The Great Strike of 1917, despite being a defining event for the Labor Party and the labour movement in this state, has never achieved the level of recognition in our movement it deserves. Through the excellent work of the 1917 Committee this is changing.
One aspect of the strike which should be particularly remembered is the murder of Mervyn Flanagan by a strikebreaker and the injustice that followed.
Merv, a striking carter, was murdered by a strike breaker in Camperdown on August 30 during the strike and his killer was never brought to justice, indeed sections of the Sydney elite lauded his actions and paid for his defense.
Strikers and strikebreakers encountered each other on Bridge Road, Camperdown. There was an argument, a scuffle, and Merv Flanangan was shot dead.
He was with his brother James Flanagan, and his friend Henry Williams, also shot in the leg.
The man who fired the shots was Reginald Wearne, a strike breaker from Bingara and the brother of a powerful conservative state politician.
What happened was tragic. What followed was an outrage.
Sydney’s establishment rallied around the murderer.
Wearne was quickly granted bail and he received hundreds of letters and telegrams of support, some of which described Flanagan as ‘an enemy of the state’ and ‘a parasite of the lowest social order.’
His defence was funded by the wealthy, including A. M. Hemsley of the law firm Allen, Allen and Hemsley who put the hat around at Sydney’s elite Union club.
Then Wearne was set free.
A Coroner’s inquest finding was used to have the manslaughter charges he faced, withdrawn. The Acting Coroner hailed from his home town of Bingara.
By contrast, brother James Flanangan and Williams were jailed for 3 months each.
The murderer Wearne free.
James Flanagan and Williams jailed.
The striker Merv Flanagan dead.
100 years later, it is still an injustice.
I join the 1917 Committee in calling for the labour movement and the City of Sydney to permanently recognise the site of Merv Flanagan’s death in Camperdown.
Merv’s grave is at Rookwood and while it has undergone some repairs, we should restore it to a better state and make clearer Merv’s status as a martyr of the New South Wales labour movement. We will work with Merv’s descendants to do this in a respectful and appropriate fashion.
You can contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to honour Merv’s legacy and that of all those involved in the Great Strike of 1917.
You can also make a direct deposit, please note 1917 Flanagan Appeal in the description:
Bank Commonwealth Bank
ACCT NO 00800374