Australian Left Review


Madia Wheatley


“We are but little children meek On pick and shovel all the week The more we do the more we may It makes no difference to our pay. Ah hell!" (1)

This “hymn” from one of the Relief Workers’ journals of 1935 suggests the sense of futility and helplessness experienced by the relief workers in the depression. The relief worker was employed on unskilled laboring jobs - roadmaking, afforestation and other “public improvement” schemes - often in areas far from home, usually under degrading, unpleasant and insanitary conditions, with no security of employment. The pay was minimally better than the current dole rate (and in some cases worse), especially after fares and other expenses were deducted, and was far below the basic wage. Relief workers were isolated from the trade union movement, which throughout the '30s showed little real attempt to organise the unemployed; geographical isolation and the intermittent nature of the work made organisation difficult for relief workers.



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