Bones Of Building

Australian Workers Film Guide


Commissioned in 1956 by the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia and made by the WWF Film Unit, Bones of Building is largely a dramatised film documenting the importance of safety regulations on high rise construction sites and the devastating health and family consequences for workers should they decide to ignore them.

Opening shots of completed high rise buildings in Sydney are followed by scenes of building construction showing concrete pouring, welding, men walking on elevated beams as well as dangerous crane operations. This informational style abruptly ends with a dramatised sequence of a building worker falling from a high rise, hitting the ground, and a wailing ambulance rushing to his aid. The informational style resumes as the dangers of construction with new tools and machinery are shown, a former worker with missing fingers is introduced, and over images of BWIU compensation records, the narrator informs us that one in every five workers is injured on building sites in New South Wales alone.

The film then introduces the dramatised case of William James Smith, the man who earlier fell from the construction high rise. Accompanied by his wife Marge, he is shown attending the Supreme Court on a stretcher and later transported home in an ambulance. An extensive flashback is shown of Bill leaving the army depot in civilian clothes, being approached in a pub to work on a building site, spending time with his girlfriend at the beach and getting married. Against a backdrop of Bill building a house, we experience a montage of newspaper headlines and images of housing poverty in which the post-war housing boom is replaced with high-rise construction.

Arriving at a high-rise construction site, Bill is a little uneasy about the height. Watched by the site foreman, Bill meets a union official who tells him about the importance of safety and to report any breaches of the safety regulations. Proceeded by a scene of another worker complaining to the foreman about safety, Bill is encouraged by the foreman to ignore safety concerns about dangerous scaffolding and get on with the job. Shortly afterward, a rotten plank gives way and Bill plunges several stories to the ground.  Wheeled by his wife into the garden, Bill sits next to a crying baby in a pram, while the narrator tells us that Bill should have called in the union.  

The film ends with Pat Clancy, Secretary of the BWIU, speaking to camera about hundreds of claims that his organisation does not want to see, and that’s why the union wants to be informed about safety issues.

A number of union officials and wharfies acted in the film. The lead character was played by waterside worker Dick Hackett, while wharfies Bob Evans and George Sharman played Bill’s mates. Jerome Levy played the foreman while BWIU union organizer Alex Wren and union secretary Pat Clancy played themselves. [1]

[1] Milner, L 2003, Fighting Films: A History of the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit, p82, Pluto Press; North Melbourne.

Special Notes/Achievements

The film was first screened in March 1956 and was shown at union meetings, training sessions and on building sites to thousands of building workers. The film also screened at the 1956 Melbourne Film Festival and toured the nation during the ACTU’s National Safety Week in 1957. The BWIU was satisfied with the film and it proved popular with building workers, which was aided by the use of the Film Unit’s kombi van for projection services. It was the first film shown on building sites in Australia. [2]

Featured on Fighting Films DVD. According to the audio commentary on the DVD, the script was adapted by Keoth Gow and Jerome Levy, while Norma Disher performed the role of production supervisor. [3]

[2] Milner, L 2003, Fighting Films: A History of the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit, pp 83-84, Pluto Press; North Melbourne.

[3] Fighting Films DVD (2006), Produced by Lisa Milner. [DVD] Sydney; Maritime Union of Australia.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 25 mins

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Film Director: Jerome Levy, Keith Gow,

Film Producer: Jerome Levy, Keith Gow, Norma Disher,

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Film Key Cast: Leonard Teale - Narrator, Dick Hackett - William James Smith, Nan Gow - Marge, Bob Evans - Bill’s Workmate, George Sharman - Bills’ Army Mate, Ken Warren - Foremen, Jerome Levy - Foremen, Alex Wren - BWIU Union Organiser, Pat Clancy - BWIU -Union Secretary,

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Film Cinematographer: Jerome Levy, Keith Gow,

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