The Dalfram Dispute of 1938 occurred when Port Kembla workers refused to load pig iron onto the steamship Dalfram, headed for Japan, which was then at war with China. The action went against the Federal Lyons Government’s endorsed contract to provide 300,000 ton of pig iron to Japan. The Government ordered the ‘wharfies’ back to work, but they refused.
The WWF members believed that the ‘pig iron’ would come back to Australia in bombs and steel, and that the Japanese would use it against the Chinese in Manchuria. It was during the Dalfram Dispute that the title ‘Pig Iron Bob’ was coined in reference to the then Attorney General Robert Menzies.
At the opening ceremony of this monument, Maritime Union of Australia Branch Secretary Garry Keane said:
“They shut down the steel works for 11 weeks across Christmas and put around 4,000 people out of work. The intention was to put pressure on wharfies, but it had the opposite effect – the dispute got bigger and bigger. “
“It was a campaign not about terms and conditions of employment or wages or anything else, it was purely based on a moral stance against war.”
Workers picked the wharf, a women’s committee organized donations of food and rallied support for the strikers’ families and the Chinese community provided truckloads of produce from the Sydney markets. Support poured in from the public and other unions from throughout Australia and internationally.
The monument was dedicated in November, 2018, on the 80th anniversary of the event. The sculpture, funded by the New South Wales Government, represents a breaking of munitions and a breaking of the war. Ladders across the top of the structure represent the solidarity between the people of China and Australia during the protest. The 180 holes in the sculpture symbolize the workers who initiated the strike. A small brass plaque commemorating the strike had been installed on this site in 2006.