THREATENED STRIKE AMONGST THE CARTERS OF BURRA BURRA ORE.
Gentlemen—’The Press,’ that all-potent engine of modern times, is solicited by the poor bullock-driver, to help his starving team along the road, and through the ‘pinch’
Listen to our story, Gentlemen, and when you have heard but ‘gentle roundelay,’ give us a pull, and when you are hard up, by
‘All the blood of all the Howards,’
all of us will hitch on, and double-bank you through the mud and over the hill. Let what will, you shall never stick for a pull or a pound, any day of the week.
Now to work. The Burra Directors have just now endeavoured to diminish the pay of the labourers and others at the mine to a guinea per week. This is unjust, because the pay of the labourers about Adelaide is 4s per day all the year round; and at hay and wheat harvest more, while provisions there are about 40 per cent, cheaper than at the mine. We, the drivers, sympathise with the demand of the labourers for increased pay, and we are prepared to insist on an increase in the price of the cartage for ourselves, and we will show you good and rational ground for the increase; or, if we cannot, we’ll have none of it.
Now then—A good team of eight bullocks, dray, and apparatus, costs about £100. This team can only be used about 7½ months in the year; the rest of the time must be spell time. During the 7½ months, only ten trips can be made. The general average of load will be 2 tons and a half weight, or 2 tons 12½ cwt. of actual weight, which will give, for each trip, 137s 6d, or (is 6d per day, for this most wearisome and exhausting labour; and that, too, when everything goes smooth. Now I affirm, and my brother whips will re-affirm what I say, that not a score out of hundreds on the road have made, or in the nature of things can make, 10 successful trips in the year. I say 10 trips, without serious loss or breakage; it so, how much does the owner and driver get?—Why not labourers’ wages. The mechanic in town, or elsewhere, gets his 7s or 8s per day; but, mark! he has no anxiety in his mind after his day’s labour is over. He has his clean, soft bed, and, perchance, his own ‘house and smiling wife,’ dreaming of heaven. He has his well-prepared and punctual meal. He has his evening to himself by his own ingle, or is at his club-library, or Mechanics’ Institute. On the Sabbath he can go to church with his well-dressed little ones; he has ‘his day of rest.’ Does the poor bullock-driver, this poor ‘pariah’ of Australian society, does he have any rest! Look at him on the road, belted and bearded, covered with dust and perspiration. When does he get a comfortable meal, a soft bed, a wash, a shave, or a Sabbath! Perhaps he has to walk hundreds of miles to find lost bullocks. Last week I met a man who had sold his all to buy a team, and who on this, his first trip, turned out his cattle at the Five-miles Stump, and had been walking after them for more than three week, without once hearing of their ‘whereabout.’ I myself have had two pairs adrift this six months. I now hear that I may perhaps pick, them up at the She Oak Wells, on the Sydney side, so that I have the delightful choice of a journey of 400 or 500 miles for a chance, or at once to abandon them. Will 6s 6d per day compensate for this?
This is not the worst of it either. The Burra people pretend to weigh the ore at the mine, at the thing they call a weighbridge. I call it a STEAL TRAP. And why?—It is so uncertain in its operations that it mostly weighs over the actual weight 8, 9, 10, and even 15 cwt in the load; so that after the journey of 200 miles is done, and the bullocks are done—the driver finds that he is done. The true weight at the Port shows the error of the mine weight, and the poor driver is mulct 10s per cwt. for all the ore said by the ticket to be short delivered. I know cases where the drivers have at the mine requested their ores to be re-weighed, or weighed by some other means than the weighbridge,—which has been refused as troublesome. They have then battened them down and padlocked them up; never left them, and even slept upon their drays until the load has been delivered at the Port; the weight at the Port, has shown the error at the mine; the Directors and their semi-professional Secretary have stopped the whole of the cartage for the alleged loss. I know other cases where three drays in company, one of them protested against the weighing of his load, as the quantity appeared to him small. He was refused any other means (than the steal trap) of re-weighing it. On his arrival at the Port, an error appeared of 8 cwt. Himself and his two mates volunteered affidavits that no loss had occurred, or could occur from the precautions taken. These three men me known to me; two of them are consistent members of Christian churches, and for either of them, had I the means, I would be bound for a large amount. Yet with all the representation made of the care used, and the moral certainty of error in the well-known inaccurate ‘steal trap,’ the Secretary refused to pay the driver. Now, Gentlemen, mark the liberality and justice of the Board. Other cases occur where the weight has been in the driver’s favour us much as 15 cwt. in the load. In the case of alleged loss they have made the driver pay for loss, or rather alleged loss. But do they, in equal justice, pay him 10s per cwt. for the excess in their own weighing? No. Then, with the Burra Directors, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. In the name of all that’s just, if the weighbridge at the mine is not intended to rob the driver, why then not pay him for the excess, as well as mulct him the deficiency!
Now, Gentlemen, have I made out our case—If so, let my brother whips knock off driving until some new and equitable arrangements are made. What I want for us is the honest thing.
1st—A true telling weighbridge.
2dly—A deduction on real loss of the carriage price only.
3dly—For the three spring months of October, November, and December, £3 per ton for the ore of 20 cwt. to the ton. £3 10s per ton for the three summer months. And £4 per ton the six winter months; with half these prices for back carriage.
I think this a rational and a moderate advance, warranted at once by the severity of the labour, and the cost of accident, and if this proposition is not cheerfully assented to by the Board, I for one shall knock off, and turn my bullocks into beef, or go to the Reedy Creek and other mines.
One word to my brother-whips. Stick to it, lads. Its right and just. Stick to it. Don’t yoke a beast after the first of November, until these arrangements are fully made. Meet at the Stone Hut. Let us who have horses take care of the bullocks of those who have none. Let us be all sober, and show the colony that we, bullock-drivers, can do something besides drink grog and ‘talk bullocky.’ Show, I say, that we have shrewdness to perceive and the will to enforce that which is true and right. Shall the Directors, who by a turn of luck, by a ‘happy accident,’ have been whipped round from ‘clowns to gentlemen,’ shall they twist us round their little fingers as they like! Let us show them that we can talk as well—write as well—and, if need be, fight as well for our rights, as any of the ‘snobs.’
I am, Gentlemen, and Brother-whips,
The road to the Burra Burra, October 7th, 1848.
THREATENED STRIKE AMONGST THE CARTERS OF BURRA BURRA ORE.