Without work, nothing': A study of the changing attitudes towards the swagger in the 1890s
Brownlie, Helen J
The swagger has been preserved for posterity in the writings of John A. Lee in ‘Shining With Shiner’, ‘Shiner Slattery’, and ‘Roughnecks, Rollingstones and Rouseabouts’, as well as Jim Henderson's ‘Swagger Country’. But no serious attempt has been made to discover why the swagger began to die out during the 1890s. This essay attempts to trace some of these reasons: the changing country, the changing type of farming and the resulting changing attitudes towards the swagger, so that in a sense he was forced to conform or to become an outcast. The swagger, in early New Zealand, was part of a rural system, he had a place within the workforce, whether he was going to the farms, to the goldfields, or to the kauri gum areas. In a frontier society, the only way to get about cheaply was to walk. But overall the swagger is associated with the development of pastoralism, the big estates and runs, the generous owner or manager who provided hospitality in the form of shelter, food and work in season. Where wool was plentiful, and meat a waste product, it could be generously given out to all swaggers who called. It was a period when there was little in the way of social services - no poorhouse, no poor law, no minimum wage, no Factory Act (except one which applied only to women, but was largely unobserved). There were no labour laws, no old age pensions, no unemployment benefits, and no sustenance payments. When these welfare aids actually came into existence, as the majority did in the 1890s, there had to be a change in the composition and numbers of swaggers. Changes came about with the Old Age Pension Act of 1898, with the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1894, with the development of trade unions within the rural sector, and the establishment of the Labour Department in 1892 to coordinate work and workers. Throughout this essay, the reader must be aware that these changes were taking place at the end of the nineteenth century - New Zealand was growing up and the frontier-type swagger had no place in a modern society. Gradually his ranks diminished until only one part remained - the professional swagger, the man on the road out of choice. Chapter One, therefore, investigates what constitutes a swagger. It should be noted at this stage, that the swagger was indigenous to both Australia and New Zealand, therefore examples and more particularly verse have been taken from both countries, until Chapter Six, when we discuss the difference between the Australian and New Zealand versions. Chapter Two looks at the men within the swagger ranks, and their reasons for being there - for work, for personal reasons, for reasons beyond their control. Chapter Three looks at the changing attitudes of the people within the rural and urban systems. This change in attitude is significant because it meant that the swagger was no longer accepted as a necessity, but came to be regarded as a nuisance. The swagger was discouraged and therefore tended to decline in numbers. Chapter Four looks at explanations as to why the swagger ceased, and what happened to him. Chapter Five looks very briefly at why the swagger was revived in the 1920s and 30s, the depression swagger and in what ways he was different from his counterpart in the nineteenth century. Chapter Six, as mentioned before, looks at the differences between the Australian and New Zealand swagger. It will be argued that the feeling of mateship that the Australian swagger held so dear, was not so evident in the New Zealand context. Having come to the end of the essay, it is hoped that the reader will have a better idea of the forces behind the decline of swaggers on the road; the most notable being a changing attitude which the Labour Department motto sums up: 'Without work, nothing'.
Advisor: Brooking, Tom
Degree Name: Postgraduate Diploma in Arts
Degree Discipline: History
Research Type: Dissertation