SLQ - a refuge from Black Friday (Chronicles of State Library of Queensland)

A recently digitised letter reveals that the Public Library of Queensland (formerly State Library of Queensland), was used as a place of temporary shelter on a day which was later dubbed 'Black Friday' and 'Baton Friday' at the height of the Brisbane General Strike of 1912.

Brisbane Black Friday, February 2 1912 poster. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The strike started on January 18, 1912 after members of the Australian Tramway Employees Association were dismissed for wearing union badges to work and their positions re-advertised. The strike soon evolved into a general strike on January 30 with 43 unions joining the cause, effectively shutting down businesses in Brisbane.

Mounted police gather in Albert Square during the General Strike in Brisbane, 1912. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number 10113-0001-0019.

Women marching in a strike procession in Brisbane in 1912. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negative number 59436.

Special constables policing the General Strike on horseback in William Street, Brisbane 1912. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number 10113-0001-0024

Violent clashes between police and protesters occurred on February 2, 1912, known as 'Black Friday', after the Commissioner of Police refused an application by the strike committee for a permit to march in Brisbane streets.

An account of the clashes during Black Friday was recently discovered in the Miriam Dunn Papers held in the State Library of Queensland's collection. The letter was written to Miriam Dunn by her colleagues in the Public Service Board. The writer states that the Public Library of Queensland (then situated in William Street) was used as a place of shelter during the chaos.

Letter from 29925 Miriam Dunn Papers 1910-1925. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

"Dear Miss Dunn, ...first of all we have been having exciting time and for some days everyone you knocked into was talking strike. The public servants, those that were left of them as they were few and far between, were vociferously busy rushing to the balconies, windows &c. to see all the fun.... after you went the strike grew enormously and we had a very exciting time here, a letter came round to the departments asking public servants to volunteer as special constables, Madsen, Dwyer, Dignan and Wood went out as specials, and I was down in the Police Tent writing out names of the specials. You know they pitched a couple of tents down beside the Queen's statue and there was about 2000 special constables sworn. Last Friday (Feb 2nd) there was a great procession marched by here down George St to Parliament House (a woman's procession), when they had turned back and got as far as the Treasury the mounted and foot police charged the procession with their batons and bits of skin and hair were flying all over the street, a lot of people took refuge in the Public Library from the police, we'll tell you all about it when you come back...". (Letter dated February 9, 1912. From 29925 Miriam Dunn Papers 1910-1925)

Public Library of Queensland (later known as State Library of Queensland), ca.1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Negitive number 194819

It is also interesting to note that the Public Library's opening hours were scaled back during the period of the strike, with the Library closing its doors at 6pm on weeknights, instead of 10pm. This closure caused consternation among regular patrons, as evidenced in the letters to the editor column in the Brisbane Courier newspaper.

"Reader" writes - "Sir, I am a frequent visitor to the Public Library which now has been closed at night for the last month or so; that is since the start of the strike.... certainly believe that it is in no such present danger as to justify the exclusion of the reading public any longer. (Brisbane Courier, 29 February 1912)

"Virgil" writes - "...the most rabid striker would not do harm to so useful a place, even in the early strike days. Keeping the library closed at night is a source of great disappointment to many who cannot avail themselves of its advantages during the day." (Brisbane Courier, 1 March 1912)

"Anxious" writes - "Sir, Can you enlighten me as to when the Public Library will be open again at night? I have reached the doors on several occasions at night, but have found the library closed, although on the notice board outside are the words "open from 10am to 10pm"."(Brisbane Courier, 5 March 1912).

State Library of Queensland holds an extensive collection of photographs documenting the General Strike of 1912.

Further readings in the Chronicles of State Library of Queensland series:


We welcome relevant, respectful comments.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.
We also welcome direct feedback via Contact Us.
You may also want to ask our librarians.

Be the first to write a comment