Kemira – Diary Of A Strike

Australian Workers Film Guide


Against a backdrop of economic recession, in September 1982 BHP announced the loss of 300 jobs at the Kemira Colliery near Wollongong. In an attempt to halt the retrenchments, 31 miners stayed down the mine for a period of two weeks, which culminated in hundreds of miners and unionists storming Parliament House in Canberra, catapulting the dispute into the national spotlight and cementing it as one of Australia’s most significant industrial events.

The daily unfolding of these momentous events were captured in Tom Zubrycki’s iconic film Kemira: Diary of a Strike. Situating the dispute within a historical context of hard work and political struggle, the film opens with archive of miners working underground as well as above ground images of protest, largely derived from Hewers of Coal (1957). Over struggle town images of Wollongong, radio commentary about the retrenchments sets the scene, followed by a re-enactment of the miners occupying the mine. The film then combines observational footage of the unfolding events from the miners’ perspective, interspersed with interviews of the miners and their wives. 

While the miners’ wives set up a support services on the surface, we see fellow miners and their union set up an embassy at the pit top. There is also poor quality underground footage shot by one of the miners during the sit in. Widespread community support is shown by protest marches through the streets of Wollongong and the Miners Women’s Auxiliary is depicted as strongly supporting the efforts of the men. The impact of the sit in on families is explored by profiling the daily struggle of a miner’s wife, where we see her doing a milk run to make ends meet.

The lack of progress is demonstrated by excerpts from the Coal Tribunal hearing, prompting miners and other unionists to board a train for Canberra where they end up storming Parliament House.  This dramatic footage includes speeches by union leaders inside the building, a demand to speak to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, as well as ALP Leader Bill Hayden speaking to the crowd on the steps.

The film then charts the aftermath of the events in Canberra, where the women talk of company harassment, the Tribunal extending employment for just two weeks, followed by their inevitable retrenchment, tumultuous scenes as the men protest union meetings and outside company offices, as well as a 120km ‘Right to Work’ march to Sydney.  The film concludes with a series of follow up interviews nine months later, where we learn how the milk run miner’s wife is now separated and doing it tough. Her husband contemplates leaving town for work but does not want to be so far from his kids. Meanwhile, the Hawke Labor Government announces generous financial aid to BHP. The film ends with another unemployed miner fishing on the jetty, hoping to sell his catch for a few dollars around town and contemplating recent events, where he acknowledges the necessity of what they had to do, while also commenting that his participation has seen him blacklisted.

Special Notes/Achievements

  • Best Documentary, AFI (Aust), 1984
  • Best Film, Tyneside Film Festival (UK), 1984
  • Official selection – Sydney Film Festival (Aust), 1984
  • Official selection – Melbourne International Film Festival (Aust), 1984
  • Official selection – Berlinale (Germany), 1984
  • Official selection – Leipzig Film Festival (Germany), 1984
  • Official selection – Festival de Popoli (Italy), 1984 [1]

[1] Tom Zubrycki (n.d.), Kemira – Diary Of A Strike [website], viewed Jan 10 2023 <>

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 59 mins 40 secs

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