Not Only The Need

Australian Workers Film Guide


Commissioned by the ACTU and produced by the Waterside Workers Film Unit, this social realist documentary explores the post-war housing crisis in 1950s Australia, highlighting the lack of affordable housing, the deplorable conditions in some of Sydney’s worst slums as well as the overcrowded and cramped living conditions faced by many Australian workers.  The film outlines a proposal by the ACTU to provide affordable housing to Australian workers.

The film opens with a quote from the 1944 Commonwealth Housing Commission report stating that ‘a dwelling of good standard….is not only the need but the right of every citizen’ – which became the inspiration for the title. The film was originally titled The Housing Problem and You and was intended to raise awareness of the ACTU’s People’s Housing Conference in 1957, a key plank in the ACTU’s campaign to make housing an issue in the upcoming 1958 federal election. After screening at public meetings, union events, factories and migrant camps, as well as on ABC TV, an additional seven minutes was added to the film and the title was changed to Not Only For the Need. This version premiered at the National People’s Conference in Melbourne in 1958. [1] [2]

The film opens with a panorama of Sydney’s slums, contrasted with images and voice over depicting the importance of a home, a place to live and be happy – a woman hanging washing in the backyard with baby in pram, children playing, a couple with a dog, happy and proud home owners, homes adorned with nice doors, names, numbers and planter boxes. These happy scenes are followed by the extensive footage depicting the destitution of Sydney’s slums, much of which was filmed in Paddington and Surry Hills. As children play in appalling poverty, the voice explains that 80,000 families live in sub-standard housing and 35,000 dwellings are officially condemned. Scenes follow showing families living in small hovels where they can hear their neighbours through thin walls, with children sleeping on mattresses in the living room.

The film then shifts gear and highlights the increasing demand for housing over images of an immigration and an immigrant camp, followed by footage of modern housing as well as industries that benefit from home construction, such as building and retail. The film presents facts and figures underscoring the decline in housing construction, and explains the reasons why it is so. A couple living in temporary housing abandons plans to build due to the prohibitive cost of borrowing. The film concludes with the ACTU’s national housing conference where a Commonwealth funded scheme to lower the cost of borrowing is proposed to kick start affordable home construction. This narrative is aided by shots of the Commonwealth Bank, the ACTU’s Albert Monk outlining the proposed measures and sequences of members of the Building Trades Union showing their support for the policy. Broadcast on the ABC, this was the first trade union film broadcast in Australia and was shown extensively during the 1958 federal election. The film screened in public meetings, union halls, technical colleges, town halls, council chambers, migrant camps, factories, hostels, immigrant camps and on building sites. In their kombi van, the film unit showed the film around Sydney’s inner suburbs. The film saw the Federal Government provide additional finance to state governments for housing. [3]

[1] De Souza P. (n.d.), Not Only the Need, Australian Screen [website], viewed Jan 18 2023  <>

[2] Milner, L. (2003), Fighting Films: A History of the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit, pp111-117, Pluto Press; North Melbourne.

[3] ibid.

Special Notes/Achievements

Featured on Fighting Films DVD. [1]

  • Broadcast on ABC TV, the first trade union film broadcast on Australian television. [2]

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

[2] Ibid.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 19 mins

Film Release Year:

Film Shooting Format:

Film Aspect Ratio:

Film Distribution Format: , ,

Film Colour:

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

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

Film Writer:

Film Key Cast:

Film Executive Producer:

Film Cinematographer:

Film Editor:

Film Sound Recordist:

Film Composer:

Film Production Company: