The history of the Ballarat Trades Hall building is interwoven the story of Ballarat’s industrial and political labour movement.

It is true that no organised labour movement existed at the time of the affair at Eureka, in December 1854, but the rebellion itself helped to create the atmosphere from which the labour movement developed only a few short years after.

The first concerted effort in Ballarat to obtain better working conditions occurred on October 2nd 1856, when shop assistants formed an association. The need for such an association is shown by the fact that the hours of work for the shop assistants were from 8am to 8pm till midnight on Saturdays. This reform movement was supported by many leading citizens, amongst them James Oddie who was known as the Father of Ballarat because of his many cultural bequests to the city. The general public helped the movement by boycotting shops that kept long hours and by 1863 all shops closed by 7pm week days and by 10pm Saturdays.

The establishment of the 8hours day by the Operative Stone Masons in 1856 gave an impetus to the Trade Union Movement in the colony and the slogan “8hrs Work 8hrs Rest 8hrs Recreation” became established fact for the first time in the world. This event was rightly regarded as worthy of celebration and 8hr anniversary committees were formed throughout Victoria.

Ballarat Trade Unionists, taking a prominent part in the industrial activity of the colony, formed a committee and the first 8hr procession was held in Ballarat at 2pm on April 21st 1858. Flags and Banners were carried by the various organisations that marched and the function completed with a dinner at 5pm at the Clarendon Hotel, Lydiard Street. 8hr processions were held annually on or about the 21st April and became one of the leading events of the year.

The first mention the need for a Trades Hall as a meeting place for the various trades was made in 1862, when Mr Harrison of the Carpenters Union moved at a meeting of the 8hr day committee “that a committee be formed with the view of raising funds for the purpose of building a Trades Hall in Ballarat and that the Government be approached to grant land for the erection of a building”.

There reported to be a lapse of interest for a number of years subsequent to this and in 1880 the 8hr day Anniversary Committee decided to mark the establishment of the 8hrs day by erecting a monument to the memory of the pioneer of the 8hr movement in the colony, James Galloway. Members of the committee and the pioneers of the labour movement in Ballarat V Chedwick, J W Mills, J Valentine, J W Groan, W Williams.

The campaign for the Galloway monument was so successful that one year later on April 21st 1881, and after the longest 8hrs day procession to that date, the Mayor of the City, Councillor A T Morrison, em barred the monument at the foot of Sturt Street. An inscription on it states, “This monument is tended in trust to the City Council for the working men of Ballarat”.

The  Committee when formed consisted of Messrs J,Ballantyne, W Evans, J Brahm, Hyam, Luke, Serties, W Ballantyne, A Smith, Muir, Clynsdale, Anthony, Morrison, and Anderson, who all  worked and raised a most substantial sum. Money was raised by Art Unions conducted in conjunction with the annual demonstrations. The successful tenders Messrs Lietch and Antrim and the amount expended was £3,000 at the time of the laying of the foundation stone. The officers of the Council were President Mr J Miller and H Bradbury, Treasurer W Evans and Secretary Mr T S Bailey.

Within the name of the trustees provision had been made that if the Trades and Labour Council disbanded for any reason that the land be held in trust .In support of Mr Williams and the speakers were his worship the Mayor, Councillor Smith and Mr Howard, President of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. It is interesting to note that Mr Howard in his speech referred to the difficulty then reigning in industrial relations in the colony between the Australian and Chinese migrants.

Later on in the evening a dinner was held in the City Hall with a speech and toast. The main toast was proposed by Mr Howard the President of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council in Ballarat and his worship the Mayor Councillor Smith. Members of Parliament who were Messrs Russell Government side, Colonel Smith, Vale and Jones of the opposition also interesting to note that during speeches at the dinner that the controversy was introduced following what had appeared to be a very vigorous debate in the house the previous week and the conflict between the Government and the opposition forces was shown very strongly in the speeches. It would appear the debate that had caused the division of opinion was on the estimates.

All speakers at both functions spoke of the prevailing atmosphere of industrial peace in Ballarat but as we know fine words butter no parsnips and it was only eighteen months later that Ballarat’s largest industrial dispute commenced in April 1889. Iron workers assistants employed in local foundries demanded increased rates. The dispute existed between the iron workers, the union foundry, Cowley’s Eureka iron workers and the Phoenix foundry. The Union foundry and Cowley’s Eureka Iron workers came to an agreement with iron workers for increased rates but the management of the Phoenix foundry stood firm and refused to grant increased rates.

At this time the Ballarat Trades and Labour Council formed its first Disputes Committee and after long negotiations between the Disputes committee and the management of Phoenix foundry conceded to the demand of their workers. This was the longest dispute that occurred in Ballarat at that time.

The success of the campaign led to the resurrection of the idea of building the Trades Hall and the 8 hours committee with its Secretary J W Graham, decided to continue its activities and raise money for this purpose. As Mr Graham was the Secretary also of the City Free Library, it was thought that is would be possible to combine the two institutions, to form a Trades Hall and Free Library. Negotiations to this end broke down and finally a special committee was formed to secure an independent summit. This Committee consisted of: Messrs Williams, Anderson, Surtees, Tweebar, Ebens and Robinson. Photos of the members of this Committee are on hand in the Trades Hall.

The first site considered was in Bath Lane but this was rejected and a site in Armstrong Street near the City baths was examined and rendered subject to survey. For some reason not ascertainable this site was suddenly rejected and in 1886 the present site in Camp St was agreed on and land was granted to the committee in the name of the Ballarat Trades Hall and Literary Institute.

On November 5th 1886 the building committee called for tenders for the erection of a Trades Hall on the following conditions. The amount to be expended to be no more than £3,000; bluestone foundations; the front of the building to be of Grampians freestone and walls of brick. Building to be 3 storey’s high, containing 14 rooms with a hall capable of seating 600 persons, roof to be of slate and workmanship and material to be of the best quality.

The design submitted by Messrs James and Piper was accepted subject to amendment. The Tender of J Hunt for £5,589  being the lowest received was accepted on December 22nd 1886 and the city of Melbourne bank contracted to advance £2,000, or more under the provision of the Trade Unions Act.

Mr Graham had resigned due to ill health in May 1885 and in January 1887 his successor J Anderson resigned and T Bailey was elected as Secretary.

In February of 1887 the City of Melbourne Bank informed the Council that as there was insufficient security, they had decided to conclude advances. Fresh plans were called for in order to reduce costs, and Messrs James and Piper the architects submitted a new design and fresh tenders were called for. After a further series of delays, another start was made in May 1887 when a newly elected building committee again called for a design from the architects.

The successful tender for the erection of the building at a cost of £2,128 - 15 shillings, was submitted by Messrs Lietch and Outtrim. The work of construction took a little over twelve months and the foundation stone of the building was laid on October 15th 1887 by the President of the Trades and Labour Council, George Williams who was the son of an early Mayor of Ballarat. Also present at the ceremony were the Mayor of Ballarat, MLA’s Mr Vale, and Colonel Smith, Mr Smith President of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council and a large gathering representing the organised trades of the city were present.

A comment from the Ballarat Courier on Monday October 17th 1887 from the leading article read as follows. The laying of the foundation stone at the Trades Hall in Camp Street marks the advance of trade unionism in this city.

Industrial unrest during this period also occurred in the saddlery trade, the printing trades and amongst the miners.  

Australia’s first modern Trade Union had its birth in the City of Ballarat.  On the 16th June 1886 at a meeting held at Ferns Hotel, later to become Carlines Hotel, attended by D J Temple, W Spence, J Cock, F Rawless, E Stevenson and Christen the Australasian Shearers Union was founded.  W Spence was elected President and D J Temple Secretary of the new organisation, the Shearer’s Union later became the Australian Workers Union.

In the London dock workers strike of 1890 almost £2,000 was raised in Ballarat by public conscription through the Courier and the Star Newspapers and donations from trade unions, mass meetings and churches.  In appreciation of the support from the Ballarat Trade Unions the London dock workers presented to the Council a large painting of Cardinal Manning who had assisted them in their strike for increased wages, this painting still hangs in the Council Chambers of Ballarat.

During the maritime strike of 1891 in Melbourne over £1,000 was raised locally to provide relief for the strikers.

Ballarat was chosen as the venue for the important 7th Intercolonial Trade Union Congress of Australia in April 1891 (The first time the Congress was held outside a Capital City).  At this congress certain resolutions concerning political action by the workers were passed. The 7th Intercolonial Trades Union Congress in Ballarat is considered to be the beginnings of the Victorian Labor Party and mapped out ‘One Big Union’ which ultimately led to the formation of the ACTU.

Through the shearers strikes of the 1890’s and the big strike at Broken Hill in 1902, much enthusiasm was around in Ballarat and large sums of money sent to assist the strikers.


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