Remember the life of Broken Hill’s Percy Brookfield

Percy Brookfirld in 1915

Contributed by Glen Davis

Just back from a nice holiday in Broken Hill. There’s a bit to do in Broken Hill, including visiting the cemetery and seeing the final resting place of those who’ve established this iconic outback town.

In the cemetery, within the general graves section, P232, lies Percy Brookfield. Many of us seem to have forgotten him. So I’ll give a brief outline of who he was, with why he’s important.

The monument over Percy Brookfield’s grave

Percy was born in England at a place called Wavetree, near Liverpool on 7 August 1875, At 13 he went to sea. Then after working as a merchant seaman, he landed in Australia. He took to the roads living the life of a swaggy (an iterant workman wandering the roads).

He finally settled in Broken Hill, where he became active in the Amalgamated Miners Association, rapidly rising to the role of Vice President. It was during this time he played a key role in obtaining the 44-hour week.

As well as being active on the industrial front, he was politically aware, involving himself in many Left-wing struggles, including leading Labour’s Volunteer Army in Broken Hill during the anti-conscription campaigns. Brookfield opposed WW1, ‘the great trade war’, also supported the Bolshevik revolution, as well as the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World.

Brookfield found himself elected to the NSW parliament as representative of the Australian Labor Party, (ALP). Voted in during a byelection, he increased his vote tally in the next general election.

With his radical politics he often found himself in conflict with the ALP leadership. Brookfield was supported, and very much directed, by the local rank and file assembly in Broken Hill.

By late 1919 he resigned from the ALP, then when he sought to re-join, was blocked from doing so. In March 1920, he ran for the Industrial Socialist Labour Party, aiming to represent the same cohort of voters he’d previously represented. He ended up representing the people of the Legislative Assembly seat of Sturt.

In the latter part of this term, he held the balance of power in the NSW parliament, where his vote supported the ALP Government. This allowed him to negotiate some very good outcomes.

During his time in parliament, he oversaw reduced working hours for miners, as well as maximum compensation for miners in the Workers Compensation (Broken Hill ) Act. Another of his memorable achievements was re appointing a Royal Commission to investigate the sentencing to prison of the IWW twelve, which led to the overturn of their sentences.

The Riverton rail platform where Percy died.

Sadly, Brookfield’s life was brought to an early end on the railway platform at Riverton. He was waiting with other passenger’s when a deranged gunmen started firing wildly along the platform. Brookfield tried to disarm him, and in the process was fatally shot. He was only 45 years old.

If you look at the current politicians sitting on the shiny benches in the various parliaments around Australia, ask yourself, how can we get a fair dinkum politician like Percy Brookfield representing the interests off working people?

So do yourselves a favour. Go to Broken Hill, and make sure you visit the final resting place of Percy Brookfield.

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