Rothbury Riot Mural:

At sunrise on the 16th December 1929 a riot took place at Rothbury Coal Mine in the Hunter Valley, NSW, between 150 armed police and approximately 5000 miners.

This is a little known but important story, some say more important than “The Eureka Stockade”, that became an international incident at the time, and even today, feelings about this riot resonate throughout the local community. Many men were seriously wounded and one man was killed, innocently shot in the back as he ran from the terror.

1929 was post Great War (WW1), and 12 years after the revolution in Russia, a catalyst between the working & ruling classes. The feeling in the local community at the time echoed this tension between the classes, as all the coal mines in the area were owned by wealthy magnates but worked by the poor working class who earned only 15 shillings a week. These miners worked under extremely dangerous conditions and lived in hovels made of hessian bags and corrugated iron. Being post WW1, many of the miners and policemen were veterans, which made the feeling of betrayal amongst the miners even greater, being shot at by their own countrymen. One policeman was so overcome by the event that he committed suicide months after the event, not being able to live with the trauma.
The miners were locked out of the Rothbury Colliery 9 months earlier when they refused to take a cut in wages of 12.5 %. Becoming impatient with the stale-mate, the conservative Bruce government of the time brought in “scab” labour from Sydney, along with Police to protect them, to get coal flowing once again at the Rothbury mine.

The import of free labourers created a great unrest throughout the hungry local community, and a common feeling of solidarity brought people together to take action. Miners from Kurri Kurri (30 kilometres away) marched through the night to a bagpipe band, via Greta, picking up miners on the way, coming over the hill to a red sunrise at Rothbury mine, meeting Cessnock miners that camped overnight to the East of Rothbury (top centre right of mural).

All intentions were for a peaceful protest, but this feeling soon deteriorated when miners broke on to the mine property. Police were waiting in the bush and attacked them with batons beating miners senseless. This enraged the miners who retaliated with stones and sticks, the only weapons they could find at hand. The police feeling overwhelmed by the sheer weight of numbers were ordered to draw their firearms and fire into the ground or overhead of the miners. 5000 rounds of ammunition were discharged, it was said that some police took deliberate aim,  resulting in many miners with gunshot wounds. Approximately 300 miners were seriously injured and one man was killed. Norman Brown who was 50 yards from the property was shot in the back, the bullet passing through his stomach, receiving a mortal wound (to the right of the mural). Wally Woods shot in the neck was helped by a passing motorist (in the foreground). Jackson Brown shot twice in the back, survived the incident a paraplegic (middle background).

The miners retreated under this onslaught.

The following 6 months police squads intimidated the community, roaming the streets, beating up any group of 2 people or more, women and children included, even after church services. Having been betrayed by the incoming Labor Government that promised to uphold their wages, which never happened, the miners went back to work at a reduced salary, locked out of the mine for 15 months in total.

The hard won conditions of the 20th century should not be forgotten, lest history be doomed to repeat itself.

Having done extensive research on the topic, I attempted to illustrate various incidents that occurred at different times that morning in the one mural. This photo print is an image made from 13 photographs of the mural, (still in progress) of 13 “Weathertex” boards painted with Acrylic house paint to be installed onto the back of the “Custom Credit” building for the “Mural Project” of Kurri Kurri, NSW.