A restored 1907 harvesting machine has been installed in a workers’ memorial garden in Blacktown, as a commemoration of a pivotal moment in Australian industrial history, where one of the foundations of modern living standards was established.
The Sunshine Harvester was unveiled in a ceremony marking International Day of Mourning, a day when gatherings around the world pause to commemorate workers who have died or been injured as a result of workplace incidents or occupational disease.
Blacktown City Mayor Tony Bleasdale OAM said; “Not only did the Sunshine Harvester forever change agriculture in Australia, but it was at the heart of a test case that set the country’s first minimum wage and set the standard for National Wage cases for many years.”
“The Harvester Decision in 1907 by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court (CCAC) changed the way wages were determined in Australia by setting a minimum wage for all Australian workers.”
Until 1907 wages were set either by individual contract between each worker and their employer or through union negotiations at each worksite.
The Australian Workers’ Union represented workers at the Sunshine Harvester factory ,where each worker on the production line was paid a different wage.
AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said; “The Harvester Decision by the CCAC determined for the first time a minimum ‘living wage’ that should be paid to all Australian workers performing skilled or unskilled work.”
Justice Higgins determined that the minimum wage should cover; “the normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilised community”, and he decided that “42 shillings a week was a fair and reasonable wage for an unskilled worker supporting a wife and three children.”
The 1907 Sunshine Harvester was unveiled today by Mayor Bleasdale and Mr Walton in the Workers Memorial Precinct, a collection of sculptures and pools established by Blacktown City Council at Blacktown Showground.
Blacktown MP and former Mayor and AWU representative, Stephen Bali, said it was a place of reflection for those people who have been killed at work; “Whether it’s police officers dying on duty, or workers killed or injured on building sites, we just want to highlight the importance of safety in the workplace.”
The 1907 Sunshine Harvester was donated to Blacktown City Council in 2019 by Robert O’Neill. It was trucked to Liverpool Plains Shire Council depot in Quirindi in 2020 and was restored to mint condition by the Quirindi Men’s Shed before being returned to Blacktown earlier this month.
Blacktown City Council and Liverpool Plains Shire Council enjoy a ‘Sister Cities’ relationship April 2021.
Daniel Walton said; “The Australian Workers’ Union was founded in 1886 by shearers.
“The AWU proudly represents workers in the agriculture, mining, manufacturing, forestry, civil construction, oil, gas, aviation, national parks, entertainment, sports and services industries.”
Mayor Bleasdale said; “This restored 1907 Sunshine Harvester will remind us that while it was a game changer for the agriculture industry, it came from the factory where the first minimum award wage was established.
“The Workers Memorial Precinct will always be a living testimony to the endeavours, achievements and sacrifices made by workers in the past and in the future.”
- (Above) AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton joins Blacktown City Mayor Tony Bleasdale unveiling a plaque commemorating the ‘Harvester Wage Case’ alongside the 1907 Sunshine Harvester.
- The Sunshine Harvester when it was first donated to Blacktown City Council.
- Historic photos of the Sunshine Harvester and working on the Liverpool Plains.
- Mayor Tony Bleasdale and Deputy Mayor Julie Griffiths led a wreath laying walk in the Memorial Garden.