Labour History

Representing Militancy: Photographs of the Broken Hill Industrial Disputes, 1908-20

Labour History (2011), 101, (1), 1–33.


The Big Strike of 1919-20 was Broken Hill’s greatest industrial battle but the photographic record of this militant era on the Barrier mines is dominated by pictures of the Great 1909 Lockout. Rather than cover the details of these well-known disputes, this article considers the value and power of photographs of the disputes - their presence, absence, production and presentation in major newspapers and in postcards - an area which has secured far less attention from Australian labour historians. Our concern is not only to read this visual material as evidence of industrial disputes but also to consider how the widespread circulation of such images affected contemporary perceptions of The Hill. We argue that images of a militant locality with a determined labour movement, popular after the 1909 dispute, may well have attracted militant organisers to the town who were important players in the major 1919-20 Big Strike. These images have dominated perceptions of Broken Hill as a bastion of unionism ever since.

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7.We are aware that visual evidence has been used extensively in other areas of historical analysis and we are making a very specific point about the types of evidence used by Australian labour historians. For a sense of this broad literature see, for example,Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence,Cornell University Press,, 2001;Lawrence W. Levine, The Unpredictable Past: Explorations in American Cultural History,Oxford University Press,, 1993, pp.256-290;Alan Trachtenberg, ‘Albums of war: On reading Civil War photographs’, Representations, vol.9, 1985, pp.1-32;Barbie Zelizer, Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera’s Eye,University of Chicago Press,, 1998andDavid Frank, ‘Short takes: The Canadian worker in film’, Labour/Le Travail, no.46, Fall, 2000, pp.417-437. Google Scholar

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Author details

Adams, Paul Robert

Eklund, Erik