‘Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel will turn’
There are numerous Labour Museums throughout the world; museums which celebrate the role working people have played in creating the infrastructure and wealth of a nation.
In New Zealand/Aotearoa, between the years 1875 and 1935, working people struggled for a political voice. The struggle went through various phases, from Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) union radicalism, to Communism, to parliamentary struggle. The struggle eventually brought to power the 1935 Labour government, which in the following decade, set in place a social democratic fabric which has become fundamental to the New Zealand way of life.
The small coal mining communities of the South Island's West Coast played a significant part in the early years of this struggle, and in the town of Blackball (22km from Greymouth), the 'cribtime strike' of 1908 triggered the formation of a national union structure. It is appropriate then that this should be the site of the Museum project.
The first physical structure for which we gained finance was the building of a Memorial/Resource Centre based around the '08 Strike. This involved much voluntary labour from the local community; work at mate's rates from sculptors, Phill Rooke and Tony Manuel, Labour Historian, Mark Derby, the team at SIgn Displays and graphic designer, Jared Davidson; financial support from Development West Coast, Trust Power, Lion Foundation, Pub Charity, Blackadder Trust and Grey District Council; and donations from local companies, IPL, WestRoads, T. Croft and Ferguson Brothers.
With the establishing of the Memorial we began a programme of exhibitions, alternating between political and heritage topics and each year, we celebrate Mayday with a day of political and cultural events. The schools programme is now developed and enquiries are welcome. After the Pike disaster we involved the families in the creation of a memorial wheel and a Pike River Commemoration is held each year on the 17th of November.
In 2014 we gained funding for a permanent exhibition space for Blackball's mining heritage and this was opened on Mayday 2015.
The Museum is open at all times.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Maritime Union of NZ, the Dairy Workers Union, , the Tertiary Education Union, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, Lotteries Environment and Heritage and the Grey District Council.