Andrew Reeves

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Material relating to a union dispute in the Australian coalmining industry 1934-1949; explanatory note by Andrew Reeves 1981.

Administrative / Biographical History

Andrew Reeves was the Melbourne University Archivist in 1981. The material in this collection relates to the 1934 Wonthaggi Coal Mine Dispute, the 1949 National Strike and the Miners' Federation in Australia during this period. Wonthaggi is situated in Victoria, Australia, 150 kilometres from Melbourne. The coal mine was opened in 1909 by the Victorian government as an emergency mine in response to a strike that was disrupting the supply from the coalfields of New South Wales upon which the rest of Australia was reliant. The Railways Department ran Wonthaggi mine and during the 1930s the state railway minister was Robert Menzies.

The mine became the focus of militant industrial unionism. In the 1930s the depression led to the management trying to select workers to be laid off by targetting the weakest miners as well as those deemed to be most politically active. The miners fought to defend these jobs and in 1934 a 5 month strike broke out. Menzies tried to break it but the threat of a nationwide miners' strike forced him to back down. The 1934 strike was important as a catalyst to the regrouping ot the Miners' Federation under a communist leadership. The miners contined to fight for an improvement in safety standards at the mine and their right to militant unionism throughtout the 1930s and beyond. Following a six-month strike called in response to a whitewashed inquiry into a disaster that claimed 13 miners' lives, the miners won an award in 1938 which included safety standards. In 1949 a national coal strike broke out calling for an extension of the Wonthaggi conditions to other coal mines. The army was sent in against the strikers and Communist Party offices were raided. Leaders of the Miners' Federation were imprisoned for refusing to hand over union strike funds. The New South Wales Miners agreed finally to go back to work after two men were given parliamentary seats, althought the strike continued in Wonthaggi for a while longer. Wonthaggi was closed in 1968, although the government had first tried to shut down the mine ten years earlier.

SOURCE: "The Militant History of Wonthaggi" by Jennifer Thompson, a preview by of a programme enititled 'True Stories: Black Gold, Kindred Spirits' broadcast on ABC TV 1996. This article can be accessed at

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