Fighting for a better nation

As told by Fred Rochow, railway man, in 1998.

I started on the railways on 17th June l947. A lot of the chaps firing (engines) then had been back from the War about 18 months. I never understood the full workings and unrest of those returned servicemen and divisions within the men.

After a few months, I began to understand. There were old drivers, First World War men who were retiring. The retiring age was 65 and it began to be seen that 65 was too old. If you made 65, your health usually wasn’t good. If you made 65, you usually didn’t make 67. Only the odd one did.

The War had knocked them about and the job was heavy and knocked them about too. Out at all hours of the night and in all weathers. Horrific shifts. During the four years of the War, the old drivers didn’t have a holiday, they were needed to run troop trains all over the place and weren’t allowed to take leave.

There was thinking among the old conservatives about life – I can remember the younger men wanting something better when they returned from the War. They started to agitate for better things and conditions and one was Long Service Leave, they wanted three months Long Service Leave after 20 years. The older fellows, had they had a good break like that, would have lived longer.

I got on the engine one day and this old guy named Harry Faull said, “I don’t understand you young fellows. I don’t know what to think of you. Why would you want three months off just because you work 20 years?” They had a fortnight’s holiday a year and they never even got that during the War years. These young returned servicemen became a very militant group, they’d all been through bad things during their war service and they had one thing in common and that was to better their lot.

Menzies came to power early in 1950 and didn’t like this militancy and saw it as Communistic.

They weren’t Communists, they were just men who wanted a better Australia which many had fought for.