|Issue No 83||09 February 2001|
Federation Day, 1901
One hundred years after Australia became a nation, Ralph Sawyer relives the original Federation Day through the eyes of Billy Hughes.
Billy sat back in his swivel chair and stared out of the office window. Even though he was now MLA for West Sydney, he still kept his AWU office at Trades Hall. He contentedly puffed his cigar as he surveyed the scene. The coastal steamers were below him unloading timber, mail and coal. The teamsters were driving their horses hard up the hill from the bridge; the wool was on its shortest trip from the wool stores at Pyrmont to Circular Quay. Pyrmont Bridge itself was the usual crush of horse - buses; ice carts and produce drays.
But this wasn't any usual day. It was the 31st December 1900. Tomorrow was to be proclamation Day of Australian Federation in Sydney. Billy had achieved a coup. In his usual bustling charming style, he had convinced the Colonial Secretary that the Bush should lead the procession to Centennial Park. "The Bush" would be an amalgam of graziers, drovers, stockmen; wool teams and farm wagons. Billy had convinced Sir Walter Drummond that he could organise this part of the procession.
It would be a demonstration of reconciliation after the disastrous Shearers' Strike. Billy's links with the A.W.U. meant that the procession would be liberally sprinkled with A.W.U. representatives, with the A.W.U. banner mounted on the wagon at the rear of the contingent.
It had been delicate work but Billy had handled it skillfully. The Pastoralists' Association would be represented; Billy had given them pride of place with a buffer zone between the mounted Pastoralists and the A.W.U. juggernaut wagon. The N.S.W. Pastoralists had even offered to supply forty horses for the men to ride in the procession. The horses were on their way from Grenfell in two Railway trucks to reach Redfern this very night.
Altogether, Billy was a satisfied man. He had come a long way since Wales; a long way since Queensland. Only ten years earlier Billy had pedalled the outback as an A.W.U. collector. He knew all the sheds west of Toowoomba. Many a night he had slept with his bike beside the road. And now it was all paying off. He was a key Labor MLA in Macquarie St; he was chosen as the Labor representative on the Federation Organising Committee. He no longer travelled by bicycle. He would be there tomorrow in the Official Party. And when the procession with all its Empire representatives came through those cast iron gates, his people, his floats would lead right behind the Governor General's escort of Honour.
The people of Sydney would thrill to the crack of the stock whip and the grinding wheels of the wool wagons. The spectators would see the manly shearers with shears in hand grouped around the Union banner. There would be some mounted graziers there too to make up the number.
Charlie Bourke, the Union Secretary broke his reverie by entering the office. It faintly annoyed Billy that the Trades Hall people did not treat him with more deference. They kept walking in and out of his office as though he was still one of them.
"Billy, I've just had a telegraph message from Dubbo. The Union Reps will be tonight by the Western Mail. They're not happy with the Railway Hotel but suggest the Metropole as more central."
"More central my bum! Metropole! Brother Bourke. don't they realise that every squatter from Albury to Goondiwindi will be booked at the Metropole. Send them a wire back and tell them to remember who they are. We don't want any stoushes at the Metropole anyway. Try the Continental at Stanmore. They have bathrooms there."
"I'll do my best Billy but there're a prickly lot as you would know; I'll send a messenger to the G. P. O. now".
" Do it yourself Brother, don't let messengers see your confidential telegrams. "Well I'm off myself down the Macquarie St to see the Colonial Secretary. You'd better give me the notes from the protocol officer and I'll read them in the cab on the way down."
Billy hailed a hansom near the Haymarket and glanced over the notes ---
"--- the usual salutation is
` Your excellency'
"--- the usual, salutation is `your eminence, but as an officer of the Crown you should not kiss the cleric's ring even if it is proffered."
The lid above Billy flied open and a face appeared.
"Parliament House Sir?" .
"No, Colonial Secretary's office further down on the Corner of Bridge St."
"I've got it guv."
Billy waited in the anteroom for Walter Drummond, to grant him an interview. An emaciated, rake of a lackey with crowns on his lapels kept ushering supplicants and victims into the Secretary's panelled office. Strangely, no persons re-appeared after the interview. Billy noticed a red light above the office door with an electric buzzer to announce a vacancy.
The whole thing reminded Billy of a Butcher's freezer room at Flemington he had once visited. No carcasses came back out of that door either.
Eventually, Uriah Heep led him into the Colonial Secretary's Office and left him to his fate.
Sir Walter Drummond was the personification of all Billy distrusted and feared - English, Oxford, the Bar, Free Trader, probably a Mason.
"Mr Hughes, (that accent!) Mr Hughes, l have been reading your outline of arrangements tomorrow and I must congratulate you as the Convenor the of the Organising Committee A truly splendid effort, splendid. "
Billy beamed but stayed on guard, he knew this type were at their most dangerous when they were patronising or anything approaching pleasant.
"I vas particularly interested in your section with cavalcade of Rural Life; capital idea, capital!"
Billy beamed even more but still kept his powder dry.
"There is just one thing I would like to clarify. Will the bush workers be - be real workers or actors - or what?"
"Oh no Sir they will be bona fide shearers and drovers from Western N.S.W. I have personally chosen there myself."
"Oh good Mr. Hughes, good."
The Secretary's masked smile dropped for an instant.
"I'm glad you can' vouch for them as we would not wish to see anything unpleasant, vulgar or political."
An image of the A.W.U. float flashed through Bill's mind.
"Nothing like that at all Sir Walter. This will be a loyal demonstration of Empire loyalty."
"Capital, Mr Hughes, capital!"
The Colonial Secretary was smiling again as he rose to dismiss Billy.
"And one more thing Mr Hughes, will the participants be on foot or on horseback?"
"All on horse back Sir; that way we can speed up the pace if any gaps appear in the procession behind the Escort of Honour."
"Well done, oh yes well done! And I presume these, these workers of yours they can all ride Mr Hughes?"
Before Billy could mouth a reply he was bundled out another shute into a dark hallway.
On the way back in his cab Billy debated with himself about the Union float and banner. Old Wally Drummond was too sugary to be true. He must be careful.
As the cab passed the old Labor Hall in Sussex St, Billy decided against the Union float. There were times to be fearless and stand by principle but there were times when retreat was the best policy. Sir Walter Drummond could just be one of those occasions. Billy had his career to think about.
The Labor Hall decided him. The night of his pre selection flashed through his memory. The lead up to the Party pre selection vote had been ruthless. Billy and his manager bravely took risks that could have got them expelled from the party. The promises and compromises Billy made were good training for later.
There had been physical clashes between Billy's faction and the catholic supporters of Jim Lynch. One night at Balmain, Billy's windows were smashed. Jim Lynch had a horse and cart bolt from under him as he addressed a lamp light meeting at Ultimo.
On candidate Selection night, Billy and Lynch had to wait outside on the footpath while the vote was taken inside. They pretended not to notice each other but talked quietly to their cronies.
The meeting inside was loud and long; at 10.30pm there was a huge cheer from the hall. Edgar Fuller, Billy's campaign manager slid down the dark steps to the footpath.
"Billy you've won. Better not appear inside though. Make yourself scarce 'till all this blows over."
Perhaps this vas a similar situation. Where discretion was called for. Back at Trades Hall, Billy called the A.W.U. organisers together and broke the bad news about the float. A few dark comments were made.
"Just remember Billy", warned Charlie Bourke "you need our endorsement for the next election."
"Brother Bourke, you're falling behind the times. I've already been endorsed for the new Federal Parliament. The Federal Labor Party has got bigger fish to fry than A. W. U. floats. We've got the federal Government in our sights; it's important we don't offend large blocks of N.S.W. people.
"Bugger them!" answered Sid Anstey of the T.W.U "You're just worried about getting offside with the squatters. You don't owe a thing to Wally Drummond and he can't hurt you in Melbourne so let's go ahead."
Billy remained adamant and covered himself with Drummond by leaving a written instruction issued to the Trades Hall in the Organising Committee's name.
Billy went on to other details of the day. Before retreating to his new Hunters Hill home, Billy met the Western Mail and smoothed over the uppity Union reps. He even paid for the cabs the Continental Hotel.
He had to check one final detail, which was the horse shipment from Grenfell. He walked up Regent St with Edgar Fuller to the stockyards just up from the Mausoleum Station. They were fine spirited horses alright
"They look a bit toey," commented Billy.
"So would you if you'd just arrived in the big smoke for the first time," laughed Edgar.
New Years day 1901 bloomed sunny and promising but that was as far as it got.
To begin with, Billy found he had been relegated to the back row of Members at Centennial Park. He not only didn't get a chance to say "Your excellency" to Lord Hopetoun, he couldn't even see him in the crush. Amongst the mayors, bishops and soldiers he did get a chance to kiss Cardinal Moran's ring but declined the honour.
When the procession from the Domain arrived, Billy stood on his chair and was able to check on his creation. He almost suffered apoplexy when he saw the variations that had been wrought.
The graziers were there alright on their mounts, looping prosperous if not actually magnificent Behind them came an untidy gaggle of frisky horses with anxious riders doing their best. Behind them was an informal group of shearers ambling along waving to the crowd. And behind them (this wobbled Billy's car) was the magnificent A.W.U. float pulled by six majestic Clyesdales. The proud A.W.U. banner was there and the crowd gave the display a hearty reception.
Billy had been betrayed and belittled at every turn. He got down off the chair and planned bloody Welsh revenge. That night h0 got the full story from Joe Burns at Prince Alfred Hospital. Joe was one of Billy's old contacts from Broken Hill.
`Tell me what happened Brother Burns. I want to know the full Horror."
"Well Billy I can laugh at it now but it put the wind up me, no mistake. We picked up the horses at Redfern and led them down to Marcus Clarkes, our assembly point. They were frisky alright; didn't take to the trams at all.
"Everything was honky dory until the Salvation Army band behind us started up. Brother Hughes it was bedlam. They took off in all directions. Some even charged into the crowd. Some bolted down Wattle and Harris St. and are still going. I was a bit rusty and got thrown early on to the tram lines. They carted me off to hospital.
"Billy, those horses were a good idea but for Pity's sake make sure they're broken in next time" As Burns talked, Billy's small form sank lower and lower into the white wooden chair. He was thinking of the newspaper reports, Trades Hall perfidy and Sir Walter Drummond.
Bill recovered enough to solemnly shake Joe Burns' hand as he left. "Brother Burns I want to thank you for your help. I should have known better to trust those graziers. Don't worry though Brother Burns, I've got a long memory. I'11 keep them in mind when I get to Melbourne, Brother Burns"
And he did.
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History: Federation Day, 1901
One hundred years after Australia became a nation, Ralph Sawyer relives the original Federation Day through the eyes of Billy Hughes.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005