Darkie the cow and the Fremantle Wharf Riot

It’s 1919 and WWI ended 6 months ago. This was a time of low wages and high cost of living triggering strikes around Australia. (There was the tram strike earlier in the year in Queenies writings.)

There is trouble afoot at the Fremantle wharf which started two years earlier when the lumpers refused to load a ship because they believed the cargo (flour) was finding its way into the hands of the Germans who were enemies at the time. Because of this Nationalists were brought in (National Waterside Workers Union aka volunteers) often replacing the lumpers on a job, preventing them from working and receiving a wage.

After brewing for two years, on the 4th of May 1919 things came to a boiling point and a riot ensued later known as the Battle of the Barricades, Bloody Sunday and Westralia’s EurekaThe lumpers were ensuring the ship Dimboola (docked in Fremantle) would not be unloaded by the National Waterside Workers Union, who were favoured by the ship owners and government.

To add to the issues for the SS Dimboola unloading, it brought with it passengers sick with influenza. There is at this stage an influenza pandemic around the world which started in 1918 and arrived in Australia in 1919. This event is documented as the greatest natural disaster of recorded history, rivaled only by the Black Death in the 14th century.

As the violence escalated on the 4th of May, the police (who were greatly outnumbered) fixed bayonets wounding and hospitalising at least one protestor. It is said that this was the last time bayonets were ever used by the police against the public. Later the police were issued bullets which fortunately were never used on the crowd. The riot claimed the life of Tom Edwards who died in his wife’s arms a heroic martyr after being accidentally struck on the head with a police batton fracturing his skull.

The sugar and butter much desired by the Nicholas family, as Queenie recounts in one of her April entries, is stuck on SS Dimboola. Post war, SS Dimboola is the only ship operating between Sydney (eastern states) and Fremantle with each way taking about 6 days to travel (Coast to Coast: The Great Australian Coastal Liners. Peter Plowman. Rosenberg Publishing. 2007)

As a result of the troubles at Fremantle wharf, the Nicholas’s buy a milking cow, an Alderney. The Alderney is a breed of dairy cattle, at least it was as the purebred is now extinct. Alderneys were known for their gentle nature which Queenie discusses as being a trait of their new cow ‘Darkie’.

The Journal of Agriculture (Volume 1, Boston.1851. page 111), 70 odd years before the Nicholas’s purchased their cow Darkie, published an article titled “The Alderney Cow”. The article states that “The term Alderney as applied to this breed of cows is a misnomer; the rightful appellation is – “the Jersey Cow”.” According to the journal, this is because Jersey cattle were introduced to the Island of Alderney and, due to poor feed, they deteriorated from original stock which then became recognised as Alderney cattle.

On reviewing the Alderney, the journal publishes the opinions of a some gentlemen considered to be experts. The Alderney is first described by one as having a voracious appetite and little return on investment. The next sings the praises of the Alderney. However both agree its milk converts very well for butter. This would be ideal for the Nicholas’s as Queenie mentions the desire for butter and later the making of butter a number of times.

The Sunday Times (Sunday, 16/11/1919, Perth, WA) responded to a question asking about the colouring of Jersey and Alderney cows. It goes on to explain that although the Alderneys resembled the Jerseys they have since been outcrossed with Guernsey bulls, making them bigger and hardly distinguishable from Guernseys.

Queenie is 19, Kirby 18, Mont 15, Ralph 11 and Bob 6.

Excerpt from Queenies Diary and News from the Back - 1919

April 24 (Thursday)

SNEWS [writing in her lunchtime]
The milkman never arrived this morn till 8.25 ½ am. So of course the family did a growl abt the butter and milk.

Dad says – while washing his dial, between the splutters – “Yes! It’s come to this – we’ll have to grow our own milk and butter – if you see me leading a cow home tonight tell Mont it’ll be milking time tomorrow morn!” I told him to bring a pail also.

Mum marched out to breakfast as if she’d just settled a serious problem – says she “Well, Dad, I’ll go and see if I can get a cow today. I’m sick of this.”

Oh! most remarkable cow – that shall rescue the Nicks – come soon and get us out of our misery.

April 25 (Friday)


5.45pm: [on way home]
The Cow has not yet arrived – very anxious family awaiting her. She’s to go in Luplaw’s [neighbours] shed tonight (if she comes).

6 PM Just Arrived [home] – and was met by the startling –

Darkie the Cow Milking Maid Diary 1919
The milking maid picture was inserted into the diary. 1919

Re – The COW. Mum went into town and after various experiences too intricate and involved to here relate, she found the Cow. It’s a black Alderney (spelling?) and “coming home” tomorrow – we’ve got the pail already.

Dad’s got to fence the back block (Mum’s) and erect the dwelling place. The milkman (Montie) has been duly advised, and Mum is the only one who knows anything about Cows and that is not much. (Whisper “Cost £15”)

April 26 (Saturday)


[After lunch]
Wull, the cow came this morn and Dad has to make her habitation. Mont came in sick from work today. He’s gone to bed and we are all stalking round on tiptoe. It’s pretty bad when Mont goes to bed – cow and all come too.

[After tea]
The cow again. (“Darky” she’s called.) Last night Mont came home, having seen on the Causeway a cow, a calf, a man on horse. Our cow not having put in appearance although Mum looked out for her all day – he thought praps that was the one – but he was rather muddled as to her colour first it was brown – and then “a lighty-brown you know – creamy pink – what is it, Queenie? Heliotrope!” He couldn’t describe it – and so I shrieked “Heliotrope!!” and swooned away (?). Anyhow it’s pitch black and came this morn.

Mont and Bob with cow 1917
Mont feeding a cow. Bob on the left.
(Note: This photo was captioned as being 1917 which would place it earlier than Darkies arrival.)

Dad got the pail to milk her abt 4.30. she’s as quiet as can be – hasn’t behaved unseemly once yet, never kicked, baulked or moo-ed after the departing calf. So Dad took courage and commenced with all (except the sick Mont, who had to visit the scene of operations once) the family looking on – goats and all.

Darky never moved; only once when he’d nearly finished; then she gently took one step forward with left-side-hind foot – this upset ½ the milk – but Dad suppressed the scream and we dared not laugh! Anyhow she stood without a move or a bail. Dad says “practise again tomorrow.”\

Norman, I’m going to learn to milk a cow if we have her long enough – I think we will. Not that it will take me any longer than anyone else! The patient (our Star milkman) is slightly improved, is sleeping peacefully at present.

10.35 pm. After Pictures – Latest Bulletin re Cow. Dad reports doing fine – put her fut on the water tub – which gave in! AMEN.

April 27 (Sunday)

SNEWS 27 April, 8.30 am. [Sunday]

Waken’d by boys talking ‘cow’. All the family ‘cept Bob and me, were outside helping the operation of milking – Dad called – “Queen, get up and see the porridge doesn’t boil over.” So I got up.

I went out and found that they’d got ½ a bucket full and she’d put her foot in it! So they took that away and got some more which they kept putting into a jug in small quantities so as she’d not do it again.

Anyhow, Mum was exhausted, and Ralph took one side, Dad on t’other. Then K & I. And I found I could milk better than they can – cause I could get some every time. Then Mont took a hand at the end and he’s just it. He milks the same way as I did and of course with greater speed.

So the start is ver’ goot I think. Dad was stoker, kept the chaff dept supplied while Ralph kept the safe milk. I hear them now – Dad: “I wonder what time we’d better get up tomorrow – K’s breakfast 7.am.” we’ve got about two of our big ewers full- Mum sees visions of Butter. You’ll think the Nicks have never seen a cow before – but they’ve never had a family cow.

“Darky” is roaming the yard and likes bamboos, so do we, but she proceeded to demolish them, K and I went out to rescue – and she’s such a quiet beast that K put his arm round her neck and began talking to her – she lifted one foot and put it down suddenly on K’s, causing a tremendous roar from that individual: “Oh! me foot!” and she looked enquiringly and removed her pedal extremity – K says “seems to know, doesn’t she Queen?”

Darkie the Cow at the Nicholas household 1919
The picture of Beefine was found on the diary page.

Office bearing and who bears it –

  • Mont – morning milker
  • Ralph – evening milker
  • Kirby – Shed, yard-maker & gen.carpenter
  • Bob – Fodder grower (him?)
  • Dad – Foreman of building operation
  • Queen – Cream and butter expert (?)
  • Mum – Gen. Supervisor and administrator

They elected me to my position unanimously on account of my experience up at Dalwallinu! I’ll have to tell Mrs Garland all this.

Oh! Norman D. you don’t know what a blessing a cow is – see how it’s helped the snews along! What should I have done without it?

Someone’s yelling: “What abt this milk? It’s nearly boiling over,” and being head of that Dept I rush away. Trials have begun.

May 7 (Wednesday)


… Also Mum says that the “Dimboola” has to take her butter back to the East!!
… the dreadful unrest at F’tle among the lumpers who wouldn’t unload food from the Dimboola– we are out of sugar and butter – have been for a fortnight and still they don’t unload it – on Sunday they had a riot on the wharf and bridge.

The lumpers and their wives threw heavy stones at the motors conveying volunteer workers to the vessel and on the bridge they hurled missiles into the launches doing the same. In the afternoon they commenced with firearms and there was bloodshed among both parties Police and lumpers.

– therefore Mum bought a cow so that we may have butter, and all the great and wonderful experiences through which we have come – are they not written in the Snews ? I made ½ lb butter this morn in 5 mins (record for us). The cow gives 4 gals. a day (milk – not butter).

August 17 (Sunday)


What a glorious day! Just like spring. You should just hear our farmyard in the middle of the day. The kids are separated from their ma and call them every now and then in such woeful lament, and the mother answers with a deep Ba-a-a-. Then every time a fowl lays the whole of the fowl community commences rejoicings, prolonged and penetrating.

About ½ hr before milking time last night Mont let Darkey go for a stroll alone. He thought she wouldn’t go far, and when he required her presence at the operation of milking, he clambered onto the highest vantage (ie. Cowshed roof) and eagerly scanned the horizon. He began gently breathing her name when he saw her, gradually increasing until she turned her kind eyes toward him, then, putting all his powers of persuasion to work (rattling her tub handle etc) she slowly wander’d homeward impelled by the needs of the inner cow.

Leave a Reply

19 − fourteen =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.