Australian Workers Film Guide


Based on the autobiography Caddie, A Sydney Barmaid (1953),[1] the film tells the story of Caddie and her struggle to survive with two children after walking out on her wealthy but unfaithful and violent husband in the mid 1920’s. With no money, no job and no government support, Caddie moves to an inner city working class neighbourhood and finds work as a barmaid, enduring difficult and degrading conditions, in order to feed her two young children. Determined to survive, she battles through starvation and extreme poverty during the Depression years, highlighting the appalling plight of single mothers and the treatment of women.  

The film reveals the heartbreaking squalor and deprivation of working class inner Sydney, which is preyed upon by a wealthy landed class eager to extract every last penny from its demoralised inhabitants. 

While the book creates a strong working class representation of Caddie, the film, through the actress Helen Morse, presents a more refined character that has fallen from the suburbs into the working class.[2] This enables Caddie to connect with both the upper middle and working class worlds, focusing the viewer’s perception on her true friends and allies – which turn out to be other working class survivors. The working class character Josie, Caddie’s co-worker at the local pub, provides cheerful comradeship despite her own personal challenges, which includes a dangerous and degrading backyard abortion. Similarly, it’s the impoverished rabbit meat street sellers who rescue Caddie from starvation and get her back on her feet. This is contrasted with a scene towards the end of the film where she encounters her husband’s former mistress, now abandoned and suffering from tuberculosis.

Class struggle and working class solidarity are important themes in the film. As is the plight of women in a society racked with poverty and inequality.

[1] Blackshaw, A. (n.d.), Notable Australian Film From 1976 [website], NFSA, viewed 10 May 2022  <>

[2] Byrnes, P. (n.d.), Caddie [website], Australian Screen, viewed 10 May 2022 <>

Special Notes/Achievements

Produced with assistance of Australian Film Commission, Nine Television Network, Roadshow and in association with Australian National Advisory Committee International Women’s Year.

  • Commercial cinema release, 1976
  • Best Actress in a Lead Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role – AFI Awards (Aust), 1976
  • Best Screenplay, Best Achievement in Editing – San Sebastian International Film Festival (Spain), 1976

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 100 mins

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Film Key Cast: Helen Morse – Caddie, Jacki Weaver – Josie, Jack Thompson – Ted, Takis Emmanuel - Peter,

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