Australian Folk Songs

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I'm Going Back To Graft (1890)

The Maritime Strike of 1890 was precipitated by the refusal of ship-owners to allow the Maritime Officers to affiliate to the
Melbourne Trades Hall Council. It quickly became the first great conflict between labour and capital in Australia and New Zealand,
pitting the principle of unionism against freedom of contract. It involved seamen, waterside workers, shearers, miners, carters
railway workers, drivers and other trades.

I'm going back to graft, it's true because I guess we're done
And see no sense in keeping on the battle just for fun;
There's the wife to be considered--she's a sticker-up for rights',
But a mother can't help thinking of the children's appetites

I've argued out the question with my conscience and my wife
And I can't perceive no prospect of an ending to the strife
Big strikes of unskilled labour--meaning men like me and you--
Are "marked" by hungry beggars who will jump at work to do.

What's the good of talking--for the moment we are done;
There ain't no sense in fighting losing battles just for fun
I may be cursed and swore at, and I'm certain to be chaffed
But the kids are short of tucker, so I'm going back to graft."

By Edmund Fisher


From Fry, Eric, Jim Hagan, and Andrew Wells. The Maritime Strike: A Centennial Retrospective : Essays in Honour of E.C. Fry. Wollongong, NSW: Five Islands Press Associates, 1992.

Edmund Fisher's poem, written as the strike drew painfully to a close, highlights the private conflict a thousand families faced and resolved.

The Maritime Strike was phenomenally large by ninteenth century standards, 50,000 Australian workers were involved and perhaps as many as 10,000 New Zealanders. Its title suggests a misnomer. Though the Strike began in the Maritime unions, it spread to include shearers, miners, labourers, carters, storemen and railway workers. The issues in dispute were as daunting as this range suggests. New Zealanders joined the strike believing an attempt was being made 'to crush out unionism in Australia'. Their participation was a testimony to the strengthening federation of Australasian labour, a federation that embraced both sides of the Tasman


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory