Interview: No Ifs, No Butts
Unions: National Focus
Industrial: Fools Gold
Bad Boss: Bones of Contention
History: The Gong Show
Politics: The Hawke Legacy
International: Sick Nation
Economics: Closed Minds
Review: Mixing Pop and Politics
Poetry: One Size Fits All
The Locker Room
The Monk Off Our Back
With Banners Furled
She beautifully sums up what went on, and many of the banners and materials she describes are still in existence in Trades Hall. The generation gap and class memory are also wrapped into her depiction. The young wonder what its about and some adults are not too clear on the answers!!
"The change in Foveaux, that momentous slow change that came to creep over it, had just begun in 1912. Perhaps the last time Foveaux came out in all its old glory was the day of the Eight-Hour Day Procession. The people of Foveaux loved processions. Men would leave the hotels, boys their games, women take their children, and all wait for hours, just to see a procession going by. Shopkeepers shut their shops and hung out flags. Crowds had a habit of gathering in Foveaux on a rumour of anything noteworthy, from a murder to a marriage, but never did such a crowd roll up and line Murchison and Errol streets as for the Eight-Hour Day Procession.
Eight-Hour Day was almost invariably blessed by rain or wind and some of the unions from bitter experience had taken to carrying their banners furled. More than one groan had gone up from the crowd as over a hundred pounds' worth of crimson silk split like old sailcloth. But for a miracle the first Monday of October 1912 damned a clear quivering blue. No breath of wind stirred the flags along the route. The pigeons circled on pale wings above the bustle of the streets where small boys ran excitedly to and fro, shouting to each other, or breathing smudgily on the shop windows, peering at the draped and shrouded corpses of the pianos in the piano shops, fighting for positions in the gutter hours before there was any sign of a procession. Later, as the crowd began to choke the footpath behind them, they found themselves under the irate notice of the hot young policemen trying to be cool and official....
"Processions ain't what they was years ago, " old Mrs Deeps wheezed behind Tommy. "I remember when Hemma was a little girl bringin' 'er and Gertie to a procession and them getting' nearly trodden to death by the 'orses. Now there ain't nothin' but a lot of policemen."
"The procession isn't come yet, ma," Mrs Deeps's eldest daughter volunteered. "She's that deaf," she confided to Mrs Blore, "she couldn't hear the procession, not three yards off."
The seventh false alarm brought a fresh surge forward which carried Mrs Deeps several yards away where she continued her conversation with Florrie and Mrs Blore, holding her old umbrella with the crooked handle well up above the crowd. Her black bonnet and its wisp of ostrich feather was submerged every now and then in the hustle of shoulders but she held her own, boots planted well apart on the gutter edge, aged but indomitable.
"Don't you speak to me like that. I may be an old woman but I ain't goin' to have any impudent lads tellin' me-"
"They're coming. Here they are."
Far away the faint echoes of the band could be heard above the noise of the crowd.
"Remember the time, Joe, when the brewery banner split right under the Temperance League's window and them praisin' it as an Act of God and throwin' down pamphlets?"
"Do I bloody well wot!"
There was a glitter of sunlight on brass as the procession began to make its way slowly up Murchison Street. First, the policemen on foot, and then, gods of the small boys, the mounted police, their uniforms glinting blue and silver, their tall horses walking delicately, though somewhat bored and restive from the long hot morning. Then came the marshal on his white horse and - amid cheers - the coach for the Pioneers of Labour. The cheers of Foveaux were all the readier because they felt they were represented. Was not their own John Hutchison, Honest John, riding almost beside the pioneers' coach, very busy and important as some kind of subsidiary marshal.
"There's a lot of people I know in the procession," Tommy Cornish remarked to Billy Noblett.
"Not as many as I do."
"Bet I know more'n you."
The deafening thunder of the band nearly took Tommy's breath away. The big drum was almost on top of him before he could shrink back; the sticks seemed to be inside him thudding with his heartbeats, thudding as though they would break his chest. He tried to retreat but the crowd was too dense. Suddenly an arm shot through and gripped him, a path was miraculously cleared. Tommy disappeared among the forest of legs in the clutch of his big brother Bramley.
"Here," Bramley said, very red in the face, "what do you think you're doing? Mum'll have a fit."
"I want to see," Tommy mourned.
"All right. Quick."
The bigger boy bent and hoisted Tommy laboriously on to his shoulders. With Mrs Blore's angular frame pressed into him on one side and Mrs Deeps's umbrella handle on the other, Bramley's chief worry was for his new straw boater.
The floats were approaching, the first drawn by ten great horses, their shiny rumps swaying proudly and deliberately under a web of coloured ribbons. The Eight-Hour Day Procession would have been nothing without the grand big horses, clopping sedately along with their manes in light little pigtails like schoolgirls, their tails looped and tied with ribbons and their silver-studded harness hidden under favours and silk pompons and silver bells. Their great heavy shoes shone, their big silky feet rang deliberately on the pavement. They looked at the crowd with confident kind brown eyes. The fat brewery horses, the dray horses, the cart horses, knew it was their day.
"There's nothing like a good 'orse," remarked Nosey Owen huskily to a friend. He should have been collecting a fare with his cab, but he was waiting to see his son go by in the ranks of the tramway men.
Bramley Cornish, bent under the weight of Tommy, occasionally caught a flash as the firemen's helmets went by or the float of the glassmakers with their mirrors dazzling and dancing on the crowd.
"Look at him! Gov'ment stroke! roared the blacksmith's friends as the time-honoured float with a docile horse being shod was drawn past.
"Go on, Jim, show 'em what you can do." They encouraged the marble masons chipping industriously at a rock, the basket makers, the stonemasons and the model bakeshop. A terrific jerk that threatened to disintergrate the new boater indicated to Bramley that Tommy had caught one of the buns the cooks were throwing to the crowd.
"Here you are, doughey."
"This way, over here, " the small boys begged.
Their fathers had an eye on sample cigars.
"Look out yez don't poison yerselves," someone roared as the tobacco workers went by puffing at their wares.
"Now if the brewers were to give free beer it'd be something like," someone suggested.
"You're out of step, Bob," one of his mates called as Bob Budin with his youngest son on his shoulder came tramping doggedly behind the float of the plasterers with its white pillars and pretty girls all Grecian gold and white. Bob looked down anxiously at his feet and his mates' feet and then caught sight of his adviser.
"Here, I want to see you, Fred, " he shouted. "It's about that job of Jerrill's. "
His friend ran alongside the procession and continued the conversation in shouts until he managed to shoulder his way into the ranks and join Bob.
"Here comes Mr Jamieson, "Tommy yelled in Bramley's ear. "He's over the other side."
The stovemakers and ironworkers, a grim impressive squad in their blue working clothes and leather aprons, marched behind a figure in armour.
"And here's Mr McErchin."
Mr McErchin was shepherding a motor lorry loaded with the Women Workers' Union. His face wore a lofty expression as he contemplated the fat jingling horses.
"Hey, look at the girls! Done out in style, aren't they?"
The artificial flower-makers' float, a blaze of pink and purple, came rolling behind.
"There's Miss Melston," Tommy called. He had hardly so much enthusiasm, even for the passing of the Theatrical Workers' float with the Indians in warpaint and a live Noah's Ark and Beefeaters in full dress. Miss Melston was Tommy's Sunday School teacher.
Ten grey and white horses in blue ribbons came clopping along with the banner of the Seamen's Union, a band in front blaring "Sons of the Sea". The crowd good-humouredly took up the tune: "For they are the boys of the bulldog breed...Look out! Hang on to that rope or she'll pull you over."
"You ought to know more about ropes than that."
"Barney!" Tommy yelled. "There's dear old Barney in the procession." Barney was a big grey drought-horse belonging to the Merrick livery stable. "I wonder how he got there?"
"They probably hired him," grunted Tommy's steed.
"He's got his hair plaited."
Bramley was straining his neck for a glimpse of two carriages, the first full of fat, richly dressed "ladies and gentlemen" placarded "We Deprive and Thrive", and the second of ragged women working at machines with the inscription, "Our Bread is Sorrow and our Cup is Tears". Behind them came a little perambulator with a notice reading "Australia's Dreadnought", which had an uproarious reception.
The procession was beginning to tail down to the Cleaners' Union on horseback with their buckets worn helmetwise and their new garbage collector proudly rolling front. The crowd surged out into the road to fall behind and follow to the Showground for the day's sport. There was a great deal of confusion because the middle part of the procession, by this time at the top of Errol Street on the boundaries of Foveaux, had fallen into disorder passing the Royal Arms Hotel, a number of loyal unionists feeling that having stood the heat and burden of the day thus far it wouldn't matter if they hopped in for a quick one and rejoined the procession later. Mothers with children and baskets urged on their stragglers with visions of free lollies and fruit and ginger beer.
"if you don't come along, you won't get there till it's all over." Mrs Noblett adjured her young. "Here, Billy, take Freddy's hand and pull him."
"I'm comin'," whined the aggrieved Freddy. "I don't like old processions."
Mrs Noblett's good-natured face took on a shocked expression.
"You wouldn't let your father hear you say that," she said severely.
Freddy, who had seen nothing but the legs of those in front, was recalcitrant. "I don't care. Silly ole procession."
"You ungrateful little..." Mrs Noblett was speechless. "Here you've got holiday and procession and all and you-"
"Mum, why is there a procession?" Billy asked.
"It's a celebration," Mrs Noblett explained. "The trade unions hold it."
"Well, why shouldn't they? An' don't drag that bat along the ground. Tjhey went and won eight hours or days or something, and then they formed unions to celebrate. That's how Eight-Hour Day's a holiday. An' if you dawdle along like that, " even Mrs Noblett's good humour gave way, "I'll give you something to go on with, Eight-Hour Day or no Eight-Hour Day.""
From Foveaux by Kylie Tennant. First published by Angus & Robertson in 1939. It is available in various editions, second hand these days. The most recent is probably part of their Australian Classics series, or under the Sirius imprint.
Tennant's books on working class life in this era are hard to top. Try The Battlers, Tell Morning This, Ride On Stranger, Tiburon, The Honey Flow
She lived the experiences of the people she wrote about. Foveaux was published in 1939, after Tennant went and lived in the slums of this part of Sydney during the Great Depression. The Eight-Hour parades and sports days were still held then.
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