Red Matildas

Australian Workers Film Guide


In a world of mass unemployment and extreme poverty, three Australian women recount their embrace of communist ideals during the turbulent days on the Great Depression, and their fight against fascism in the lead up to the Second World War. 

A fascinating insight into the social, economic and political forces in Australia at that time, the film covers their involvement in the Communist Party of Australia and the Young Communist League, the struggle for equality of women in education and the workplace, the hardship of motherhood and the lack of financial support, the campaign to defeat fascism in Spain, as well as an enduring working class fight against unemployment, poverty and war. Seen through these women’s eyes and experiences, the USSR is perceived as a socialist alternative to working class misery, and an ideal for which they would risk their lives and livelihoods. 

Mary Pennefather’s service as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War is covered in depth, with extensive archive and stills of the brutal conflict that saw a democratically elected government overthrown by a fascist dictatorship – a dress rehearsal for Hitler’s war on the world. Joan Goodwin joined the Young Communist League and spoke publicly against the war, for which she was sacked from her job.

At its conclusion, the film covers the women’s contemporary commitment to the peace movement and nuclear disarmament, where they draw parallels with the struggles of the 1930s. Printing leaflets, creating a poster and typing, Joan, May and Audrey sum up the continuing struggle. May says, “There’s still a fight for the working class people, against those who would drag us into war and throw people out of work so they can just maintain their profits…It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” Audrey states, “So again, the people have got to gather their forces, they’ve got to organise and they’ve got to unite…the working people and all their allies can have victories again.” Over the credits, the women are seen walking together in a peace march through Melbourne’s streets.

The on camera interviews are interwoven with an impressive array of archive and stills depicting places and events in Australia and abroad. There is some rarely seen footage of 1930s Melbourne, along with imagery of marches by the unemployed.

Special Notes/Achievements

Produced with the assistance of Film Victoria, the Women’s Film Fund, the Creative Development Branch of the Australian Film Commission, the Women and Labour Conference Trust Fund, Australian Bank Employees’ Union – Victorian Division and the Vehicle Builders’ Federation – Victorian Division.

  • Broadcast on ABC TV 1985
  • Official selection – Melbourne International Film Festival (Aust), 1985
  • Official selection – Nyon Film Festival (Switzerland), 1985
  • Official selection –Toronto International Film Festival (Canada), 1985
  • Official selection – Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival (USA), 1985
  • Leipzig International Documentary Festival (Germany), 1985
  • Best Australian Short Film, Melbourne International Film Festival (Aust), 1985
  • Special Jury Prize, Leipzig International Documentary Festival (Germany), 1985
  • Soviet Filmmakers’ Union Award, Tashkent International Film Festival (Uzbekistan), 1985 [1]

[1] Screen Australia (n.d.), Red Matildas, The Screen Guide [website,] viewed Jan 19, 2023 <>

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 50 mins

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Film Director: Sharon Connolly, Trevor Graham,

Film Producer: Sharon Connolly, Trevor Graham, Bryce Menzies,

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Film Key Cast: May Pennefather - Interviewee, Joan Goodwin - Interviewee, Audrey Blake - Interviewee,

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