There’s an Australian town whose interest in the humble chicken egg led to the country’s most famous egg of all. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.
It was in 1917 during campaigning for the second referendum for the introduction of conscription during the First World War. The Australian prime minister Billy Hughes stepped onto the platform at the Warwick railway station and into the middle of a howling mob. An egg was thrown at the prime minister which knocked off his hat and pandemonium broke out.
It was rumoured that a Queensland policeman refused to arrest the perpetrator, and so it’s that egg that was responsible for the founding of the Australian Federal Police.
But the truth is that a Patrick Brosnan was indeed arrested for throwing the egg. He was later convicted of creating a disturbance and fined ten shillings. Brosnan was also later convicted of stealing jewels from jewellery store on Albert Street in Brisbane and sentenced to three years with hard labour. Incidentally, the store was owned by Samuel Sheppard whose son later got divorced after his wife had an affair with her own cousin.
That’s the story about Australia’s most famous egg, but egg throwing actually first made the headlines a year earlier in another Queensland city, that of Ipswich. The humble egg took hold of Ipswich’s history and became a recurring theme there like nowhere else for the next century.
It was in 1916 during the campaign for the first referendum for conscription when one of the largest meetings ever held in Ipswich took place on Nicholas Street. The senator Matthew Reid and former Queensland premier Robert Philp addressed the crowd. They were met with a fierce barrage of eggs, and they were mostly in a foul stage of decay. This foray into the egg world predated the more famous encounter by that of the prime minister by twelve months.
Ipswich’s fascination with egg throwing continued after the war as well.
In 1930, while the future premier William Forgan Smith was holding an open-air meeting on the corner of Brisbane and Nicholas streets, a rotten egg was thrown close to where he was standing, and the contents splashed over several of the listeners.
In 1931, General Sir William Glasgow and Josiah Francis addressed a meeting from the back of a lorry in Bell Street. General Glasgow was a veteran of both the Boer and First World wars, and a Queensland senator, while Francis was a member of federal parliament whose grandfather had twice been mayor of Ipswich. The meeting was one of the rowdiest ever held in Ipswich. The speakers delivered their addresses amid an unceasing flow of interjections. An egg was hurled through the air, but it smashed against a shop window.
After the Second World War, food rationing continued for a number of years and of course Ipswich, and eggs, were impacted.
In 1945, three thousand six hundred people in Ipswich were excited to get their allocation of eggs. They included expectant mothers, nursing mothers, and the next generation of egg lovers, children aged from six months to five years old.
Egg excitement continued in the district and in 1950, there was uproar at a public meeting in Rosewood. It was over the rising price of eggs which at the time were three shillings and threepence a dozen. When the government minister Bill Moore was asked what the government intended to do about it, six fresh eggs were thrown at him. They all missed him, but Mr. Moore responded by saying, “There doesn’t seem to be any worry about the price of eggs here.”
Ipswich’s love affair with eggs also included the size of them.
In 1921, Michael Alexandrovitch Sverdloff was a Russian immigrant from Siberia living at 351 Brisbane Street, West Ipswich. The location hosts just modern commercial buildings today. His son Boris later got into trouble for running over an old-aged-pensioner outside the Cribb and Foote garage. Mick Sverdloff himself is notable for his Australorp hen that laid eggs as big as four and three-quarter ounces. This was quite possibly the Australian record. It’s an egg three-times bigger than the large ones we get in the shops today, and way bigger than your fist.
Mick’s chook may have held the record for some time with its eggs weighing in modern terms one hundred and thirty-five grams. But in 2015 a whopping two hundred and seven gram egg was laid at nearby Jimboomba, and even that was beaten in 2020 by an egg weighing two hundred and nine grams from just outside of Canberra.
With eggs that big, if Billy Hughes was around today, even he the Little Digger would be very nervous indeed.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON RADIO.
Historic love affair with eggs – Harold Peacock.
Who threw that egg – Australia’s Pioneer Co-operative Labour Journal 27 December 1917 via Wikipedia Commons.
Sir Robert Philp c1912 – State Library of Queensland.
William Forgan Smith c1925-1929 – State Library of Queensland.
Josiah Francis 1932 – National Library of Australia.
Michael Alexandrovich Sverdloff – Find a Grave uploaded by Shane Sverdloff 2019.