Story Of A City

Australian Workers Film Guide


This government film showcases the thriving industrial city of Newcastle in New South Wales, a place where labour and capital have come together to create a prosperous and growing city. The lifeblood of Newcastle is coal and steel, with the film opening with a ship entering Port Hunter, where panoramic shots of a vast port and industrial area underscores the city’s industrial might. Shoppers are seen on the main street and young people attend the technical school.

As an industrial town surrounded by coal mines, the narrator highlights how 50,000 workers belong to trade union, with the two strongest unions being the Ironworkers Union and the Miners Federation. While employers and unions have their disputes, they are seen coming together to plan the construction of the new community cultural centre, the committee of which has both union and employer representation. Unions and the steelworks are helping to finance project.

The film also shows the importance of shipbuilding, where 2000 men are employed. Over footage of men engaged in shipbuilding, the film informs us that 5000 men came from Newcastle Upon Tyne in Britain to work in the shipyards. BHP, which has 12,000 workers in Newcastle, is shown to have major operations on the wharves as coal and steel making materials are unloaded. Footage of men shoveling coal into raging furnaces highlights the steel being produced.

The film then shifts to coal production, which comes from the Northern Fields of Cessnock and Curry, where 12,000 men work in mines. Above ground mining infrastructure is shown, followed by scenes of miners milling about at the pit top.The narrator explains how miners work an 8 hour day, 5 days a week, with wage earners on 7 pounds 10 a week and contract miners making up to 11 pounds per week. The coal seams are said to be wide and without gas or dust issues and the conditions are as good as anywhere in the world.

Over images of miners meeting and voting at the pit top, the film goes into detail about the role of the union in settling disputes with management. The national Miners Federation deals with general policy, while the local lodges deal with local problems and mine management. Like miners everywhere, they keep up the struggle for improved conditions. Because of their importance they possess a unique bargaining power, which they don’t hesitate to use. The narrator states that the union’s most important objective is nationalisation of the mines.

Coal is then seen being transported on trains and exported on ships to other states. The narrator triumphantly proclaims that this is coal for industry, and coal the nation. Adding that the story of Newcastle is a story of coal, steel, ships and the labour of men. The film concludes by showing extensive scenes of entertainment and leisure activities available to workers, including horse racing, families camping on Lake Macquarie, swimming, sailing, and activities on surf beaches. Housing and public housing developments are shown as evidence of improving accommodation options.

Special Notes/Achievements

A National Film Board Production for the Department of the Interior.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 14 mins 26 secs

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