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New book documents “wide comb” dispute of 1980’s. Bourke a flash point for shearers’ war

Author Mark Filmer of Orange Photo Supplied

All-in brawls in Bourke pubs, unionists attacking shearers with sticks and metal poles, power lines cut to shearing sheds, shearers bashed unconscious in sheep yards, burst jugular veins, broken bones and fractured skulls.

It all sounds like a tall story, or like part of the 1890’s Bourke union riots in response to squatters bringing in scab labour to reduce shearers’ pay rates.

But it all happened at Bourke in the mid 1980’s – one of the most violent chapters in Australian union history – as ‘rebel’ shearers sought to use wide combs, rather than the traditional narrow combs sanctioned by the Australian Workers Union (AWU).

The whole story has been fully documented 35 years later in a new book by Orange-based author and former journalist Mark Filmer.

Read more in the printed edition of the Western Herald.

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