The first Monday in October is Labour Day in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia. The holiday celebrates the contributions of the labour force and the labour movement’s achievements in improving working conditions in Australia.
A significant improvement was the introduction of the eight-hour working day during the second half of the 19th century. The states and territories mark Labour Day at different times of the year, depending on when the eight-hour day was introduced. The holiday is called Eight Hours Day in Tasmania and May Day in the Northern Territory.
The films on our homepage depict different perspectives on Australian labour.
For Love or Money (1983) compiles historical footage into a history of women and work in Australia over two centuries.
The Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit, formed in 1953, was the only trade union filmmaking unit in the world. They made films like November Victory (1955), portraying the struggles and successes of organised labour, and safety film Think Twice (1958).
Not all labour films are from the perspective of employees; employers also sponsored films. Timber (1947) is a promotional documentary for the forestry industry. The Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority film unit made Where Men and Mountains Meet (1963), a portrayal of the camaraderie among the Scheme’s multicultural workforce.
Documentary filmmaker Tom Zubrycki has strong union movement contacts but was careful to also represent the government point of view in Friends and Enemies (1987), about an industrial dispute involving Queensland electricity workers. Watch an ASO filmmaker interview with Tom Zubrycki.
You can watch historical government-produced films in full on the NFSA Film Australia Collection YouTube channel. Working: Clockwork Lemon (1979) takes an early look at the effect of automation on the printing industry. Story of a City (1945) is about Newcastle: 'a city of industry; coal and steel are its lifeblood’.
Read more about Labour Day at the Time and Date website.