Tobacco farmer, miner and Labor treasurer in Queensland for seven years, Keith De Lacy has turned novelist. Blood Stains the Wattle is his ebullient account of industrial disruption at the Mount Isa mines in the 1960s. He writes of what and who caused the trouble, of the solidarity and suffering involved, and of the sense of incomplete resolution that attends the finish of any long and bitter labour dispute.
If he is not even-handed, or obliged to be, De Lacy is scrupulous in exposing the complex and conflicting allegiances of this time. Miners confronted management in strikes and lock-outs, but the "never-to-be-re-employed", diehard 45 miners found the Australian Workers' Union was their most implacable enemy. Sectarian issues clouded the dispute. This was the high-water mark of anti-communism in Australia, as the Catholic Church, in particular, fulminated against those guilty of no more than staunch unionism and membership of the ALP.
Throw in violence, sex, thunderstorms, laconic and profane proletarian speech, and De Lacy has fashioned a book that is politically astute and instructive. It is also one where human misunderstandings and forgiveness sometimes transcend politics.
First published in 2002