Australian Workers Film Guide


Arguably Australia’s most celebrated labour focused feature film, Strikebound is a gritty and emotionally powerful film about the 1937 stay-in strike at the private Sunbeam Colliery in the Victorian township of Korumburra. Based on historical characters and events, the film charts the struggle by Korumburra miners to win better pay and conditions in what was one of the most fractured and difficult coal mines in the country.

The film revolves around the two main protagonists, miner Watty Doig, played by Chris Haywood and his wife Anges Doig, played by Carol Burns. Watty, a committed communist, becomes the spokesperson and de facto leader of the sit-in, while his wife Agnes, a local Salvation Army member, becomes a union organizer and establishes the Women’s Auxiliary. Still suffering the lingering effects of the Great Depression, this was the first sit-in at an Australian mine and its success followed the watershed 1934 strike at the nearby Wonthaggi State Coal Mine. Together, these two victories became an inspiration for Australian workers in their struggle to claw back the terrible losses inflicted on the working class during the Great Depression.

The film has a deep authenticity about it, a rawness and honesty that underscores the deep humanity and dignity of coal miners and their staunch communities. The realist aesthetic of the film is highlighted by the opening scene of the narrative, which is shot in a real coal mine in what is now the Eastern Area Tourist Mine in Wonthaggi. The closed and flooded mine was re-opened by retired local miners over a period of many months and imbues the film with an authenticity and commitment to realism that continues throughout the film.

The film’s social realist documentary style is underscored by the opening and closing scenes in which an interview with the real Watty and Agnes Doig permeates the film with grassroots activism and a call to arms when Agnes states: “I’m proud to be a member of the working class. They’ve done heroic things and they’ll do more heroic things.” 

Strikebound was written and directed by Richard Lowenstein, a 25 year old graduate of Swinburne School of Film and Television. Given the scale, complexity and expense of feature filmmaking, this film is an extraordinary achievement for a young filmmaker. Indeed it would be an extraordinary achievement for a filmmaker of any age. The film was shot by fellow Swinburne graduate Andrew de Groot, a young and talented cinematographer, who crafted the exquisitely gritty and atmospheric doco-realism style that affords the film its raw emotional power. The film was based on material created by the director’s mother Wendy Lowenstein, including Weevils In The Flour and an unpublished novel Dead Men Don’t Eat Coal. [1]

As highlighted by Terry Hayes in his excellent extended analysis of Strikebound and its making, this is one of the few Australian feature films to take an overtly political perspective on serious social concerns. Lowenstein himself wanted to make an ‘unashamedly political film’ that countered the prevailing apolitical approach of Australian filmmaking. The filmmaker also drew parallels between a labour movement under attack in the 1930s with similar opposing forces in the 1980’s when the film was released, such as Margaret Thatcher’s war on coal mining unions in the United Kingdom. [2] The film is unique in its bold acknowledgement and exposition of the existence of class division in Australia and the resultant allocation of winners and losers in the social system – a topic often ignored or glossed over by the establishment feature film industry in Australia.

Given the extensive community involvement in the making of the film, Strikebound was launched in Wonthaggi by Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke. [3]

[1] Hayes T. (2013), ‘Strikebound’, Metro Magazine, Issue 177, pp 76-88.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

Special Notes/Achievements

  • Official selection – Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Czechoslovakia), 1984
  • Official selection – Los Angeles International Film Exposition Filmex (USA), 1984
  • Official selection – Moscow International Film Festival (USSR), 1985
  • Official selection – Seattle International Film Festival (USA), 1985
  • Official selection – Sundance Film Festival (USA), 1985
  • Best Achievement in Production Design – AFI Award (nominated for 9 AFI Awards)  [4)
  • Numerous television broadcasts

[4] Screen Australia (n.d.), Strikebound, The Screen Guide [website], viewed March 4 2023 <>

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 101 mins

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Film Key Cast: Chris Haywood – Watty Doig, Carol Burns – Agnes Doig, Hugh Keays-Byrne – Idris Williams, Rob Steele – Charlie Nelson, Nik Forster – Harry Bell, David Kendall – Birch, Anthony Hawkins – Police Sergeant, Marion Edward - Meg,

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