How The West Was Lost

Australian Workers Film Guide


Told through the eyes of the strikers themselves, this groundbreaking feature documentary recounts the 1946 Aboriginal pastoral strike in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. Fighting against slavery, poor conditions and being treated like animals, over 800 Aboriginal workers walked off sheep stations sparking what was the first industrial action by Aboriginal people.  Officially lasting three years, it would become the longest strike in Australian history, and continued thereafter as a struggle for Aboriginal rights and dignity in Western Australia.

The film is driven by a distinctively indigenous style of storytelling, featuring in-situ interviews with the participants as they recount events, combined with re-enactments, extensive historical footage and photographs of events and places, newspaper headlines and government transcripts. The film reveals the workings of the Native Administrative Act, which denied aboriginal people freedom of movement and made them prisoners to land holders.

Strikers are seen re-enacting the police chaining them together, and visiting the cells where they were imprisoned.  The film features strike organisers Dooley Bib Bin, Clancy McKenna and supporter Don McLean, as well as the role of communist activism and contemporary ancestor sit-ins against mining companies. Of particular interest is the Seaman’s Union black ban on wool from these Western Australian slave stations, and how striking Aborigines pioneered mining in the Pilbara, enabling some communities to buy back some of the stations they once worked on.

Special Notes/Achievements

Produced with assistance of Creative Development Fund, Australian Film Commission.

  • Human Rights Documentary Film Award, 1987
  • Nominated for 5 AFI Awards (Aust), 1987 [1]
  • Official selection – Edinburgh International Film Festival (UK), 1987
  • Official selection – Leipzig International Festival of Documentary and Animation Films (Germany), 1987
  • Official selection – Nyon Film Festival (Switzerland), 1987
  • Official selection – Hawaii International Film Festival (USA), 1988
  • Official selection – Aboriginality – Berlin (Germany), 1993 [2]

[1] Ronin Films (n.d.), How The West Was Lost [website], viewed 5 Jan 2023 <>

[2] Screen Australia (n.d.), How The West Was Lost, The Screen Guide [website], viewed 5 Jan 2023 <>

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 4 mins 35 secs

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Film Producer: Heather Williams, David Noakes,

Film Writer: David Noakes, Paul Roberts,

Film Key Cast: Roland Paver – Clerk/Voice of Aboriginal Protector, Ramsey McLean – Commissioner of Native Affairs/Voice of Sir John Forrest and Pastoralist, Jerry Thomas – Priest, Gerald Hitchcock – Voice of Secretary to Government, Laura Black - Narrator,

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Film Sound Recordist: Michael Raynes, Bob Hayes,

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