AUSTRALIAN RAILWAY STORY

Railway Voices CD: 8. THE SLEEPER CUTTERS' CAMP

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Greg Patmore

The railway workers themselves at the outbreak of the first World War were very patriotic. There were large numbers who enlisted, there were big sending off ceremonies, there were setting up of Rolls of Honour for those people who had gone off to to war for example. A large number of union branches in country areas made a focus of their social activity, the putting up of a Roll of Honour at major railway country stations and workshops to honour those people who had gone off to war.

Lucy Taksa Associate Professor, School of Industrial Relations, University of NSW

Conscription was presented as necessary for the Empire and if ... if you were opposed to conscription, not only were you presented as friends of the Kaiser, but also the masculinity of the men was at question. By working class people, it was seen as a greater threat to democracy than the World War itself.

Jack Higgs worked with Ben Chifley in steam running shed, Bathurst.

You had to go and vote for or against conscription. Well, if you voted for conscription it meant to say your son or your brother or your father or somebody else they were called into the army and well, the working people or a lot of working people, they were opposed to that. If you want to go and fight, well you go and fight, you don't want somebody say go and fight. Oh yes.

Lucy Taksa

Most of the organisations and individuals that were opposed to conscription, were centred in working class organisations and their parties. Obviously it led to the split in the Labour Party which illustrates the extent of the sort of push- pull. But the government's reaction under the sort of guise of its War Precautions Act to suppress opposition to conscription, really threatened people to an extent that I think we can't even possibly gauge, looking at it in hindsight. All of a sudden when there were meetings at the Domain, which was traditional for working people to go and meet there on Sundays and talk about what was happening, there were all of a sudden plain clothes policemen taking notes.

Poem: The Sleeper Cutters' Camp by Dan Sheahan (1917)
"Songs of the Cane Fields" poems of Dan Sheehan. Compiled by Josephine R. Sheehan. Written at Messines, France, and posted to Australia but banned by the military censor.

Recited by Denis Kevans

My sole address at present is a battlefield in France
If it's ever going to alter there is only just a chance
To dodge the "Jerry" rifles and the shrapnel flying around
I've burrowed like a bunny to a funkhole in the ground.
The floor is just a puddle and the roof lets in the damp
I wish I was in Aussie where the Sleeper Cutters camp.

Railway Voices a CD of Australian railway workers stories with songs and poems