1964: jobs, chooks galore

Christmas 1964 was the year, Unionists and Shakespeare shared had a common slogan:  A job for every man and a chicken in every pot!  (With apologies to Henri IV).

Now the good season of Christmas is here

Bringing the spirit of peace and good cheer, 

People seem kinder, there’s love in the air. 

Sympathy, goodwill and joy everywhere.

Everyone’s thinking of giving – that’s why, 

Scheming and planning the gifts they can buy,

 Thinking of others, their frowns disappear,

Oh, what a shame it’s just once in the year!

As the festive season envelopes us into its gaiety of good cheer and bonhomie, it is indeed a shame that we do not endeavour to carry this amiable disposition over into each new year.

Like the friends of one local Celtic octogenarian gentleman of Christmases past, who had no such difficulties extending their amiable jibes.

At every opportunity when the National Anthem was played, they would gleefully rib him of his earlier Christmas faux pas; for loudly and proudly he sang ‘For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ whenever he forgot the words to ‘God Save the Queen’.

And in keeping with the spirit of the season, he refuted the lese-majeste, stating that his forgetfulness was the result of the mischievous leprechaun’s mistletoe at the entrance of Mount Isa’s Irish Club.

Whether we be friends, neighbours, work-mates or relatives the festive season has always been a good excuse to celebrate our Christian heritage and the end of another year.

In December 1959, one unexpected spirit of giving was extended to the employees of Mount Isa Mines Ltd when the State Industrial Court discarded the lead bonus as outmoded and introduced a new bonus system.

In a unanimous decision, the new bonus system raised each mine workers’ minimum weekly bonus to £8.

And AWU members employed by MIM were granted a further increase of £1 a week more.

But the festive spirit was never so more evident than Christmas 1964, the year of the ‘Shut Out’ of mine employees, when a local chicken hatchery donated 200 birds to the Mount Isa Trades and Labor Council for distribution to their ‘Shut Out’ members.

Such largesse is rarely without a string or in this case a feather attached; the unionists had to catch the chickens, themselves.

A couple of nights before Christmas, Irishman, Johnny McMahon led five of his ‘chicken-ringer’ mates on an ‘ambush for aid’ to put chickens on the Christmas tables for the Shut Out men.

It was a well-orchestrated plan of attack as the ‘ringers’ crept up on the unsuspecting birds.

With feathers ruffled, the gallinaceous birds led the men on a chicken dance through the hatcheries and around the yards, only to be caught one by one and contained in wire crates of indignity.

To much hilarity, one ringer ran the gauntlet before he stumbled over a perch to grab the last bird by its neck and claim victory for another meal on a table.

Alas, the chicken was a duck and not just any duck but a pet duck – Donald!

Fortunately, the duck’s little owner was dreaming of Santa’s visit and not aware of the shenanigans involving her pet.

And as the festive season is a time of forgiveness, the ringers gave Donald Duck an amnesty from that year’s Christmas menu.

Finally caught by hook or by crook, the chickens were caged and loaded onto the back of the old Bedford truck for an impromptu parade through town to the Camooweal Street destination.

One bright spark feeling sorry for the couped up birds, opened the cages and let them out to run free to scurry around, behind the Trades and Labor Council Hall and into Burton’s timber yard.

Early the next morning, Christmas Eve, hundreds of out of work miners arrived to collect their ‘chook’ to take home.

Squawking chickens could be heard once again, as they tried to slip out of unionists’ hands, before finally being caught one by one and handed over to their individual demise.

But at least one chicken was reported to have been given a reprieve from being the central attraction on the Christmas table, the next day.

It was only through the tearful sobs of his children that one ‘Shut Out’ father allowed Chilly Chook to lay eggs for many years before it was her turn to sate the family appetite at Christmas dinner.

In keeping with the theme of gratefulness and in the true spirit of Christmas, the scallywags of the town saw thefestive season as a time to be grateful too, if they were not caught, as they smuggled soft-drink bottles out of Kruttschnitt Oval during the Mount Isa Mines Christmas Tree event.

Such bottles cashed-in with Gardner and Jones Cordials or Polkinghorne Soft Drinks could easily have raised several shillings for the little entrepreneurs to buy Christmas presents and lollies, or perhaps it was lollies first and foremost.

And as Christmas nears, let each of us pray…..

Give me a good digestion, Lord, And also something to digest;

Give me a healthy body, Lord, With sense to keep it at its best.

Give me a healthy mind, good Lord, To keep the good and pure in sight,

Which seeing sin is not appalled, But finds a way to set it right.

Give me a mind that is not bored, That does not whimper, whine or sigh;

Don’t let me worry over much, About the fussy thing called “I”.

Give me a sense of humour, Lord, Give me the grace to see a joke,

To get some happiness from life, And pass it on to other folk.

Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton

Photographs courtesy of MIMAG. Information sourced from the archives of the Cloncurry Advocate, Mt Isa News, Mount Isa Mail, MIM publications and the North West Star.