Deep Bells Ringing – The Life And Songs Of Paul Robeson

Australian Workers Film Guide


Commissioned by the Builders Workers Industrial Union of Australia, this documentary recounts the Australian visit of American bass baritone artist and political activist Paul Robeson. The film partly chronicles Robeson’s life and work, while giving an in depth account of his visit to the construction site of the Sydney Opera House in 1960, where he sang Old Man River to construction workers. This would be the first performance ever by a major artist at the Sydney Opera House, [1] and according to the film, this would also be his final public performance.

The film combines historical elements, including black and white archive of Robeson singing in Sydney, with contemporary footage of a commemorative performance at the Sydney Opera House on September 22nd 1987. The theatre program was sponsored by the BWIU. 

On the steps of the Opera House, a group of singers perform some of Robeson’s works, while others recite his writings and statements. Various speakers highlight his contribution to political activism, the rights of workers and civil rights. These speakers include Ernie Boatswain, National Assistant Secretary of the BWIU; Stan Sharkey, National Assistant Secretary of the BWIU; author Nancy Wills; musical director Margaret Roadknight; and play director Errol O’Neill. 

A worker who was there when Robeson visited recounts the stop work meeting at which he sang and talks about how he was an international figure in the working class movement.

The film also includes excerpts from the theatre performance.

[1] Sydney Opera House (n.d.), Interesting facts about the Sydney Opera House [website], viewed 20 May 2022 <>

Special Notes/Achievements

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 30 mins 30 secs

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Film Key Cast: Kym Ford - Stage singer, Chris Herdon - Stage singer, Mark Penman - Stage singer, Margaret Roadnight - Stage singer, Jeanne Lewis - Stage singer, Patsy McCarthy - Theatre actor, Errol O’Neill - Theatre actor,

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