Many years after Bennelong’s time, as Bill Gosling told me, Goat Island was the source of a strike.
I tell you what, they had a lot of sheep roaming loose on Goat Island. That was the cause of another disruption, because they had sheep on the island. One day the boss issued an instruction to the men to shear the sheep. They said we’re not bloody shearers and so they all sat down and went on strike.
… Talking about strikes, there was one occasion over Redfern they had a bit of trouble over the lack of repairs to the housing, which they complained they couldn’t get the corrugated iron needed to repair the roofs on all the houses.
And these were wharfies’ houses were they? I asked him.
No, this was general trouble. And a local parson had taken up the case to try and get supplies. There was a ship down in the Darling Harbour and it was loading steel, corrugated steel and that, to go up the islands and this parson chappy went down and addressed the wharfies, told them that the stuff they were exporting was needed at home here. So the wharfies went back to work, and instead of loading any more, they took out what they’d already put in. Of course, that caused a strike. But most of the things, when the wharfies went on strike, they usually had a very good reason and the way the waterfront was being run at the time gave them plenty of reasons. [i]
Bill Gosling was a senior inspector in the shipping branch, and his work covered everything on the waterfront: revenue, services, supplying ships with water, power supply from the shore, checking cargoes and dangerous goods. He was stationed at Glebe Island which, before containers took over shipping, was the main general cargo section of the waterfront.
I was Senior Patrolman, policing regulations, making sure that everyone had done the right thing … [One] time, I was working on a tanker at Balmain. One of the men that was working there said, you’re over here breathing down our necks, look across there. And I looked across the water to the other wharf where the wheat silos were, they were pouring wheat and the air was filled with wheat dust. And somebody was using an acetylene, a blowtorch on a winch, preparing a winch right alongside where they were pouring the wheat. Now, if a spark had ignited the dust it would have set up a chain reaction, like an atomic bomb. As soon as I saw it, I dived for the phone, rang up the boss of the silos and told him immediately to hit the emergency button which closed all the doors to stop the wheat from running until he’d investigated and stopped them alongside where the wheat was pouring. That chap had a reaction afterwards – that was the last thing he ever did. He had a heart attack at his desk that night.