Australian men - the basic wage
Forging the Nation - Federation: the First 20 years
- Forging the Nation: home
- National identity
- Seeking security
- The First World War
- Towards the future
The Sunshine Harvester case
Hugh Victor McKay patented an effective machine for stripping, threshing and bagging grain crops in 1885. An improved model, the Sunshine Harvester, was built from 1893. The business boomed, and by 1904 McKay's had become the largest manufacturing exporter in the Commonwealth.
The Sunshine Harvester factories in Victoria were modern and efficient, and they employed a large number of workers. Operations were eventually concentrated at Braybrook, just west of Melbourne, where the works became the basis of an industrial town called Sunshine.
McKay could be benevolent, but he was also autocratic. Implacably opposed to wage regulation, he was often in bitter conflict with the trade unions. In 1907 McKay was involved in a celebrated court case which became known as the Harvester judgement. Justice H.B. Higgins, the president of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, declared that an unskilled labourer should receive a minimum of seven shillings for an eight-hour working day, enough to sustain himself and his family in "frugal comfort". Adjusted over time, this became the Basic Wage, the basis for the pay of most Australian workers for the next sixty years.