Blood On The Coal

Australian Workers Film Guide


Released commercially in Queensland cinemas in 2015, this feature length documentary recounts the turbulent history of the Queensland coalfields and articulates contemporary challenges facing mineworkers and their communities.

A story written in the blood of mineworkers and their families, the film features harrowing underground disasters, heroic rescues and traces a history of strikes, industrial turmoil and the ongoing push by global mining corporations to undermine local communities by replacing their local workforces with fly in fly out workers. [1]

The story is told through a rich tapestry of powerful interviews, spanning multiple generations and regions of the Queensland coalfields. This is combined with emotional participant visits to bygone mining places and disaster sites. The drama is further enhanced with the use of poignant stills, newspaper headlines and extensive rare archive footage.

The opening scene sets the tone of the film, when a former miner and his daughters travel to remote Mt Mulligan to see the grave of a family member killed in the 1921 mine explosion.  The history of Queensland’s worst mining disaster, which took the lives of 75 men, is explored in depth. This is followed by an exploration of the dangerous and poverty racked Ipswich coalfield in the south of the state, also featuring interviews and contemporary scenes with legendary union leaders such as Digger Murphy. 

The film recounts the ongoing historical class struggle against the excesses of the aristocratic coal barons, which was followed by global mining corporations. The harsh conditions bred a growing sense of solidarity as the miners organised and began to fight back, epitomised by the 1949 National Coal Strike and the Collinsville Staydown strike of 1952.

The miners recount how the introduction of modern machinery in the post war years added a new dimension to the dangers lurking below, with men maimed and killed at an appalling rate. Large scale mine explosions and disasters happened on a regular basis, such as the 1954 Collinsville gas outburst, the Box Flat explosion in 1972, Kianga in 1975, Moura in 1986 and then again in 1994.  Together they represent a devastating series of disasters that claimed the lives of over 50 men. 

Through incredible eye-witness accounts from the miners themselves, the film spends a great deal of time recounting these horrific disasters, as well as the long term emotional and physical scars that the men and their communities still carry with them. Revisiting Box Flat, one disaster survivor spontaneously lifts his shirt to show shocking scars across his body. At Kianga, a lonely mineworker stands in a desolate field pointing to his mates that are still buried underground and angrily denouncing a system that saw no one prosecuted for a disaster that could have been avoided. Talking about Moura in 1986, miners recount how so many were prepared to risk their lives to save their mates trapped underground.

The interviews surrounding the 1994 Moura disaster are particularly shocking. We learn of gas alarms being turned off by management to increase production and the miraculous and brave escape of a small crew of men from deep in the mine after the explosion. Sadly many of their mates are still buried deep underground.  As one of the few examples of miners surviving a coal mine explosion anywhere in the world, these extraordinary interviews are rare, moving and highly emotional. For some of the men, it was the first time they had recounted their experiences to anyone.

The film then shifts gear to the bitter industrial battles of the 1980s and 1990s. This includes the 1980 Housing Tax Revolt, an episode in which the future Prime Minister John Howard ended up in a headlock outside the Capricorn Hotel in Blackwater. Other disputes covered are the Gordonstone dispute from 1997 to 1998, Blair Athol from 1999 to 2007, and the BHP dispute in 2012. Blair Athol was Australia’s longest running industrial dispute. In the Gordonstone dispute we see how men and women spent two years on a picket line in the searing outback heat, and how the American owned company sent armed security guards into town to harass the miners and their wives.

The film concludes with the latest assault by global mining companies; the imposition of fly in fly out workforces that threaten to extinguish mining towns and their communities entirely. Returning to Collinsville, the film reveals how mineworkers and their families are once again defending their livelihoods and communities. As the film demonstrates, they draw on a rich history of social action, mateship and solidarity. The film ends with an emotional Miners Memorial Day Service at Collinsville, as miners and their families come from across Queensland to pay their respects to their comrades killed in Queensland’s mines. 

[1] Bird, J. & Gorman, P. (2015), Blood on the Coal [website], viewed 25 June 2021 <>

Special Notes/Achievements

Following a vote of the rank and file union membership, this film was fully funded by the CFMEU Queensland Mining & Energy Division.

  • Limited Commercial Cinema Release, Event Cinemas – Queensland (Aust) 2015.
  • Official selection – Cincinnati Film Festival (USA), 2015
  • Official selection – Louisville’s International Festival of Film (USA), 2015
  • Official selection – River’s Edge International Film Festival (USA), 2015
  • Official selection – The Artist Circle Selection, The NOVA Fest (USA) 2016
  • Gold Kahuna Award, Documentary Feature Competition – Honolulu Film Awards (USA) 2016
  • Sir Edmund Hillary Award, Documentary Competition – Mountain Film Festival (USA) 2016
  • Award of Excellence, Documentary Feature – Impact DOCS Award (USA) 2016
  • 2015 Humanitarian Award, Outstanding Achievement The IndieFest, (USA)
  • Humanitarian Award – Outstanding Achievement – Global Film Awards (USA) 2015
  • Platinum Award, Documentary Film Competition – Oregon Film Awards (USA), 2015
  • Silver Award, Documentary Film Competition – California Film Awards (USA), 2015
  • Gold Remi Award, Documentary – WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival (USA), 2015
  • Award of Excellence, Feature Documentary – The Indie Fest (USA), 2015 Award of Excellence, Feature Documentary – The Accolade Global Film Competition (USA), 2015

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 103 mins

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Film Producer: Xanon Murphy, Sofia Madden,

Film Writer: Jeff Bird, Paddy Gorman,

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Film Executive Producer: Paddy Gorman, Piers Grove,

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Film Sound Recordist: Ben Cunningham, John Roy,

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