Tinsmithing as a trade no longer exists today, like so many other skill sets, it has been subsumed by the nature of human inventiveness. The skills have not been erased however, rather they have evolved and migrated; mechanisation and new technologies not only speed a once hand laboured process they also extend the parameters of the product. Tinplate was for centuries manufactured to a size (14 x10 inches) determined by the convenience of handling by one man. Today sheet metal workers use computers to cut and form metal at scales more akin to the urban landscape. We can trace the tinsmiths’ Australian history through the evolution of the trade unions:

Originally registered as the Amalgamated Tinsmiths’ Sheet Metal Workers’ Cannister Makers’ Gas Meter Makers’ & Assistants’ Union in 1911, this union’s lineage actually dates back to the United Tinsmiths’ Ironworkers’ and Japanners’ Society of Victoria which operated from 1883. From 1913 the Amalgamated Tinsmiths’ Sheet Metal Workers’ Cannister Makers’ Gas Meter Makers’ & Assistants’ Union had changed to become the Sheet Metal Working Industrial Union of Australia. During the mid 1940s, members of the soon-to-be deregistered Federated Agricultural Implement & Stovemakers’ Porcelain Enamellers’ & Ironworkers’ Association of Australia began to fill the ranks of the Sheet Metal Working Industrial Union of Australia to the extent that by 1945, the union changed its name to the Sheet Metal Working Agricultural Implement & Stove Making Industrial Union of Australia. This union was itself deregistered in 1972. Many of its members, however, were inducted into the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which a year later became the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union.

So the sometimes itinerant, often self taught craftsman has morphed into a powerful political force of our present time.

Labour Day commemorates Australian workers winning the battle for an eight hour working day. The original 1856 celebration march became a hugely popular annual procession. In 1915, The Argus described the procession:‘Eight Hours Day dawned grey and unpromising, with a raw wind and a threat of rain. The faint booming of drums from the Trades Hall kept the waiting people happy and hopeful, looking down the street whence swept majestically the first banner, its colours subdued by the distance, and led by the professional musicians. The banner of the timber-workers, drawn by white horses, gaily decked, was followed by a good muster of workmen. The banner of the painters and decorators was in a florid style, one of the best designs in the procession. It was one of the new banners for the year. Leading the tinsmiths were two knights in shining armour, they gleamed like animated tinware booths, and were very impressive.’

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