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Brookfield, Percival Stanley (1875–1921)

by Robin Gollan and Moira Scollay

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Percival Stanley Brookfield (1875-1921), militant trade unionist and politician, was born on 7 August 1875 at Wavertree near Liverpool, Lancashire, England, son of Cuthbert Brookfield, grocer, and his wife Jane, née Peers. At 13 he went to sea, spent a short time in South America and about 1890 deserted his ship in Melbourne. He humped his swag and prospected in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, before settling about 1910 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, as a miner. Known as 'Jack' or 'Brookie', he became vice-president of the underground section of the Amalgamated Miners' Association and early in 1916 successfully led the fight for a 44-hour week for miners.

In July as 'general' of Labor's Volunteer Army, Brookfield led the anti-conscription campaign in Broken Hill: they were harassed by conscriptionists. In August, after a riotous meeting, he was fined £5 despite evidence, accepted by the magistrate, that he had tried to quell the riot. Fined again in September for cursing the British Empire and calling W. M. Hughes a 'traitor, viper and skunk', he was gaoled for refusing to pay the £50. In two years he reputedly paid £700 in penalties and forfeited bonds.

On his release, Brookfield won Political Labor League pre-selection and a Legislative Assembly by-election for Sturt in February 1917, holding the seat with an increased majority at the general election in March. A militant socialist, eloquent and strong in debate, he soon became the leading left-wing spokesman and aroused the hostility of the right. He advocated peace in Europe and reforms in the mining industry, defended the Russian Revolution and supported direct action rather than arbitration. Although not a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, he believed in some of their ideas: more practically, he campaigned with H. E. Boote for the release of Donald Grant and the other eleven imprisoned I.W.W. members. In 1920, when he held the balance of power in parliament, he persuaded J. Storey's government to appoint a second royal commission into the sentences of 'the Twelve'; Mr Justice N. K. Ewing substantially accepted the claim that they had been convicted on perjured evidence.

Brookfield also organized demonstrations in Sydney against the deportation of Paul Freeman. He found himself at odds with the majority of the Parliamentary Labor Party and in July 1919 had resigned from it. Instructed by the Barrier District Assembly of the party, which considered that he had made his point, he withdrew his resignation, but was not readmitted. In 1920 he won Sturt as a member of the Industrial Socialist Labor Party, and played a vital role in settling the 1919-20 miners' strike, helping to obtain a 35-hour week and maximum compensation for tubercular and fibrotic miners in the Workers' Compensation (Broken Hill) Act.

On 22 March 1921 Brookfield was shot on Riverton railway station, South Australia, while trying to disarm Koorman Tomayoff, a deranged Russian who had already wounded two people; he died that day in Adelaide Hospital and was buried in Broken Hill cemetery, where a memorial headstone was unveiled in 1922. The courageous manner of his death was sufficient answer to those who had attributed his opposition to conscription to cowardice; Mary Gilmore commemorated it in verse in the Australian Worker.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Dale, The Industrial History of Broken Hill (Melb, 1918)
  • I. Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics (Canb, 1965), and Sydney's Burning, 1st edn (Melb, 1967)
  • E. Ross, A History of the Miners' Federation of Australia (Syd, 1970)
  • R. H. B. Kearns, Broken Hill, vol 3 (Broken Hill, 1975)
  • B. Kennedy, Silver, Sin, and Sixpenny Ale (Melb, 1978)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1917-18, 67-71
  • International Communist (Sydney), 2 Apr 1921
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18, 19, 23 Aug, 6 Sept 1919, 23 Mar 1921
  • Labor News (Sydney), 26 Mar 1921.

Citation details

Robin Gollan and Moira Scollay, 'Brookfield, Percival Stanley (1875–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brookfield-percival-stanley-5374/text9093, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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