Friday, 10 September 2010

The National Party and Agricultural Socialism : The Shearers' Strike: Mudginberri

And I thought I was an optimist.  I don't think I hold a candle to Paul Pickering  who is deputy director of the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University.

You see, Networkers, Paul has a piece in this morning's Age commenting that the Nationals should have embarked on some deep and meaningful negotiations with the Australian Labor Party  to secure for their constituency goodies similar to those negotiated by the country independents.  All this, Paul says, is on the basis of the sort of agricultural socialism that the Nationals and their constituency seem to favour.

Unbridled optimism - or does Paul have his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek?

The once glorious now dead Tree of Knowldge, Barcaldine

I suggest for Paul a trip to Barcaldine in Central Western Queensland, home of the Australian Workers Heritage Centre.  Barcaldine is one of the significant centres of the Shearer's Strike of the 1890s and is regarded as the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party which arose out of the strike.  

Back in the early 1980s, there  was a re-enactment of the Shearers Strike under the direction of the wonderful and talented Gilbert Spottiswood.  This was quite a celebratory event.  It featured an exciting horse rush - where horses with riders rushed from either side of the show grounds and passed in and through each other at speed without shying.

Afterwards a fair slice of the Barcy crowd adjourned to Pat Ogden's Globe Hotel.  Pat was the long-standing President of the Barcaldine Branch of the ALP and President of the Tree of Knowledge Committee.  I don't think The Globe was drunk dry on that night - but it was when the re-enactment was repeated in the early 1990s for the centenary of the ALP.

Out the back in The Globe's little hotel dining room jam-packed with people,  an impromptu talent quest took place with participants performing from a an old-fashioned wooden dining room chair.  The ABC was there to film.  The audience decided on the merit of the performance and score was kept in terms of Squatters - so much, Shearers - so much.  The strike was not forgotten.  In fact, scratch the social history of Barcaldine, Longreach, Winton, or Blackall and you will find the strike is not very far away.

Move forward nearly one hundred years and there is a not dissimilar stand-off.  This time it is not shearers  who are now a dying breed.  It is meatworkers and it is in the Northern Territory.  The site is obscure and distant.  It is Mudginberri.  

Mudginberri turned a number of conservative people into figures of some national importance who later took Liberal seats in the Parliament of Australia.  The only person still in Federal politics who was a significant figure in the Mudginberri dispute is Andrew Robb.  

Paul Pickering took, as the basis for his comment, the agricultural socialism that manifests itself in National Party/agricultural politics.  I don't think either the National Party or its agricultural constituency see their actions and aspirations as reflecting any sort of socialism.  Usually, the agricultural socialism tag is used by the political Left as a pejorative term or a comment on National Party proclivities.

The Mudginberri affair was a vicious campaign cooked up by cattlemen aided and abetted by the National Farmers Federation.   There was no sign of any form of socialism, agricultural or otherwise, in regard to Mudginberri by employers anymore than there was in the shearing  sheds of Outback Australia one hundred years before.  

To be sure, there is an agricultural constituency which is happy to take government support - even, on occasions, rorting drought schemes to do so.  However, all this does not truly constitute agricultural socialism.  It is characterised more by individual self-interest and collective muscle flexing.  

The National Party and the ALP?  Oil and water, I would think.  How about you, Networkers?

Postscript: For comment in regard to Mudginberri accompanied by some wonderful photography of this historic site, please go here. John Lovett's beautiful splashingpaintblog is worth taking time out to visit.

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