Broken Hill’s reputation as a bastion of union organising and influence warrants close reconsideration since even here the pattern of union growth and development was anything but unilinear. During its first half century, the town experienced four distinct cycles of union growth, decline and renewal. Each phase of growth saw the local unions learn from organising experience, but each also involved new contexts, constraints and opportunities along with new ideological and spatial agendas of mobilisation. Each phase also involved the emergence and active agency of a local peak union body. Union development in Broken Hill was shaped by four key factors: firstly, the globalised scale and cyclical nature of the metal mining industry; secondly, the importance of labour migration and worker itinerancy; thirdly, the paradoxical agency of the state; fourthly, the occupational and spatial divisions between local workers themselves.