Heaton, Barbara Carol: coal miners during World War II

Heaton, Barbara Carol*

A history of unrest and turmoil: coal miners during World War II’, Honest History, 4 August 2015

An examination of coal mining in wartime, drawing heavily on resources collected by former mining official, Jim Comerford, and now lodged at the Edgeworth David Museum, Kurri Kurri, NSW. The article also touches on events in 1929 at Rothbury, one of Australia’s most infamous industrial relations events.

The article does much to unravel the many strands leading to mining unrest during the war, the efforts made by unions to balance industrial demands with coal production for war purposes, and the attitudes of coal owners, governments and the media. It also shows the close-knit nature of mining communities. Heaton concludes:

Throughout the war the federal Labor government, having tried a conciliatory approach to the miners and appeals to their patriotism, became more frustrated, angry and accusatory towards them, all to no avail. The figures for declining production and increased stoppages were clear evidence that a productive truce between the miners, owners and government never eventuated. By the end of the war an increase in accidents, exhaustion and the struggle to discipline growing recalcitrant elements of the union forced its leadership to focus on a post-war program to redress their long-standing grievances. It would be the 1950s, with the introduction of mechanisation and better wages and conditions, before there was any marked improvement in figures for production and stoppages.

The piece includes a number of photographs, two previously unpublished.

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* Barbara Heaton is a retired public servant, a graduate of the University of Newcastle, and has contributed to a number of publications focusing on the history of Newcastle and the Hunter Region, most recently a chapter on the 1949 coal strike for Radical Newcastle. She is currently preparing a biography of mining legend Jim Comerford.

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