1917: The Great Strike
A new exhibition at Carriageworks seeks to bring back into popular consciousness a ‘forgotten history’ of World War I-era Sydney. By Dee Jefferson
MARKING THE CENTENARY of Australia’s largest industrial action, and taking place on the site where it broke out, 1917: The Great Strike brings together archival material, oral history and specially commissioned artworks to reinterpret the ‘official history’. “Nobody really remembers the Great Strike, but I think it really adds interest and complexity to Sydney’s World War I story,” says City of Sydney historian Laila Elmoos, who co-curated the exhibition with Carriageworks’ Nina Miall. The Great Strike was triggered by the introduction of a ‘time card’ system for railway and tramway workers, in order to more precisely measure and track their labour – effectively ‘dehumanising’ it. It came at a time when workers were already suffering from war-related wage freezes, increased cost of living and longer hours. Poverty was rife, and the mood was combustible. The walk-offs began at the Randwick Tram Workshops on August 2 and spread to the Eveleigh Railway Workshops that morning. Within a few weeks, the strike had spread to other industries in NSW and beyond and saw around 100,000 workers down tools. It lasted six weeks and at its height, workers and allies marched every weekend, from Carriageworks through the CBD and down to the Domain, where upwards of 100,000 convened to rally. At the heart of 1917: The Great
is a short film documenting the strike as it was unfolding, showing the marches and a largely forgotten incident in which several hundred women stormed Parliament House in Macquarie Street. Around this are documentary and news photographs, union banners carried at the rallies, and audio recordings of oral history. Finally, artworks by Sarah Contos, Will French, Franck Gohier, Raquel Ormella and Tom Nicholson with Andrew Byrne explore different aspects of the strike. Head to Carriageworks on August 5 for a day of talk and action that includes a panel with Laila Elmoos, a brass band performance devised by artist Tom Nicholson and composer Andrew Byrne in response to workers’ songs of the era, workshops with the artists, and behind-the-scenes tours of the building. àCarriageworks, 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh 2016. 02 8571 9099. carriageworks.com.au. Daily 10am-6pm. Free. Until Aug 27.
Will French, ‘Sign of the Times’, 2017