"Eight hours' labour, eight hours' leisure, eight hours' rest".
This was the slogan coined in 1817 by Robert Owen, the Welsh textile manufacturer and philanthropic social reformer, who was known for his efforts to improve working conditions of his factory workers.
The Eight Hour Movement spread across England in a time when a typical working day could range from 10 to 16 hours, and the work week was typically six days a week.
A proposal to inaugurate an eight-hour day celebration in Lithgow was made at a public meeting in the Oddfellows Hall on August 28, 1900.
The first eight-hour day committee was formed to organise a procession, luncheon and a sports day that catered for all classes of athletes, boys, girls, young men, middle-aged men and old men. The committee members were Mr R Northey (Secretary), Messrs J Summons, J Thirwell, W Slattery, R Bolton, J H McGuiness, S Hobbs and the chairman, Mr W Aubrey.
The Eight Hour Day procession, or more accurately the demonstration, which proceeded down Lithgow's Main Street to the sportsground was held in October each year and the photos of these processions were sold as postcards which have found their way into the collections of many local families.
At the public meeting held in front on the grandstand at the showground on October 9, 1900, Mr Thirwell stated that the men who had the right of eight hours as a fair day's work ought to try and secure the same boon to others who were unable to obtain it for themselves.
He stated there were many in the Valley who, unfortunately, were placed in such a position and regarded the demonstration that day as being the starting-point of getting the various trades into line.
This first procession was led by Mr J Summons, the marshal and the town band. At least 20 employee groups marched in the first parade, most behind huge banners created especially for the day.
In later years prizes were awarded for the best groups in the procession, including a section for comic displays which attracted the attention of other members of the community.
In 1911 this section was won by a display entitled 'Wattle Blossom'. Other comic displays included a dog harnessed to a miniature cart being driven by a little girl, a cart drawn by a goat and a cart decked out as a laundry. A grotesquely attired figure astride an ox created considerable amusement.
The streets were always lined with dense crowds, which greeted the various displays with applause or laughter as the occasion demanded and followed the procession to the sportsground for the afternoon's entertainment.
The Lithgow 8-Hour Day committee held heated discussions about the change of its name to Six-Hour Day committee in August 1925 in anticipation of the materialisation of the eight-hour day. The committee continued to advocate for better conditions and shorter working hours, but the heady days of the processions down Main Street, Lithgow were but memories.
- Jan Saundercock is from the Lithgow & District Family History Society.