The Emma Miller Award for Women Unionists

By Williams, Barbara | Hecate, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Emma Miller Award for Women Unionists


Williams, Barbara, Hecate


The Emma Miller Award for Women Unionists

Emma Miller is a legend. However it has taken some considerable efforts over the years in Queensland to elevate and maintain her status despite the powerful labour legends of rural male workers. Miller is particularly famous for her self-defence with her hatpin against the horse of Major Cahill, the Police Commissioner, during the General Strike in Brisbane in 1912, when huge demonstrations led by contingents of women including Emma, then aged 73, were attacked by armed and mounted police.(1) The Worker reported at the time of the demonstration:

the spirit imparted to the movement by Mesdames Miller, Huxham, Bowman, Finney and Pegg, and numerous other sterling women workers, has added much more than sentimental weight to the present fight for unionism.(2)

Emma Miller became known as `the grand old woman of Queensland labour.' She was held in such esteem by workers and women that a collection was raised for a marble bust upon her death in 1917. Following the publication of Pam Young's biography, Proud to Be a Rebel, in 1991, the Trades and Labor Council(3) in 1992 lobbied the Brisbane City Council to rename Roma Street Forum as Emma Miller Place. This was achieved and celebrated on 9 April 1992 on the 90(th) anniversary of white women's vote in Australia. In 1993 the TLC sponsored a bronze statue of Emma Miller that resides in King George Square. The women's committee was involved with the dedication of a meeting room in the new TLC building in Peel Street to which they moved following the demolition of the fine old Trades' Hall, to Emma. This was celebrated in 1994, when the General Secretary invited members of Emma's family, trade unionists and Pam Young to a special function. The Emma Miller room is the sometime home of an exquisite 3 panel fabric art work, featuring Emma and celebrating women workers, the work of Brisbane artist Rachel Apelt and a highly sought after and much travelled exhibit around galleries and museums across the country.(4)

As a further tribute to her pioneering spirit, and to celebrate the achievements of contemporary union women, the QCU Women's Committee hosted the inaugural Emma Miller Awards Dinner in 1997. This has become a significant and moving annual event for women trade unionists that recognises and promotes the achievements of rank and file women in the labour movement. Claire Moore, who was involved with the setting up of the award, provided these comments on the history of it:

The womens committee, inspired by the book, was determined to commemorate Emma and to invigorate women in the union movement. …

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