The Ballad Of 1891

Words: Helen Palmer
Music: Doreen Bridges

Arising from the economic depression at the end of the 19th century, the great shearer’s strike of 1891 led to the formation of the Australian Labour Party. Although many have assumed The Ballad of 1891 to be roughly contemporaneous with the history it describes, it was in fact written in the 1950s for a New Theatre production called Reedy River. Doreen Bridges and Helen Palmer are the authors of this very popular piece.


The price of wool was falling in 1891.
The men who owned the acres saw something must be done.
“We’ll break the shearers’ union and show we’re masters still,
And they’ll take the terms we give them or we’ll find the men who will!”

From Claremont to Barcaldine the shearers’ camps were full.
Ten thousand blades were ready to strip the greasy wool,
When through the west, like thunder, rang out the union’s call:
“The sheds ‘ll be shore union or they won’t be shore at all!”

Billy Lane was with them, his words were like a flame.
The flag of blue above them, they spoke Eureka’s name.

“Tomorrow,” said the squatters, “you’ll find it does not pay.
We’re bringing up free labourers to get the clip away.”

“Tomorrow,” said the shearers, “they may not be so keen.
We can mount three thousand horsemen to show them what we mean!”

“Then we’ll pack the west with troopers from Bourke to Charters Towers.
You can have your fill of speeches but the final strength is ours!”

“Be damned to your six-shooters, your troopers and police!
The sheep are growing heavy. The burr is in the fleece.”

“Then if Nordenfelt and Gatling won’t bring you to your knees,
We’ll find a law,” the squatters said, “that’s made for times like these.”

To trial at Rockhampton the fourteen men were brought
The judge had got his orders. The squatters owned the court.
But for every one was sentenced, a thousand won’t forget:
When they jail a man for striking it’s a rich man’s country yet!

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