On May Day with Dave Kerrigan

Michael R Williams

It’s not the first time Barcaldine Labor member and Maranoa candidate Dave Kerrigan has run for a Federal or State election, but his convictions for the party he is loyal to have remained the same.

This year, however, will be the first election without friend and mentor, local legend, and equally passionate Labor supporter, Pat Ogden.

The passing of the former unofficial custodian of the Tree of Knowledge marred this year’s Barcaldine May Day march with a sense of loss but also pride over the achievements in his life.

Maranoa is a difficult seat for Labor, the Coalition took the seat with over three-quarters of the vote, and Labor would event fail to secure the second most votes have preferences to One Nation.

But Longreach born and Barcaldine local Mr Kerrigan is driven by his passion for the worker.

A passion instilled by his shearing father, a trade he would one day take on himself.

“One of the biggest shifts I’ve seen in our communities [since growing up] was in the sheep and wool industries,” he said.

“That was the main driver in our communities, and it still to an extent.

“Our services were the hospital and Councils – the railway was big, some towns had a lot of railway workers – but most people worked in the shearing industry.”

Mr Kerrigan, much like his father, would develop a deep passion for unionism.

“If you go and speak to some of the old bosses, they liked how the unions worked – there was more structure [in the shearing industry] then,” he said.

“There were no changing prices, or hours; there was no weekend work.

“Weekend work began to start to come in during the nineties, but the real big blow to the shearing industry was the stockpile.

“There was no incentive to grow high-quality wool, even the old owners will tell you it was a failure.”

Mr Kerrigan admires the industry standards, such as weekends and eight-hour-days, fought for by unions.

“Once you start losing your structures things start to fall apart,” he said.

Union ‘repping’ was done by the drawing ‘stands’.

“I went from school into the shearing industry, when I was sixteen I started shearing, and I would have to often have to go and front the boss,” he said.

“It wasn’t always about wages.

“It was confronting, especially as a young man.”

Solidarity would become a part of Mr Kerrigan’s very blood, going to union meetings, listening to the older fellas and what they went through.

“In every industry, mining, construction – you need to listen to the ones who have been there before,” he said.

“Growing up in Barcaldine – the history of the Labor party – the Globe Hotel, where nothing’s too good for the worker that wat Pat [Ogden’s] old motto, I’d go every afternoon and grab a packet of chips and a coke.

“Pat would try to pouch me for the local footy team, which he eventually did.”

This election, Mr Kerrigan is running his campaign on regional health.

“I’ve had several roles with Queensland Health – one of the first roles I had with them was as an ambulance driver, and didn’t that teach me a lot of things real quick,” he said.

“Especially working with nurses and doctors and that was quite a few years ago when we didn’t have QAS in a lot of these towns, and I’m so glad we have those services now.

“That was a real change for me going from shearing to driving an ambulance; you’ve got to be calm under pressure.”

After ambulance driving, Mr Kerrigan would take work in mining before returning to work in Drug and Alcohol Health and Indigenous Health.

“Over the years, especially through the drought, we’ve begun to do a lot of mental health programs,” he said.

“With the drought, the need for mental health workers had grown exponentially, and it is not just the drought – there are people in towns who need help too.

“RFDS, the Outback Mental Health Services, I’ve been lucky with them over the years and, recently, working for them.”

Mr Kerrigan said staffing Aged Care and Nursing homes were a major part of Labor’s platform for the election.

“I was really pleased to see Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, when he was grilled about paying for these programs, say, ‘we’ll stop wasting money’.”

“We need incentives for young people to come into nursing or allied health.

“We need to lift wages.”

Mr Kerrigan’s politics have been heavily influenced by Pat Ogden.

“Pat meant so much to me and a lot of people in Barcaldine and across the union and Labor movement,” he said.

“Living in the same town as Pat – watching Pat through the different stages of his life – so many people politicians or whoever, he was a person who made you feel good.

“Whether when he was in the pub, or he was riding around on his scooter – we’d go up into the tree and have a yarn, he was a unique person and clear on his views.

“His family come first – that was thing with Pat he say, ‘family first, Labor and unionism not too far behind.”

Mr Kerrigan said Pat was some everyone would want to be around, “it didn’t matter what colour shirt you wore”.

“I’ve seen people from the other side who had so much time for Pat,” he said.