Grandson rewrites history of violence

Last updated 08:00 08/12/2012

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David Walker's grandfather lived for most of his life with a bullet buried deep in his body.

How it got there was just an old family story, hardly ever mentioned.

But historians and journalists would have been intrigued to know that the retired policeman living quietly in Woodville was Gerald Wade, a central figure in Black Tuesday during the controversial Waihi goldminers' strike of 1912.

As a child, David was told that a man named Evans had shot his grandfather; he had hit Evans with his police baton and Evans had later died.

"That was it. There was no more detail or explanation at that time. No apportionment of blame. Certainly no gloating," Walker says today.

The story remained in the back of his mind as he grew up; he knew his grandfather, Constable Gerald Wade, service No 1475, had been wounded during the history-making strike.

But one day, as an adult working at Radio Station 3ZA Greymouth, he started leafing through a book about the strike and realised something was wrong.

"The story I was reading was at odds with my understanding," he says.

He began sifting through widely varying accounts of the shooting of Gerald Wade and its aftermath, finding inaccuracies and what he terms "incredible posturing and spin-doctoring after the event".

The result of this research is his newly published book, Shades of Black.

The self-funded book, encouraged by Waihi historians, was launched to coincide with the strike's 100th anniversary last month.

It's Walker's way of setting the record straight, with unbiased facts about Wade and Black Tuesday.

The story's background:

In 1912, 1600 goldminers, mostly union members, worked in the big mine at Waihi, a Coromandel "company town". It was planned to unite unions under one banner, giving them power to stage a strike. Up until then, unions and employers had settled their differences in the Arbitration Court.

Waihi stationary engine drivers felt a miners' union didn't meet their needs, so registered as a union with the Arbitration Court, as allowed under law.

The miners' union called a strike, hoping the mine owners would help bring the drivers back into the miners' union.

The drivers worked the steam engines that turned the winches lowering and hoisting the miners to and from work. Miners refused to be transported by them and so work ground to a standstill. The strike would last six months.

Feelings ran bitter. When the management recruited replacement workers into the new union so the mine could reopen, the town was split by animosity.

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About 80 policemen were sent to Waihi to control the upheaval.

Walker writes: "It was too much for one striker, Australian Frederick George Evans." Stationary engine driver Evans took a gun to the picket line, shot strike-breaker Thomas Johnston in the leg and fired at Wade. "As Wade took the bullet (to his stomach) he stopped the fleeing Evans with a blow from his police baton. Evans had enemies in the crowd. They beat him up and he didn't recover."

This disaster, he writes, led to the publication of a book called The Tragic Story of the Waihi Strike, in which "the injured constable's sworn testimony, taken at his hospital bed, and the coroners' court findings are sidelined in favour of a union version of the events . . . promoting Fred Evans to the status of martyr for the cause".

The event also spurred the entry of the Federation of Labour into politics, in turn leading to the formation of the modern-day New Zealand Labour Party.

Since then, Walker says, books, a radio play, a theatrical production and a television programme have all contained inaccuracies about the Wade/Evans story.

Wade is variously mentioned as having been killed; not been shot at all; not shot by Evans, or being slightly injured. In fact, he was in hospital five weeks and spent months recuperating. The bullet was lodged too close to his spine to be removed safely.

Walker points out that, when late Palmerston North author Stanley Roche was in the early stages of research for The Red and the Gold, her book about the strike, Gerald Wade was living "only minutes (away) from her . . . she could have talked to him, photographed his wound . . . but she didn't contact him, and nor did any other historian through the years, and we are the poorer for that".

David Walker says he didn't set out to write a definitive history, and wishes someone else could have written Shades of Black. But he says: "Never again can it be acceptable to portray the events of Black Tuesday and its legacy without acknowledging Constable Wade's perspective."

The constable, a farm boy, had been 27 and single when he was posted to Waihi.

Afterwards, he married Adeline Lindqvist, and worked as policeman and farmer. The Wades lived in Woodville in the 1940s and early 1950s and returned in the 1960s, moving in with their daughter Avice and her husband Don Walker (David's parents) at 28 Fox St. Gerald Wade, who loved "friends, fishing, gardens and grandchildren" died in 1964, and he - and Adeline, when she too died - had their ashes scattered at Palmerston North's Kelvin Grove cemetery.

Walker says Wade's own words stand as the final answer to all the questions. His statement never varied: "I know who shot me. I got my man."

Shades of Black ($18 including postage) is available at Tararua i-Site in Woodville, or online through wacma@waihimuseum.co.nz. Email: tinawhite29@gmail.com

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- Manawatu Standard

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