In 1929, in the face of collapsing demand for coal and deepening economic crisis, mine owners in the Northern Coalfields of NSW, announced (with the support of the conservative State Government) that they would reduce miners’ wages by 12.5 per cent and strip them of their hard won industrial rights.
When their union, the Miners Federation, refused to agree to these terms the mine owners locked the gates. They were to remain closed for 15 months. 10,000 miners, pit boys and their families now found themselves without a job, forced to subsist on government handouts and charity.
What began as an undeclared war on industrial labour ended up overpowering a government, crippling an industry and besieging a community.
On December 16, 1929, community anger escalated into a violent day of rioting, with police firing on protesting miners, killing one and wounding many others. In an ensuing crackdown on protest, men, women and children faced harassment and beatings by armed police squads in what became known as the 'Rothbury Riot' or 'Battle of Rothbury'.
During this period, the government introduced the ‘Unlawful Assemblies Act’ as it feared all-out civil war on the coalfields.
For 15 months there was no work for miners on the Northern Coalfields, and the men and their families faced desperate times.
The story of the 'Rothbury Riot' or 'Battle of Rothbury' is told by the men and women who fought, against extraordinary odds, in extraordinary times, for what they believed in - a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
Veterans who tell their story:
Jim Comerford, born in 1913, migrated with his family from Scotland in 1922. He started work in the mines at 14 and was a young man of 15 when the Lockout began. His career as a militant activist and union leader was deeply shaped by his experience at Rothbury and of the Lockout. Jim died in November 2006, aged 93.
Jack O’Shea was 20 at the time of the Lockout, and was an eyewitness, along with Jim to the events at Rothbury on December 16, 1929. A coalface miner, Jack was elected to the role of Check Inspector in 1959. He died on 7 April 2007, aged 97.
Edward “Coogan” Frame, miner, union leader, civic stalwart and war hero, his brothers Merv and Mick and father Edward were involved in the Lockout and events at Rothbury. Coogan died 31 March 2007, aged 89.
Award-winning actor, Chris Haywood, presents LOCKOUT.