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28 August - Shearers burn down the "Rodney"

Unread postPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 8:35 pm
by Max ADU
Today in Australian History.
Tuesday, August 28, 1894.


Paddle steamer, the "Rodney", is burnt by unionist shearers in protest at it being used as a strike breaker.

During the 19th century, shearers in
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Australia endured meagre wages and poor working conditions. This led to the formation of the Australian Shearers’ Union which, by 1890, had tens of thousands of members.

January to May 1891 saw the Great Shearers' Strike, marked by violent and destructive clashes between shearers and troopers. The end of the strike in May 1891 was not the end of industrial action.

Falling overseas wool prices in 1894 forced the proposal by the Pastoralist’s Association to cut the shearing rate by 12.5%.

A new strike began.
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The "Rodney" was a large paddle steamer, built at Echuca in 1875. The 32 metre vessel, one of the finest, most powerful steamers on the river, was vital to the transport of goods and passengers along the Murray-Darling River system.

On 28 August 1894, the Rodney was transporting non-union labour upstream to the shearing shed at Tolarno Station on the Darling River.

It was also hauling a barge carrying goods and supplies for the stations en route.

The "Rodney" meets its end
As it reached a woodpile
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two miles above Moorara Station, it was boarded by 150 striking shearers who removed the passengers, then proceeded to soak the Rodney in kerosene and set it alight.

The paddle steamer was irreparably damaged after being burnt to the waterline.

Today, the remains of the Rodney can still be seen, lying low down in the riverbed near Polia Station,
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about 40 kilometres north of the town of Pooncarie, 107 kilometres south of Menindee and around 100 kilometres north of Wentworth.

The site remains of historical significance, an indication of the ferocity of the shearers' dispute.

In 1994, the destruction of this noble vessel was commemorated in an event which attracted over 700 people from the sparsely-populated surrounds.