Western Australian Government

In 1946, at the time of the strike, Western Australia had a Labor government under Premier Frank Wise.

The Liberal government which took office within the first year of the strike, with Ross McLarty as Premier, remained in power until February 1953. During the period of this government, policy in regard to Aboriginal people in the north shifted gradually away from a prioritisation of the labour needs of the pastoral industry towards policy focused on assimilation. For a time in the early 1950s, an amicable relationship was established between government and the Pilbara cooperative. Although this may have had as much to do with the economic success of the mining venture as with shifting government attitudes, Don McLeod often claimed that the movement received better treatment from Liberal governments than it did from Labor ones.

Labor again took office in February 1953 and remained in power under Premier Bert Hawke until 1959.

The Member for Pilbara in the state’s Legislative Assembly throughout the 1940s was Labor MLA William (Bill) Hegney, a member of the state executive of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU). In line with the AWU’s anti-communist stance, Hegney opposed the strike, arguing thatMcLeod was exploiting Aboriginal people for his own political ends. In 1947, Hegney warned Aboriginal men employed on the Port Hedland wharf that they would lose their AWU membership if they engaged with McLeod in political activity in support of other Aboriginal workers. Although both were union men, enmity between McLeod and Hegney dated back to 1943, when McLeod stood against Hegney as an Independent Labor candidate for Pilbara in the state election. Hegney’s Catholicism and McLeod’s anti-Catholic sentiments were a further cause of enmity between the two men, McLeod describing Hegney as ‘a bigoted Catholic and frenzied anti-communist’ and ‘the Pope’s man’. In 1950 Hegney switched from Pilbara to the Perth seat of Mount Hawthorn, serving as Minister for Native Welfare from 1953 to 1956.

In the 1950s the Labor Member for Pilbara was Aloysius (Loy) Rodoreda (also called Rod). In 1951, Rodoreda visited cooperative camps and was impressed by the group’s achievements. He expressed his support for the movement, and remained supportive throughout the decade.