Letters by a Swagman

by Emma Bielby

Letters by a Swagman

                                                                                                            15 September 1890

Dearest Juliet,

I have decided to join the union as surely we work harder than they pay. As I said in the last letter, life is hard in Australia. I continue to try and find a better Station to work on but so far they are all the same, I barely make enough to cloth and feed myself. Give me a few more years to settle down and find a place then I will send for you. I am currently working at the Leichhart Downs Station and in the surrounding areas. I know you miss me and I love you too.

Love always your brother,


Dearest Juliet, 9 May 1891

I know I said I would keep out of trouble but I always seem to find it, or it seems to find me. The Union has gone on strike; all shears are staking them out at the moment. By day things get tense as we protest about the unfair conditions as night fall everyone is on edge like they are waiting for something to happen. As the weeks roll on the violence and aggression of the situation begin to grow. The free laborers are traders and are at the moment the aim of all the anger.

Food is becoming scarce and many go to bed hungry, we are wondering how much longer can our strike last?

Always yours,


Dearest Juliet, 13 May 1891

The Union finally called off the strike; the squatters have won this time, though I believe this is not the last of it. Some of the conditions have been changed to make working a little easier but we want our full rights. I will continue to fight for what is ours.

Love always your brother,


Dearest Juliet, 21 March 1894

The union called a meeting the other day. We are gathering all other union members around Australia, bringing them here for a final battle. They will give us proper rights one way or another; many would even die fighting for the cause. But dont you worry, nothing will happen to me. I have set fire to many stations in protest as we band together, but have yet to be seen or caught in the act.

Love Samuel

Dearest Juliet, 24 August 1894

Today we strike! We all rallied together and lit the paddle steamer called the P.S.Rodney. I watched as the fire burnt brighter than the sun itself. The Troopers came in with their batons not knowing what to do. Dont worry I didnt get caught and no one was left on the steamer. We targeted the P.S Rodney as it was carrying the free laborers across to an island. We boarded the boat and forced them all off before setting about igniting it. I would have liked to watch it sink but after a few minutes the Troopers began to organize themselves and started arresting some of the protesting union workers. I feel we are finally getting their attention which means it wont be much longer now until our demands are met. But please dont worry about me.

With all my love,


Dearest Juliet, 2 September 1849

Anger fills the camp as news of Billy McLean, a union member was found shot just outside of the town. At first there was fear, but now there is talk of war! McLean was just 26 years old, too young to die. I could not begin to imagine how his father feels. Now is time to put our words into action, now is time for a plan. This is a fight worth fighting for until the end and thats just what Im going to do. Dearest Juliet, you know I love you and think about you a lot. I know you will find it hard to understand why I must do what I do. I will make you proud of me, you will see.

Love your brother,


Dear Juliet 4 September 1894

We did it! We took a stand. There were hundreds of us union shearers at arms. I lit up the Dagworth station and then the fight broke out. Bullets went everywhere. Then the bodies began to drop on both sides of the battle as people got shot. There were bullets flying everywhere and people screaming as they caught on fire. I ran as fast as I could towards the wild growths looking for cover.

I have been a-waltzing a while now and am well worn. I fear that I may be caught by troopers and as I was the one to light the station I feel my punishment will be extreme. I write this as I sit by fire side a waiting my billy to boil. I have chosen to camp by a billabong under a coolabah tree and wait for the following morning to continue. You would not believe my luck as I set about my camp site, a young jumbuck had come to the billabong for a drink. So as I sit and wait for my billy to boil I throw the jumbuck into my empty tucker bag and hes a good fit the jumbuck is a fighter though.

To Juliet Hoffmeister, 28th September 1894

I regret to inform you of the tragic death of your brother Samuel Hoffmeister found deceased after being pulled out of a billabong on the 4th of September. We were looking to arrest him on charges of violence and vandalism of burning down the Dagwood shearing station on the 2nd of September two days earlier and the possible participation in the shootout. My self, two other offices and the owner Richard MacPherson, had followed his trail for over a day in hope of capture and justice for the damage caused. On approach of arrest Samuel had been found with o stolen local stray jumbuck. To evade capture he threw himself into the billabong and evidently drowned.

I offer my deepest apologies once again,


Sherriff William Jefferson of the Dagworth County


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