The Dalfram Dispute 1938 (Pig Iron Bob)

On November 15, 1938 the steamship Dalfram berthed at No. 4 jetty Port Kembla to load pig iron for Kobe, Japan. Ted Roach, Branch Secretary, addressed the men at the labour pick up for the Dalfram. He told the men of the destination of the pig iron and the use of the pig iron in the use of weapons – first to be used against the Chinese and they feared that eventually – against Australia.

At 11 am the men walked off the ship declaring they refused to load pig iron for Japan to turn into weapons. It led to an eleven week lock-out, with incredible pressure being applied by the government of the day. On the 11th of January 1939, Robert Menzies Attorney General at the time, came to Wollongong to sort out the dispute. He met with an angry crowd where a lady screamed out Pig Iron Bob for the first time. It lasted his lifetime.

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Pig Iron Bob: The Life and Legacy of Robert Menzies

Robert Menzies, often referred to as “Pig Iron Bob,” was a prominent figure in Australian politics during the mid-20th century. His long and influential career in politics earned him both admiration and criticism. This article delves into the life and legacy of Robert Menzies, exploring his political career, the origin of the nickname “Pig Iron Bob,” and the enduring impact he had on Australia.

Early Life and Education

Robert Gordon Menzies was born on December 20, 1894, in Jeparit, a small town in the state of Victoria, Australia. He was the fourth of five children in a family of Scottish descent. His early education was at local schools before he excelled at the University of Melbourne, where he studied law.

Political Career

Menzies’ political career began in the 1930s when he was elected as the Member of Parliament for the United Australia Party (UAP). He served as the Attorney-General and Minister for Industry and Science in the government of Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. It was during this time that Menzies gained the nickname “Pig Iron Bob” due to his controversial involvement in the Dalfram Dispute.

The Dalfram Dispute

The Dalfram Dispute, as briefly mentioned in the previous article, revolved around the shipment of pig iron from Australia to Japan in 1938, a move perceived as support for Japanese militarism. Menzies, as Attorney-General, played a central role in enforcing the British trade agreements and the Neutrality Act, which required the shipment to proceed. This decision was deeply unpopular, leading to significant labor unrest and protests, culminating in the violent confrontations in Port Kembla. The nickname “Pig Iron Bob” was bestowed upon him by his critics and political opponents, and it stuck with him throughout his career.

Formation of the Liberal Party

Menzies left the UAP in 1941 to form the Liberal Party of Australia. He became the Leader of the Liberal Party and, after the 1949 federal election, he became the Prime Minister of Australia, a position he held until 1966. His leadership during this period is highly regarded for several reasons.

  1. Economic Reform: Menzies oversaw a period of economic prosperity, focusing on trade liberalization, the development of industry, and the expansion of higher education.
  2. Foreign Policy: He strengthened Australia’s ties with the United States and the United Kingdom, particularly during the early years of the Cold War.
  3. Social Welfare: The Menzies government introduced numerous social welfare measures, such as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and the establishment of the Australian Universities Commission.


Robert Menzies remains one of Australia’s longest-serving and most influential Prime Ministers. His legacy is complex, with supporters praising his economic management and the creation of a distinct Australian identity in foreign policy. However, his role in the Dalfram Dispute and his sometimes authoritarian leadership style continue to be points of contention.

Menzies retired from politics in 1966 and was succeeded by Harold Holt. He later penned his memoirs and was made a Knight of the Thistle by Queen Elizabeth II, earning the title “Sir Robert Menzies.”

Indelible mark on Australian politics and society

Robert Menzies, also known as “Pig Iron Bob,” left an indelible mark on Australian politics and society. His contributions to economic growth and foreign policy, as well as his controversial role in the Dalfram Dispute, continue to be topics of historical discussion and debate. Regardless of one’s view of his legacy, there is no denying the significant impact he had on Australia during his time in office.