Toowoomba event honours Emma Miller, legend for working women

One hundred years after her death in Toowoomba, labour legend Emma Miller and her hat-pin are still making news in the Garden City.

On Friday 20 January local union members will join with other prominent state and national labour movement figures at a gala dinner to honour the life and achievements of Ms Miller, who died in January 1917.

Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney, Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan and Senator Claire Moore will speak at the Picnic Point function.

QCU General Secretary Ros McLennan said Emma Miller was known as a pioneer of the trade union movement and the Labour Party in Queensland.

“Her achievements fighting for equal opportunity for Queensland women and workers are legendary, and her courage and energy ensure an enduring legacy to this day,” she said.

The statue of Emma Miller (with her hat-pin) that stands in King George Square.

The diminutive Miller was also famous for sticking her hat-pin into the rump of the Police Commissioner’s horse as he led a police charge on women marchers at a rally outside Parliament House during the 1912 General Strike. He was thrown from his mount and badly injured.

Miller, a seamstress, championed equal pay and equal opportunity for women and in 1890 she helped to form a female workers’ union, mainly of tailoresses.

In 1891 she gave evidence to the royal commission into shops, factories and workshops and marched with shearers’ strike prisoners when released.

She was the first woman to travel west organising for the Australian Workers’ Union and was the first woman member and a life member of the Brisbane Workers Political Organisation.

The Worker newspaper in January 1917 remembered Emma Miller:

“She was only a little handful – so frail in body – but she had the courage of a lion and her energy was marvellous… Her keen intellect, her magnetic personality and above all her wonderful devotion to the cause were a continual source of inspiration … as a champion of the rights of women she was without equal …”

Toowoomba QCU Branch President Chris McGaw said Emma Miller died on 22 January 1917 after travelling here to rest during a battle with cancer.

“History tells us that in her final days she still found the energy to hold a meeting with local union members and workers,” he said.

“At her last public meeting in the Toowoomba Botanical Gardens she reportedly told women present that they needed to ‘play a part in the Labor movement as it meant as much to them as the men’.

“Two days later she died – but she is not forgotten. Her good work and legacy lives in the impressive and committed women who followed her into the labour movement,” Mr McGaw said.

Emma Miller is immortalised by a plaque in Queens Park listing her achievements and a statue in Brisbane’s King George Square.

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