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Australian men - the basic wage

PROP 01837.001Sunshine Farm Machinery
McKay's machinery works at Braybrook, west of Melbourne, became the largest factory complex in Australia. The range of rural machinery produced there expanded from the original Sunshine harvester of 1893. The seed and fertilizer drill appeared in 1917, and military equipment was manufactured there during the war.
PROP 01837.001

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.

cartoon_10.jpgThe minimum wage: "All damn fine, but are we going to be guaranteed a minimum of bad conditions, so's we can pay without going further into debt?"
From The Bulletin 16 October 1919, pg 1. By permission of National Library of Australia.