Filmmaker/steelworker Robynne Murphy’s previous film that appeared at the Sydney Film Festival was Bellbird, way back in 1974. She was part of the first intake to AFTRS’ [Australian Film Television & Radio School] filmmaking course. Women of Steel sees her combine knowledge accumulated in both careers.
Picturesque Wollongong, south of Sydney, was a different story in 1980 when the behemoth BHP Steelworks dominated the skyline, spewing forth pollution by the tonne, supporting over 20,000 mostly migrant workers. Among these, only a handful were women and ‘The Big Australian’ [BHP] wanted to keep it that way.
Denied jobs at the steelworks – the city’s main employer –working-class/migrant women refused to accept discrimination. Taking their cue from the Aboriginal Tent embassy set up in 1972 outside parliament house in Canberra, a group of shunned women set up a tent outside BHP’s factory gate demanding equal opportunity. Putting up banners, handing out fliers, creating petitions, they slowly gained the support of company employees, ironically burning coal in a steel bucket to keep warm, supplied by workers from one of BHP’s coal mines.
Their struggle unfolds into the first ‘class’ action suit against the company, taking them to the High Court of Australia and changing the rules for women throughout the country.
Murphy’s film is a story of perseverance and comradeship told with emotion and humour, mostly through archival footage and interviews. It’s an important piece of filmmaking about this country’s industrial relations history and should be seen by a wide audience.
21-year-old Tram wanted to immigrate to Australia to earn enough money for herself and her family to live more comfortably in Vietnam, but when her chances are stymied, she pursues a new life in South Korea as a migrant bride.
The title of award-winning Australian filmmaker [Blush of Fruit, Dan Bau Lullaby] Jakeb Anhvu’s A Hundred Years of Happiness refers to a traditional expression of support for the bride and groom at Vietnamese weddings. It follows Tram and her family as they live, work, and prepare for Tram’s upcoming nuptials to Soo, a South Korean electronics worker, yet to arrive to collect his bride.
Anhvu’s camera observes but never intrudes on the journey of Tram and her family, capturing intricate details of rural life accompanied by beautiful music played mostly on traditional instruments. Tram’s family lovingly works together preparing meals, farming pineapple, durian, and longans; flowing water sustains the land and supports the family. Workers discuss issues over bowls of soup, followed by a nip of spirits, their discussions emotive and revealing.
As the wedding approaches, Tram’s father reminds her of the importance of caring for one’s aging parents. Future economic security is also a major point of discussion; can her future husband offer this? We’re never quite sure.
We meet an apprehensive Soo at the engagement party; it’s unclear if he’s ever met Tram except by text. Appearing to have travelled to Vietnam alone, he can’t speak the language – Tram’s modest understanding of her future husband’s vernacular makes for awkward greetings and moments of discomfort. Anhnvu has deliberately left Soo “untranslated so that the audience can be put in the same, alienating position that the bride is in”; this most certainly goes both ways, as Soo – surrounded by complete strangers that he can’t understand, celebrating this [hopefully] auspicious day – only appears to calm down after necking several large glasses of cold beer.
Originally intended as a two-part documentary, it’s unfortunate that Anhvu was cut off from the family and unable to complete the story from the South Korean side. As a trepidatious Tram waits for a flight out of Ho Chi Minh City to her new life, we hope that her pursuit of happiness indeed rewards and wasn’t right in front of her all along.
Cornel Ozies started his extensive career as a video editor at his local TV station ‘Goolarri’ in Broome Western Australia; he went on to win awards for films including Jarlmadangah Dreams and Bollywood Dreaming. Our Law is his latest offering, produced and filmed on location in WA.
Set in Warakurna – a town located 330 kilometres west of Uluru at the base of the majestic yet oddly named ‘Rawlinson Ranges’. Brevet Senior Sergeant’s Revis Ryder and Wendy Kelly are the local cops presiding over the only police station run entirely by indigenous officers in Western Australia. Their main barrier to effective communication with the local community is the fact that many residents only speak the local dialect Ngaanyatjarra. They’ve realised that language builds rapport and are doing their best, with help from the locals to get a grip on it. It’s a difficult task; Papa means dog for example, not grandpa.
In contrast to most communities, the cops in Warakurna are beloved by the locals, policing by getting to know the community and talking through problems, building mutual respect.
Ryder coaches the footy team and Kelly works with the local women making bush medicines. It’s a sad day for the community when Sergeant Kelly leaves to take up a position 1100km’s away in Kalgoorlie, she’s off to work on a police reconciliation action plan and to train WA police in building relationships with aboriginal communities. Watching the nightly news, perhaps she could follow this up by training police officers in the USA as well?
Cinematographer Sam Bhodi Field beautifully captures the magnificent landscapes of outback Western Australia.
Our Law could be a blueprint for future policing techniques in Australia.