Waterside Brawl

The Maitland Daily Mercury Monday May 17, 1937

SYDNEY, Monday

A man was taken to hospital and ten others suffered slight wounds caused by blows with pieces of wood and iron and wharf labourers’ hooks in a fracas between unregistered wharf labourers and members of the Waterside Workers’ Federation at Pyrmont to-day.

The police were informed that at least 100 unionists and unregistered men participated in the fray. The unregistered men, known on the waterfront as ‘snipers,’ are a body of between 800 and 900 who, unable to secure work elsewhere, seek it on the wharves as labourers. They claim that they wait in the background until all the unionists are signed on and then offer themselves for any jobs available.

The snipers stated that about 26 of them were standing about 20 yards from a larger group of unionists at one of the wharves at Pyrmont. Suddenly the unionists approached and mixed with them, and in a moment fists were flying and boots were used. Many of the ‘snipers’ fled, and they were chased from wharf to wharf. Several slid down poles to a fishing tug which they nearly swamped, as it conveyed them to safety. Others hung to a water pipe under the wharf for about half an hour, until the punt returned for them.

Norman Burns, 39, of Pyrmont, fell to the ground at the height of the brawl with a wound in his head. He was later taken to Sydney Hospital, where six stitches were inserted in his head wounds. Another man was struck on the side of the face with a sharp hook, and a nasty wound was inflicted about an inch from his right eye. Others wore struck on the chest and arms, and kicked on the legs. Many were knocked down and trampled on. An eye witness told the policemen who rushed to the wharves that at one stage at least 25 men were tackling a single ‘sniper’ who was felled to the ground, and kicked from one side of the roadway in the railway goods yard to the other. He managed to regain his feet and stagger away.

Many of the ‘snipers’ fled, and were struck as they ran by the infuriated unionists, Several of the men took refuge on a rock, which jutted out of the water under the wharf and some of the fugitives, to escape from attackers, dashed into a plaster shed on No 15 wharf, scattered powdered plaster over their clothes, and assumed jobs in the shed. The unionists searching for them thought they were workers and left them unmolested.