Not much is known about James, born 23rd November 1909 in Kundip. No doubt Midwife Mary Ann Love was first to greet him, and no doubt he also attended Kundip school for a time.
His death however did put a ripple through the mining fraternity, his family and friends.
(Western Argus Kalgoorlie, WA Tuesday 11th May 1937)
“Fatal Earth Fall at Youanmi Mine”, Youanmi, May 7.
Another mining tragedy occurred today when James Halbert (26) single, was killed at the Youanmi mine when he was working on the 200-ft. level of the shaft. With his mate, Edward George Brody, he fired out at about 1.30pm, and, on returning at 1.40pm, about half a ton of earth was dislodged and fell on him, killing him almost instantly. Halbert had been employed on the mine since December, 1930.”
(The Sydney Morning Herald Page 7 Sunday.)
After the death of James Halbert, 26 single, who was killed by a fall of earth in the Youanmi Gold Mine, on the Murchison goldfield, on Friday, the men held a stop-work meeting on Saturday the reason for which was not divulged. Meetings were held again today without a decision being reached but it is reported that the A.W.U. district organizer dissociated himself from the matter. The men affected, number 237, and have been idle since 4pm on Friday and there is no sign of a resumption. Essential services are being carried on by the staff.
(The West Australian, Perth, Tuesday 18 May 1937, page 10)
KILLED IN FALL OF EARTH. Inquest on young miner. YOUANMI, May 17 1937.
“A finding of accidental death with no blame attachable to anyone was returned today at an inquest concerning the death of James Lindsay Halbert (26). miner, of Youanmi, who was killed on May 7 by a fall of earth.
The jury added a rider that the stopes in the Pollard shaft workings should not be worked so high and that the mullocking instructions given by the District Inspector of Mines (Mr. G. Matheson) should be rigorously carried out. During the proceedings the jury visited the scene of the accident.
The inquest was held before the District Coroner (Colonel Manebridge), who was assisted by Constable P. T. Johnston. The interests of the mine owner were watched by Mr. Hubert Parker (Instructed by Messrs. Parker and Parker) and Mr. W. Ellard, district organizer for the A.W.U., watched the interests of the relatives of the deceased.”
(This was the second time Hubert Parker had sat across the table at an inquest involving the tragic death of a family member. Ed.)
(Above left: A Change of shift for the Youanmi Miner’s, 4 pm on 29th October 1936. Above right: “A day off”, James centre, both photos courtesy of the Sandstone Historical Society and Visitor’s Centre) Click on the photos to enlarge.
(Westralian Worker, Perth, W.A., Friday 21 May 1937, page 5)
Youanmi Branch Activities—The President (Mr. S. W. Beatty) and secretary (Mr. P. L. Troy) supply the following report of recent activities of the branch at Youanmi:
On Friday, May 7, “Jim” Halbert was killed in No. 2 stope at the Parker Shaft on the Youanmi Gold Mines.
(Parker Shaft….a coincidence? Ed.)
Many months have passed since workers first complained of the very unsafe conditions prevailing underground. Many men, who are experienced miners, have refused to go into places they considered unsafe and less experienced men have been employed and accidents have happened, with the result that many have had to spend months in the local hospital, while many more are away in other places and are still getting around with the aid of crutches, etc. All these accidents could easily have been fatal.
The feeling of antagonism and discontent was gradually becoming worse and worse until it was brought to finality by the lamented fatality mentioned. Men knocked off work and a mass meeting was held at which 225 passed a resolution of no confidence in the underground management.
Evidence of breaches of the Mining Act can be brought forward by dozens of members of our Union. The men remained solid and asked for the removal of the underground Foreman.
The Murchison, District Council of the A.L.P. heard our dispute and decided to support us, this being carried unanimously. They have demanded of the Government a full inquiry into the underground management.
Mr. P. Taaffe, President Mining Division, and J. Pereira, Organiser, from Boulder, visited Youanmi and at a big meeting heard our case. They both said that in the circumstance; they would have done the same thing and congratulated the men on the solidarity of their meeting. The deputation comprising President Taaffe. Organisers Ellard and Pereira, Branch President Beatty and I secretary Troy interviewed the General Manager Fitzgerald and Assistant General Manager Warrick.
The result of the deputation being that foreman Sellin was stripped of all authority, and Warrick to be in full charge of all underground work. A safety committee, which has been approved of by Inspector for Mines Mathieson, consists of Beatty and Doyle for underground, and Troy for surface. This committee, in conjunction with Warrick, will inspect any place which the men consider unsafe and also review any dispute with shift bosses, etc. The men can place the dispute at the committee’s hands any time during the three shifts.
The proposition was accepted by the men by a very small majority, and it was decided to return to work at midnight, Sunday, May 16, under protest only. The feeling still being very hostile to (Foreman) Sellin.
We are further instructed to convey the members’ approval of the way in which Organiser Ellard has shown himself to be a first-class fighter for the welfare of the men. Although not approving of some things we did and advising us accordingly, he realised that life and death circumstances are paramount to breaches of the Arbitration Court.
The President at the close of the meeting conveyed to Ellard the meeting and branch’s appreciation of his work for us in this dispute, and also wished President Taaffe and Organiser Pereira a good trip home to Boulder. President Taaffe said to the members that he was proud of the way in which the dispute was conducted, and paid a tribute to Troy and Beatty and their committee for assistance given.
Since the foregoing was written there has been a further development. On Saturday last, according to press report, when two of the strikers who drew their time found that the management had applied to them a clause in the new industrial award whereby workers suffer the reduction of one day’s holiday pay for each shift missed through their being on strike.
The news that the penalty clause of the award had been applied for the first time since the award was issued spread quickly among the men, and they refused to resume as decided by ballot. When asked to waive the penalty clause, the management proposed that the men return to work and refer their complaint to the Arbitration Court.
Following on that an application has been made to the Arbitration Court by the employers’ representative (Mr. G. F. Gill) for a compulsory conference. The decision of the Court was not available when this edition went to press.
(Westralian Worker, Friday 28 May 1937, page 7)
Writing to the branch secretary (Mr. V. Johnson) regarding the recent industrial dispute at Youanmi the President (S. W. Beatty) and Secretary (P. L. Troy) report as follows, under date May 22:
“Men have resumed work at the Youanmi Gold Mines. Following the receipt of the following telegram a meeting was called:
Boulder. P. Troy, Youanmi: Dispute satisfactorily settled. Men to return to work immediately. Chamber Mines instructing Youanmi Co. similarly. Accrued holiday pay will not be deducted. Holiday clause in award operates as from first May. No victimisation. Sending further information by wireless. Advise when resuming work. P. Taaffe, President; Eileen Long, Act. Secretary.”
The meeting was attended by over 200 and much applause greeted the reading of the telegram, which shows a clear victory for united unionism. Complimentary remarks were passed by several speakers and a vote of appreciation and confidence was passed in the President and Secretary, who, in return, praised the loyal support of their comrades in the dispute and specially mentioned their committee, comprising Messrs. Doyle, McVeigh, Ryan, Hansen, Healy, Bohan, Hosking’s and Miller. The meeting decided that the committee which formed the strike committee and disputes
committee shall still function in the interests of the members in Youanmi.
The whole atmosphere at the mine has been changed, the civility of the staff being commented on by the men. Conditions from now on (thanks to the solidarity of the men) should be what white working men may expect and be entitled to in 1937. Looking back in retrospect it is interesting to learn several important lessons from our recent dispute. The storekeepers, for instance, organised to prevent credit and adopted an attitude to demoralise the men through the old starvation whip. Many workers on pay day paid all they could and then were politely told that all credit was stopped and food only supplied for cash. Fortunately, many of the old school of workers could instil into the workers (which the above tactics had made windy) the fact that we had the loyal support of our comrades in work throughout the whole mining industry and the Mining Executive and they would not see us starve. It had the desired effect and telegrams arriving supported the claim.
The shift bosses, with one or two exceptions, saw several of the weaker elements and said, “You chaps are silly, the mine is closing down. You are being led by extremists; I am with you.”
The self-same shift boss never hesitated to flog the truckers and boggers to get out record tallies. The self-same George Boyd attended the first meeting of the union in connection with the dispute. When challenged by several and the Chairman’s attention drawn to the fact that a shift boss was present, George, before any vote could be taken, stood forward and said he had always been a good unionist and was present as a member of the A.W.U. and not as a shift boss. The chairman asked the meeting should Boyd remain, and it decided on the voices that he could. When the men
decided not to go to work this good unionist returned to work.
Mr. Fitgerald, General Manager, ridiculed our actions and made use of such expressions: “We have done a lot for the men. It is not right to pull pump men out, and the whole thing is very bitter.” “We had nothing like this in the old days.” When Organiser Ellard, Beatty and Troy acted as a deputation on the last occasion he refused to discuss the matter; When asked by Beatty, Troy, Doyle, McVeigh on Thursday to give us a definite undertaking re victimisation, he said, “We do not approve of that and do not do it; but mind you, no funny business.”
The committee have acknowledged with gratefulness the support from the mining centres, particularly Beria, who wired immediately: nineteen pounds, fourteen shillings and eight pence: Then Reedys; twenty-one pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence; Wiluna. first instalment, Ten Pounds; Mt. Magnet, £7/10/-; local efforts (approx.), £20.
It was pleasing to see women comrades assisting us in our fight. These good women, led by Mesdames Smith and Bussula, were responsible for organising card evenings, community concerts, dances, fete. By the results they achieved and by their willingness at all times to co-operate they proved the value of and necessity for a permanent organisation of women workers as a necessary adjunct to the workers’ own fighting organisation the Union.
Telegrams of financial support were received from Boulder Big Bell. Big Bell could not remit cash, caused through circumstances over which they had no control.
The Boulder chaps did not send their lot because they knew the dispute was satisfactorily settled.
The greatest lesson was the wonderful comradeship and loyalty to the unionists in Youanmi from all mining centres, the approval of the Mining Executive, the fighting quality of Organiser Ellard, and another very, important lesson is-United we stand; divided we fall.
Onwards, miners! Join and work for the solidarity of the A.W.U.-the greatest force for good in Australian union circles.
(The Peter Pan Mine, Meekatharra, Western Australia, 7 December 1932. J. & A. Halbert & B. Day, Proprietors. Photo Courtesy of Glenys Rivett)