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…an important piece of filmmaking…
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.