Naming the Princes Pier Gatehouse The Alan Whittaker Centre

Speech celebrating the naming of the Alan Whittaker Gatehouse November 2 2017

On behalf of the Whittaker Memorial Committee I would like to welcome everyone here – especially the Albert Park College students who have been making a film about the events of 1928 and written a commemorative poem which they will read shortly.

We are here today to mark something which happened on this day 89 years ago. The event – the 1928 Dock Strike and the fatal shooting of Waterside Worker Alan Whittaker – has always been part of Port Melbourne’s communal memory. It marked not only a bitter dispute but also the effective beginning of the Great Depression in Port – a beginning before that experienced by the rest of the country.

Almost 50 years ago a Port Melbourne councillor and waterside worker, Perce White, began to worry about how we could ensure that communal memory was refreshed and maintained for generations to come. He got in touch with me – then the editor of the local paper, The Record – and asked me to write something about1928 and the need for some sort of recognition. Initially the idea was about renaming some streets and some of that was done but then the issue slipped from sight for a while. The Record didn’t seem to have the influence some other media outlets have.

Then Perce got in touch with me again about 10 years ago after talking with the then MUA Secretary, Kevin Bracken, about the need to do something tangible to ensure the memory of 1928 events survived. We set up a small committee which launched annual commemorative events; got the Council to erect a plaque close to the Hogan’s flat site; organised some tours; produced historical information; and campaigned for Princes Pier to be renamed Whittaker Pier.

There were many people involved in this including Pat Grainger, David Thomson, Bob Ditton, Chris McConville, Paddy Garrity along with Kevin, Perce and myself. Our local MP, Martin Foley, who can’t be here today because Parliament is sitting, has provided us with magnificent support and has made the event we are marking today possible. He was greatly helped in this by Andrew Herington in Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s office. We also have representatives here of Michael Danby’s office.

We have also been supported by the City of Port Phillip Mayor, Bernadene Voss, Father Bob Maguire and our very distinguished speaker who was born under the hook in Port, The Honourable Frank Vincent AO.

Frank Vincent’s address was recorded by Janet Bolitho and is available at her blog.

Martin Foley can’t be here today but I want to read a letter Martin has sent us which includes the citation that accompanies the register of the name of Allan Whittaker on the pier gatehouse along with the name of the Albert Park College which is transforming this site, just as they and the Victorian Government transformed the Bay Street Port Melbourne Drill Hall site. If he had been able to be here he would have said these things himself but I am acting as a poor substitute.

Martin writes: I write to confirm arrangements for the naming of the Gatehouse on Princes Pier Port Melbourne as the Alan Whittaker Gatehouse, following a decision by the Minister for Planning to support the recommendation of your committee and many of the local Stakeholder Groups associated with your committee. This achievement is a milestone in your long running efforts to ensure the remarkable story of Alan Whittaker and what he symbolised is not lost to current and future generations.

The Minister for Planning has confirmed that he will enter the name of the Gatehouse on the Victorian Register of Names together with an official citation which I attach for your information.

This will be a suitable and enduring marker of the remarkable events of 2 November 1928, when a major demonstration occurred at Princes Pier to protest the lock out of the unionised work force. It was here when Alan Whittaker, a waterside worker, was shot during the protest together with other comrades. He died later from the wounds he received. The other injured workers recovered.

Alan Whittaker, a local of Port Melbourne, was an ANZAC veteran who had been wounded on the first day at the Gallipoli landings. Upon his return home he gained employment on the waterfront. Here he and his workmates struggled by under the then “day labour” scheme on the docks. The nationwide protest in 1928 arose after waterside employers sought to cut working pay and conditions and resulted in a lock out by the employers. The fact that these measures were facilitated and encouraged by the Commonwealth government the day further enflamed the dispute as the Conservative government backed attempts to exclude union members from work under the notorious “Dog Collar Act” of the time.

For some years the local community, led by the committee, has been seeking the commemoration of this event. I am pleased the Minister for Planning has now resolved the issue.

I am pleased to advise that agreement has now been reached by the relevant parties to rename the Princes Pier Gatehouse as the Alan Whittaker Gatehouse. This has the support of the City of Port Phillip, the MUA and Albert Park College and the Port Melbourne Conservation and Historical Society. The Gatehouse currently has a five year lease to Albert Park College ensuring it remains in community use as an education centre.

The Minister for Planning has advised he will now enter The Alan Whittaker Gatehouse as the official name on the Victorian Register of Names.

Subject to obtaining a Heritage Victoria permit, the Memorial Committee and supporters will be able to erect a plaque on the building recording its name and the history behind it.

I would like to thank the Memorial Committee, the Historical Society, the school and all the interested individuals who have campaigned for this outcome to appropriately commemorate Mr Whittaker.

It has been an honour to advocate for this important achievement.

The citation reads:

Alan Whittaker was one of the first Australians to enlist in WWI and one of the first shot – at 8.30am on April 25th – the first day of the Gallipoli landing. He spent 80 days in an Egyptian hospital before returning to Australia with an honourable discharge and permanent limp.

When Alan recovered he worked “day labour” on the docks. The dockers had to muster twice a day and compete for work. Pay and conditions had been cut back and the conservative prime minister – Stanley Bruce – was determined to smash union influence on the docks.

Tension rose as non-unionists were given work and an angry protest began on November 2 after 1000 union members were ignored in favour of labour workers, brought in under police protection.

The chief commissioner of the time, Tom Blamey, was no union man. Although a Gallipoli survivor, too, he had no problems setting his men against the protesters, many of whom were war veterans. It could be said . . . that Blamey’s style of dealing with public protest was confrontationist, readily violent, and generally ruthless.

Alan Whittaker was one of hundreds of waterside workers protesting against the use of non-union labour on the docks when he was shot at close range with a police revolver.

Having survived a Turkish bullet on that foreign beach, he would never have imagined the fatal shot would be fired on a Port Melbourne pier by a policeman in peacetime.

What is known is that the media, police, government and judiciary of the day conspired to cover up the real events of the 1928 riots. While the Eureka Stockade uprising is a pivotal part of Australian history, little is known of the bloody battle on Princes Pier.

The protest marked the beginnings of the Depression when local unemployment soared to 80 percent at the peak. This harsh treatment and harsh times might help in understanding about how people’s attitudes were shaped for at least two generations after.

The citation ends:

“Politically it had consequences as at the next Federal Election, the Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce lost his seat to Fred Holloway who had been secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. He later became representative for Melbourne Ports from 1931 to 1951.”

It has become a custom at these events for wreaths and flowers to be spread on the waters in memory of Allan Whittaker and the waterside workers.

I’d like to invite the students to cast the wreath and others to take the flowers available.

And, while we are grateful for this announcement we recognise that this pier is still named after the former Prince of Wales, a notorious Nazi sympathiser and racist. Our next campaign is to get that name changed – perhaps to Pier 1928.