The first Eight Hour Day procession ever held in Townsville was on 6 May 1909. Described as “absolutely the finest show ever seen in Townsville”, it attracted 400 unionists who marched along Flinders Street with 24 horse-drawn floats showcasing elaborate banners and working trade displays.
The Eight Hour Day parade, or “demonstration” as it was called, was a precursor to later Labour Day parades and was just as much about unionist’s displaying pride in their trade or occupation as it was about a show of industrial solidarity.
Trade organisations paraded behind a mounted police escort, accompanied by several brass bands, and the parade culminated in a sporting competition at the Showgrounds. Here, cash prizes were awarded for the best floats, with prize money often amounting to more than double the average tradesman’s weekly wage.
The Eight Hour Day procession in Townsville in 1915 was a little different to the usual parade, as it took a decidedly patriotic turn owing to the war situation. Proceeds from the event were to be donated to the Patriotic Fund and the parade was led by a tableau representing Britannia and Australia.
The image of “Britannia” - a young woman wearing white robes and a helmet and holding a trident and shield emblazoned with the Union Jack – represented the might of the British Empire, and was a powerful symbol during times of war and conflict.
Britannia’s tableau, pulled by two grey horses supplied by local firm Cummins and Campbell, was followed by naval units, military units, civic authorities, Friendly Societies’ Unions, Typographical Association, Boilermakers, Shipmasters, A.W.U., Railway Union, Federated Engine-drivers’ Association, Waterside Workers, Lorrymen and Carters, Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Operative Plumbers and the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.
|Float of the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society of Australia, in the Eight Hour Day Parade, c.1915.|
Photo: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The Townsville Daily Bulletin described some of the floats, including the Britannia and Australia float, which included representations of national symbols the kangaroo and emu.
“The fact that the kangaroo was a wallaby, and the emu was in reality a cassowary did not interfere with the tableau,” the Bulletin assured its readers.
The Boilermakers Society was the first union float to be represented, and featured a large acetylene gas generator, with men giving a practical demonstration of cutting and welding by the oxy-acetylene gas process.
“The banner of the Shipwrights Union followed, with the representation of a ship on a strong sea and the motto ‘Prosper, Provide, Persevere’.”
According to the Bulletin, the Waterside Workers’ Union displayed the “finest banner in the march”.
“On the front was a representation of Brittania, with two stalwart workers as supporters, and the motto ‘Navigation, Commerce and Industry’, whilst on the back was a big steamer in the centre, and representations of various forms of wharf work.”
“The Carters’, Lorry Drivers’ and Draymen’s Union banner followed, with its representations of various methods of handling goods in transit.”