Union Songs

The Strike of 1894

A Song by Dennis O'Keeffe©Dennis O'Keeffe 1992

- [play]

To earn a few bob, crutching sheep was his job, Billy was thirteen years old,
Good money you'll be paid, if you shear with the blade, as a lad that's what he was told,
"Son don't go shearing", his mother would say, it's a bloody rough job,
And all you will get is a broken marriage, and a flee bitten Kelpie dog.

With his childhood spent, young Billy went, off on his push bike with his swag,
Dreams filled his head, as he stuffed meat and bread, into a Calico bag,
He struggled to shear his first hundred sheep, he wasn't like Bradman at cricket,
But he earn't enough money to pay for his tucker, and pay for his Union ticket.

Squatters were sowing, seeds for growing, the old English working class vine,
While they pissed in the pocket of the Gentlemans Club, sipping on whisky and wine,
But Republican blood, again and again, through shearers veins ran like a torrent,
The Squatters wanted to cut this vein, and sign the Unions death warrant.

They might fool you, but they'll never fool me,
A hero he died, and a hero he will be,
Few men will walk where he's gone,
The Union wrote music, young Billy sang the song.

When men were willing, and strike camps were filling, on the banks of the Darling River,
The man on the land, who never dirtied his hand, with fear, He began to shiver,
Billy led a band of good Union men, out to the Grassmere Station,
Where Blackleg Shearers and Troopers with guns, awaited the confrontation.

Billy was shot, and Murphy they got, ambushed at the shearing shed door,
We can never forget, dags and sweat, mixed with blood on the shearing shed floor,
Not one Union son, had fired a gun, yet nine were arrested and tried,
The coward that shot them was given a medal, and sent to Tasmania to hide.

So down on the slops of Tower Hill, where the tide rolls in with the ocean,
The Union gathered to bury their dead, in memory of his devotion,
Take care you tyrants, who cheat and sting, the tide may turn when you die,
For it's yet to be seen, if men like McLean, run the picket-line up in the sky.


Many thanks to Dennis O'Keeffe for permission to add this song to the Union Songs collection.

The song is on his CD "Matilda in a Tucker Bag"

Dennis writes
"The second big shearing strike took place and NSW and Queensland became a battlefield. With martial law declared in Queensland, the strike of 1894 was a civil insurrection with hundreds of shearers going to jail and receiving prison terms from two to fifteen years. An unknown number of shearers lost their lives and were buried in unmarked graves. The song follows the story of Billy McLean and the part he played in the strike"

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