During the nineteenth century, Ipswich was Queensland’s premier industrial centre outside the colony’s capital, its prosperity resting on the district’s coal mines and railway workshops. Yet, despite Ipswich being an overwhelming working class town, organised labour remained a marginal force. Instead, Ipswich’s workers and their families placed local loyalties ahead of industrial allegiances. The strength of these local ties reflected the importance of family-owned concerns, which allowed the town’s patriarchs to dominate Ipswich’s political and social life. After 1900, however, Ipswich’s political-economy underwent a profound transformation as the town’s old families lost their position of pre-eminence to outside firms. As new avenues for employment emerged, organised labour found the social space in which to develop its own sense of identity. This labour identity was, however, shaped by the experience of Ipswich’s various locations, producing not a united working class, but one fractured by differing goals and aspirations.