Alice River: Queensland's First Commune
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The 1880s was a prosperous decade in Queensland, and shearers and other rural workers’ wages and working conditions improved. This bubble burst, however, in 1890 with bankruptcies, collapsing banks and depression. Demand and prices for wool fell, graziers offered lower wages, the Shearers’ Union refused, and one of Australia’s most famous strikes began. Historians Raymond Evans and Ross Fitzgerald describe Queensland as being at ‘the brink of civil war’, with 3000 police, soldiers and militiamen facing 10 000 armed, striking bush-workers. Barcaldine, strategically located at the end of the railway, was the focus. Wild rumours circulated, including that armed unionists proposed seceding from Queensland to form the Republic of Central Queensland, and ‘arch-conspirator’ William Lane’s plot to ‘plunge the whole of Australia into civil war’ had only just been avoided. Premier Samuel Griffith dispatched police, special constables and military personnel who suppressed the strike and arrested the ringleaders. This paper looks at a little-known, indirect outcome, the Alice River Commune.
Queensland History Journal
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Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)