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The Ballad of 1891

[Helen Palmer, Doreen Bridges]

The shearer’s strike of 1891 is well-documented as the clash between squatters and shearers which brought a pre-Federation Australia to the brink of civil war. This ballad on the subject was written for Dick Diamond’s heritage musical Reedy River (1953) and was recorded by the Bushwackers for their album Faces in the Street which was produced by Trevor Lucas.

Trevor Lucas sang The Ballad of 1891 live at The Troubadour Cafe, South Melbourne, Australia in October 1984. He accompanied himself on guitar. This recording is available on the cassette The Attic Tracks Vol. 2.


Trvor Lucas sings The Ballad of 1891

The price of wool was falling in 1891;
The men who owned the acres saw something must be done:
“We will break the Shearers’ Union, and show we’re masters still
And they’ll take the terms we give them, or we’ll find the ones who will.”

From Claremont to Barcaldine, the shearers’ camps were full,
Ten thousand blades were ready to strip the greasy wool.
When through the west like thunder, rang out the Union’s call:
“The sheds’ll be shore Union or they won’t be shorn at all.”

Oh, Billy Lane was with them, his words were like a flame,
The flag of blue above them, they spoke Eureka’s name.
“Tomorrow,” said the squatters, “they’ll find it does not pay.
We’re bringing up free labourers to get the clip away.”

“Tomorrow,” said the shearers, “they may not be so keen,
We can mount three thousand horses, to show them what we mean.”
“Then we’ll pack the west with troopers, from Bourke to Charters Towers.
You can have your fill of speeches but the final strength is ours.”

“Be damned to your six-shooters, your troopers and police,
The sheep are growing heavy, the burr is in the fleece.”
“Then if Nordenfeldt and Gatling won’t bring you to your knees.
We’ll find a law,” the squatters said, “that’s made for times like these.”

To trial at Rockhampton the fourteen men were brought,
The judge had got his orders, the squatters owned the court.
But for every one that’s sentenced, ten thousand won’t forget,
Where they gaol someone for striking, it’s a rich man’s country yet.