust, Sydney, 2006, p. 193, and cf. p. 218.

[23] 101 Commonwealth Arbitration Reports (1962) 318 at 348.

[24] ABLF, Queensland Branch Records, Executive, 30 February 1963 and 15 February 1965 , Fryer Library, University of Queensland , QUFL 166.

[25] Unity, July 1965, p. 12; for the failings of the Housing Commission, Unity, December 1966, p. 8.

[26] R. M. Jones to Jack Mundey, 13 November 1970 , MLK04265; Builders’ Labourer, November 1970, p. 11.

[27] for later checklists of amenities see Dare to Struggle, December 1978, unpagination; NSW Builders’ Labourer, July 1980, unpaginated, and NSW Parliamentary Papers, 1992-93, Second Session, vol. XXI, Paper 271, pp. 422-3. .

[28] Jack Mundey to MBA, 17 October 1970 , MLK 04070.

[29] NSW organisers’ diary, 26 April 1972 , MLK 04274.

[30] The Builders Labourers’ Pocket Award, 1978, Melbourne , ABCE & BLF, Melbourne, 1983, pp. 69-70.

[31] BLFJ, November 1981, p. 6.

[32] Queensland Executive, 30 July 1963 , 26 June 1961 , General, 1 August 1961 , Executive 30 July 1963 .

[33] Ann Gugler, Canberra ’s Construction camps, privately published, Canberra , 2001, p. 94.

[34] Queensland Executive, 16 October 1961 .

[35] Brisbane Courier, 21 February 1865, p. 2, quoted John Moran, March of progress, Part 1, A history of the eight hours’ demonstration in Brisbane (beginnings to 1900), Preferential Publications, Brisbane, 1989, p. 35; Qingfeng Zou, “Mortality Experience from Injury and Violence in Australia during 1869-1992”, Ph.D. Thesis, ANU, 1998, p. 59.

[36] Queensland Master Builder, January 1965, p. 18.

[37] Tresna Shorter, “The Working and Living Conditions of the Labourers of the Public Works Department during the Depression 1928-34”, Early Days, 9 (5), 1987, p. 120.

[38] Queensland , Parliamentary Debates, vol. 311, 8 March 1989 , p. 3510-11.

[39] Work-related traumatic fatalities, 1989 to 1992, National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, Camperdown, 1998, p. 14; NSCA’s Australian Safety, November 2000, pp. 24-25.

[40] Quoted Ronald Henderson, Alison Harcourt and R. J. A. Harper, People in Poverty A Melbourne Survey, Cheshire , Melbourne , 1970, p. 50.

[41] Building & Engineering Journal, 22 March 1890, p. 102, 6 June 1891, p. 218, 19 March 1892, p. 116.

[42] Seamus O’Hanlon, Together apart: boarding house, hotel and flat life in pre-war Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2003, pp. 32-34 and 47.

[43] Victorian Minutes, 22 November 1926 .

[44] Greg Foley, “Construction industry: occupational health and safety, performance overview, 1992-93”, Journal of Occupational Health & Safety Australia and New Zealand, 13 (1), February 1997, pp. 90-92; cf. Douglas Gordon et al., “Occupational Accidents in Queensland”, Medical Journal of Australia, 25 November 1961, p. 855; Work-related traumatic fatalities, 1989 to 1992, National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, Camperdown, 1998, p. 14.

[45] Labourers granted afternoon smokos to themselves in June 1977, The General, authorised biography of Norm Gallagher, p. 13 of the unnumbered chapter on 1977 pay dispute in unpublished 1989 typescript.

[46] WAIG, 40 (3 & 4), 1960, p. 671.

[47] Builders’ Laborers’ Journal (BLJ), July 1957, p. 4.

[48] Robert Pascoe, Recollections of Luigi Grollo, Grollo Australia , Melbourne , 1988, pp. 118-9.

[49] NSW Records, list of disputes, 23 October 1973 , MLK 04261.

[50] BLFJ, September 1982, p. 26, December 1982, p. 26.

[51] NSW Industrial Commission, Compulsory Conference, No. 191 of 1959, Transcript, p. 3, 23 February 1960, MLK 04269.

[52] NSW organisers’ 1972 diary, MLK 04274.

[53] Jibs Up, May 1973, p. 2 and June 1973, p. 2.

[54] “Editorial”, Manufacturing and Management, 15 July 1953 .

[55] Jack Mundey, Green bans and beyond, Angus & Robertson, Sydney , 1981, p. 27; J. Owens to MBA, MLK 04272.

[56] Yarralumla Woolshed – complaint from Builders’ Labourers’ Federation, Australian Archives, A361 DSG17/2580, 1915.

[57] Gugler, Canberra ’s Construction camps, 2001, pp. 36-7; Alan Foskett, Homes for the workers: a history of Canberra ’s seven post-second World War workmen’s hostels, privately published, Canberra , 2001, pp. 1-3. The Federal Capital Commission forbade the bringing of wax matches into the ACT.

[58] Alan Foskett, On Solid Foundations, The building and construction of the Nation’s Capital 1920 to 1950,  pp. 57-8; Labor Monthly, May 1927, p. 20; Gugler, Canberra’s Construction camps, 2001, p. 94.

[59] Geoffrey Serle, John Monash: a biography, MUP, Carlton , 1982, chapter 15.

[60] Meredith Fletcher, Digging up people for coal: a history of Yallourn, MUP, Carlton , 2002, pp. 30-33 and 35.

[61] Fletcher, pp. 28 and 40.

[62] Fletcher, p. 29.

[63] Victorian Minutes, 19 November 1923 .

[64] Argus, 3 March 1924 , p. 13f.

[65] Victorian Minutes, 24 March 1924 , 12 and 19 May 1924.

[66] Victorian Minutes, 27 June 1927 .

[67] Victorian Minutes, 24 June 1929 ; Victorian Executive, 14 May and 15 October 1930 .

[68] Victorian Executive, 12 June and 10 and 24 July 1929; Victorian Minutes, 1 August 1932 .

[69] Fletcher, Digging up people for coal, pp. 30-33.

[70] Fletcher, p. 32.

[71] Victoria , Parliamentary Papers, 1944-45, pp. 1771-2.

[72] Tresna Shorter, “The Working and Living Conditions of the Labourers of the Public Works Department during the Depression, 1928-34”, Early Days, 9 (5), 1987, pp. 113-29.

[73] D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1958, pp. 349-52; S. J. Butlin, War Economy 1939-1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1955, p. 294n.; A. T. Ross, Armed and Ready, The Industrial Development and Defence of Australia 1900-1945, Turton and Armstrong, Sydney, 1995, pp. 258 and 263-4.

[74] ABLF, South Australia , Branch Records, Executive, 15 January 1941 , NBAC, Z492, Box 1 .

[75] South Australia , Minutes, 4 June, 3 September and 8 October 1941 .

[76] South Australia, Minutes, 5 February 1941, Executive, 5 and 19 March, 23 April, 7 May, 21 May, 13 August 1941, Special Summons, 19 November, and stop-work, 25 November 1941.

[77] South Australia , Minutes, 20 August and 3 September 1941 , Executive, 11 March 1942 .

[78] NSW Minutes, 22 September and 20 October 1942 , 11 May 1943 , MLK 04275; “Letter”, BLJ, April 1943, p. 3.

[79] S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy 1942-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra , 1977, p. 145.

[80] Bridget Griffen-Foley, Sir Frank Packer, the young master, Harper, Sydney , 2000, pp. 136.

[81] Butlin and Schedvin, War Economy, pp. 34-5 and 146-7.

[82] Butlin and Schedvin, pp. 147-9; NSW Minutes, 7 July and 26 October 1942, 23 March 1943; BLJ, July 1943, pp. 3-4; AA 419/3/32 MP 574/1.

[83] NSW Minutes, 15 September 1942 , 5 January, 16 February, 25 May and 20 July 1943 .

[84] Griffen-Foley, Sir Frank Packer, p. 136; cf. NSW Minutes, 24 November 1942 .

[85] Queensland Executive, 28 June 1943 .

[86] NSW Minutes, 10 November and 24 November 1942 , 18 October 1943 , MLK04275.

[87] Victorian Executive, 6 February 1946 .

[88] NBAC, Z398/41.

[89] Queensland Minutes, 31 May 1966 .

[90] Queensland Minutes, 2 July 1963 , Executive 30 July 1963 .

[91] Queensland Minutes, 5 April 1966 .

[92] Queensland Minutes 10 October 1966 , Executive, 10 January 1967 .

[93] Queensland Minutes 15 November 1966 , Executive, 19 December 1966 .

[94] David Ettershank and Peter Morgan, Busting with the boom: what Gladstone development means to people, Labour Research Group, Brisbane, 1981; Builders’ Labourers’ Federal Journal, November 1981, p. 8; see also Claire Williams, Opencut, The working class in an Australian mining town, George Allen & Unwin Australia, North Sydney, 1981.

[95] See my Gone Tomorrow, Australia in the 80s, Angus and Robertson, Sydney , 1982, chapter 7.

[96] Queensland Master Builder, 29 May 1970 , p. 8.

[97] Queensland Executive, 26 January, 23 February and 10 August 1970 .

[98] NSW organisers’ diary, May 1972, MLK 04274.

[99] NSW Builders’ Labourer, 2, 1978, p. 10.


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