November 24, 2022
I recently had the pleasure of being invited to attend the Wonthaggi Miners’ Friendly Society Dispensary Centenary Celebrations in southern Victoria. It marked 100 years since the establishment of the Miners Dispensary, a chemist by another name, in the town of Wonthaggi but more than that, it marked a century of solidarity.
Our Union places a great deal of importance on commemorating events that are significant to our members, whether those events be memorials, key historical dates or anniversary celebrations.
We do this because our Union has a strong sense of where we have come from, which informs who we are today and where we are going in the future. We also do this because we honour the struggles and victories of those who came before us.
These events serve as an important reminder that at the core of our Union, the most important thing we do is have each other’s backs because in it together is how we win.
The Wonthaggi story is just one of many in our Union that represent how workers use solidarity as a weapon of strength. They used this solidarity from the beginning, when the community started out as a tent city on the Powlett River coal fields, to the establishment of the Miners’ Dispensary, and of course during the strikes in the 1930s where they were ultimately victorious. Today the community and the Dispensary are still there, 100 years later which is a testament to that community spirit still going strong.
Throughout coal communities across Australia, our Union has been active in building hospitals, rescue services, schools, halls, theatres, and clubs for workers to socialise, and the Miners’ Dispensary was a clear example of this.
Our Union still engages in community building activities today, through many Union programs ranging from our annual Mineworkers’ Trust scholarships to funding sporting events in our communities, fundraising for community causes and charities and by bringing workers together every day to fight for a better future for them, their families and communities.
Across towns in Australia, community activism and industrial activism go hand in hand, and there are many instances of our Union being a strong partner with the local community.
The stories of Wonthaggi are ultimately about workers standing together and looking after one another to the end in some cases like this with the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine closing in 1968 when Victoria no longer needed coal for their railways. We are proud to have many stories like this in our Union’s history and we continue this tradition every day as we honour the past and fight for a better future for mining and energy workers.
Grahame Kelly, General Secretary