Home
Home
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Google+ Subscribe to the Storymondo RSS Feed Email to someone

Bloody Sunday


Parramatta largeKen Cotterill

 

Over a hundred unemployed men, victims of the Depression, camped at Parramatta Park in Cairns in the winter of 1932. On Sunday, July 17th, police and residents of Cairns forcibly removed them from the park.

Jim’s story
How did it come to this? Strong, able-bodied men huddled in dog kennels and poultry pens. Clothes seeding to rags and boots held together by string. over a hundred of us camped in this park. No jobs, no money. This is how it is. Myself? I am young, fit and strong but I am nobody. We are all nobodies. No one wants us, no one will help us. Bankers and the politicians don’t care. We are expendable. We do not count. We all camp in this park. Why? It’s warmer here even though it is winter. Is it July already? I have lost track of time. My family is down south waiting to hear from me. Work is what I am looking for here but, like everywhere else, I find none. Nor do the men around me.

Bill’s story
It is that time of year again; July, 1932. This time, we will have an agricultural show. Yes, I’m determined that the good folks of Cairns will have a splendid show. I’m assured everything is ready. The livestock are being prepared. And there will be some exciting fairground entertainment along with equestrian events of high standard. However, we do have a problem, a vexing one. The problem is this. The new site for the showground, Parramatta Park, is occupied by vagabonds and vagrants. Unemployed riffraff who, over the preceding months, have drifted into our pleasant city looking for work; work that simply does not exist. Once here they have congregated like flies in the park. I now see it as my duty as mayor of this city to remove the vagrants and proceed with the planned agricultural show.

Jim’s story
What happens next? What will happen next? Do we have comfort in numbers, or is this an illusion of unity? I know that we are not wanted. We are not wanted in this park nor anywhere else in the city. But the best shelter we can find is right here, in the kennels and poultry pens. So what will happen? There is talk of a confrontation, a fight. We are many, yet we are alone. Will there be a fight?

Bill’s story
Since becoming the mayor I have been determined to do my best for the people that I represent. In times like this, one understands the difficulties of life. I naturally have some sympathy for those poor wretches camped in Parramatta Park. After all, it is not their fault that there is no work. We are currently in a financial depression that will take some time to resolve itself. However, my job as mayor is to protect the rights of the citizens of this city and I shall proceed to do my duty. Therefore, I shall address these men and request that they leave the park immediately.

Jim’s story
Jack Lang, the premier of New South Wales, had a plan but they sacked him. He wanted to stop interest payments on loans owed to London banks until times improved. It sounded like a good idea to me. I voted for him when he stood for re-election after he was sacked. I bet that they would have sacked him again had he won. The big people count, the little people don’t. And that’s what we all are, little people who don’t count. Look at us? Bloke over there with no shoes has four kids. Came all the way from Hamilton in Victoria. Bloke behind me in the torn coat is married with two kids. Came from Broken Hill. Bloke in rags curled up in the big dog kennel came from west Tassie. We just don’t count.

Bill’s story
The new federal government run by Prime Minister Joe Lyons is doing a splendid job. Soon everything will be back to normal as it was a few years ago under Prime Minister Bruce. Yes, a fine man, Mr Bruce. Then we had that Scullin fellow. A bad choice I say. As for that Jack Lang character? Well, the governor did the right thing in sacking him from the premiership of New South Wales. He is nothing but a rabblerousing communist. And to think that he had the audacity to open the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Jim’s story
I never heard of Cairns before now. Brisbane is north where I come from. But this place, it’s a frontier town made famous by nearby gold fields and the Chinese. I never meant to come this far north. But when there is nothing, you keep on moving, looking for something, hanging on to any information that might lead to a job, any job. At the camp fire, over the billy, there was talk again of confrontation. Life has become one big confrontation.

Bill’s story
Well, I addressed the rabble in the park. I told them they should leave. We are not a dumping ground for the unemployed. No. It is not the fault of the citizens of this city if things are not as they should be. So I told them to leave the park. However, if they should choose to stay, then I shall have to take sterner measures.

Jim’s story
Some bloke in a top hat and posh coat spoke to us today. Told us he was the mayor of Cairns and he wanted us to leave. Leave not only the park but his city. Didn’t know he owned the place. Some of the blokes told him where to get off. Others ignored him and went about their business. One bloke said he’s seen it all before. He said we would all cop a hiding if we stayed. That happened at another place, he said.

Bill’s story
Well, that’s it. My patience is expended. I warned them but they are still there, sprawled out all over the park, ruining our proposed agricultural show. Well, there is nothing more I can do. I shall summon the police and any members of the public who wish to help remove this rabble.

Jim’s story
It is Sunday, July 17th. I’m about to scribble an entry into my diary when I see a large body of men approaching. Some of the other blokes have seen them too. It looks like the anticipated trouble has arrived.

Bill’s story
I have sent in the police and a number of concerned citizens. I expect there will be trouble but that is as it may be. If force is the only language these chaps understand, then force it shall be.

Jim’s story
The violence was brief but intense. Police in smart uniforms fought with blokes who were in rags. Locals attacked us with clubs. We gave as good as we got but we were outnumbered. I copped a wallop on my head but I managed to sink my fist into some bloke’s fat gut. Good job I’m still fit. The Tassie bloke in the big dog kennel copped a hiding and the bloke from Victoria got a nasty head wound. Some blokes panicked and ran; others held their ground and fought back with whatever they could grab hold of. In ten minutes it was all over. We lost. I grabbed my swag and clambered over the fence and took off.

Bill’s story
Well, that’s that. The park is cleared, the riffraff have dispersed and we will have our agricultural show. Although things will be hastily arranged, I am confident that the show will proceed as planned and open on time.

Jim’s story
After the fighting I walked up the main drag. I didn’t look back, I just kept on walking. Then some luck on a bad day. A small lorry stopped. The driver asked me if I wanted a lift. He said he was heading west and wanted some company. He had heard that there was work out there. That sounded good to me. I climbed in and we drove west.

© 2014 Ken Cotterill
Image courtesy of Queensland Police Museum

Ken Cotterill is an Australian author who writes mainly plays and short stories but has also written two novels. He has always had a love of reading and, as a child, was an avid reader of comics – The New Hotspur, The Victor, The Topper and The Beezer. He recalls that the stories in these were brilliant, with cliff hanger endings that made you want to rush out and buy the following week’s issue. Ken’s house is full of books and he admits to finding it impossible to walk past a bookshop.