Robert Adams, ‘The
best hated man in Australia’ the Life and Death of Percy Brookfield
Puncher & Wattmann
the wealth of nature carries the added costs of ruining the health of
working people. Killing is not murder when done for profit. Nowhere in
was this connection more deadly than at Broken Hill from the start of
mining in 1888 until the early 1920s when strikes and agitation reduced
the working week and imposed stricter safety regulations. Those
improvements resulted from the efforts of thousands of miners and their
families who starved during lockouts which lasted for as long as
eighteen months. Percy Brookfield personified their sacrifices and
worked underground from 1910 until the 1916 strike for a forty-four hour
week brought him to prominence. He served as ‘general’ in the Labor
Volunteer Army to oppose conscription for the ‘sordid trade war’,
incurring £700 in fines. Elected to State parliament in 1917, he quit
the Labor Party to be re-elected in 1920 for an Industrial Socialist.
Holding the balance of power, he secured a thirty-five hour week and
decent compensation for lung-diseased miners. He also secured a Royal
Commission into the conviction of twelve members of the Industrial
Workers of the World for ‘terrorism’, winning the release of all but
died from gunshot wounds when he disarmed a deranged Russian on Riverton
railway platform on
22 March 1921
. Rumours of assassination can be discounted because
put himself in harm’s way. As Mary Gilmore put it in her verse tribute
died for his people’.
and the likes of Gillard and Shorten is so vast as to make comparisons
not so much invidious as impossible. Instead of strengthening health and
safety, Kill-ard is pushing for the ‘harmonisation’ of State laws
down to the lowest common denominator.
’s years in parliament have lessons for Greens and independents today.
He was clear and unwavering in the concessions he demanded in exchange
for support, seeking nothing for himself. Above all, his absences from
Broken Hill never lessened his involvement with the community campaigns
that had ensured his re-election. Rather, he knew that pressure on the
field was his strongest bargaining card.
Brookfield was a giant among labour leaders. In life, as in the manner
of his death, he made personal sacrifice the measure of his political
commitment. Morally and physically fearless, his probity withstood
parliament. Paul Adams has given us a biography as thoroughly gripping
as it is thoroughly researched. Inspiration floods from its pages.