BLF - DOCUMENTS - THOMAS DOBESON - 'UNEMPLOYED AT LAST!'
of work again.” With that cry, Thomas Dobeson opened his reminiscences
of five years of being in and out of work around Sydney in the late
1880s. He had trained as a machinist in England before immigrating with
his wife and children in 1886. Machinists were not skilled craftsman but
factory-hands who turned out fittings. He had been attracted by
publicity about New South Wales as “the workingman’s paradise, where
they pay 10/- a day and eight hours work and everybody happy.”
his 20,000-word narrative, Dobeson made no mention of unionism. His
social outlook was progressive, though not radical. As a person, he
remained aloof, clinging to a view of himself as a superior kind of
worker even as he chased pick-and-shovel jobs.
tracked the need that working people have to turn their hands to
whatever would put food on the table: he sharpens saws at sixpence a
time; finds a day’s work as a poll clerk; is caretaker for a Town
Hall; tenders for building repairs; fails as a shopkeeper.
anecdotes make it clear why he concluded that looking for work could be
harder than the work itself:
not entirely sober boss finally turns up to show the men what he wants
publican went for the lowest bid, ₤2.10.0. “That is the way we
do it in this glorious country. Now dear reader it is time to go home.
Nothing to find after this time in the shape of work.”
later got a contract to put on a roof. He quoted ₤12. A rival
offered to do it for six. The contractor recognized that the work could
not be done for so little, so Dobeson prepared to start:
learned to chase every possibility. He followed a cartload of timber to
ask its owner for work. The job had been let, but the Master asked him
to quote. Weeks passed. Then, one Sunday, the cart-owner gave Dobeson a
start: “Hard graft. Boss stands over you all day, with his lamps on a
fellow. The wage is a little over ₤2.10.0 a week. I am very
grateful for this little spell of work.”
Mrs Dobeson had earned six shillings from dress-making. Her effort
indicates that married women with children did more paid work than Mr
Coghlan registered in his statistics. Dobeson sold his overcoat for the
cost of the material, giving away the labour that he and his wife had
put into its making.
MSS 1920 CY 731