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Kemira: Diary of a Strike (1984)

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clip Day nine education content clip 1, 2

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Wollongong miners are on a sit-in strike after retrenchments. They have been down the mine for nine days. We see them visit the pit-top, where their families greet them. Miner’s wife, Ngaire Wiltshire, talks about the effect it is having on her family. Kevin Donohue, Lodge President of Kemira Colliery, confirms support for the miners.

Curator’s notes

An intimate look at the effects of the strike on the miners’ families.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows the ninth day of industrial action in October 1982 at the Kemira colliery near Wollongong in New South Wales, where 31 miners had refused to leave the pit. It opens with a group of miners coming to the surface at the tunnel mouth while a member of the Miners Women’s Auxiliary comments on the effect of the action on the families. One of the miners’ wives tells how she has been affected. The clip concludes with a scene of family reunion at the pit head and Kevin Donohue, the miners’ leader, expressing optimism about the outcome of the strike.

Educational value points

  • The challenging and seldom-used form of industrial action shown in the clip is what is known as a 'stay-in’ or a 'sit-in’ strike. Unlike the more usual form of strike where workers refuse to go to their workplace, in a stay-in workers refuse to leave it. In this stay-in workers were protesting (and trying to publicise) the decision by Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd (BHP) to lay off 206 workers – two-thirds of the workforce – from the Kemira mine.
  • The stay-in lasted 16 days and this clip reveals the consequences of the strike not only for the miners but also for the families involved. The clip focuses on two women, one an unnamed member of the Miners Women’s Auxiliary and the other, Ngaire Wiltshire, a miner’s wife. The Women’s Auxiliary member describes the strike’s effect on the wives and the support given by other members of the community. Wiltshire describes how family routines were disrupted.
  • The background to the stay-in was the world economic recession of 1982 when Australia’s GDP fell by 3.8 per cent and its manufacturing capacity began the long decline that continues today. Australian Iron and Steel, a subsidiary of BHP, announced in September 1982 that due to a slump in demand for steel it would retrench 250 people from its Wollongong steelworks and 384 miners from six local collieries.
  • The 31 miners who decided to remain underground were attempting to defend their jobs in the face of the termination notices they knew they were soon to receive. The miners were resentful that, in spite of the Illawarra coal mines producing decades of profit for the company and the abundant supplies of coal remaining in the mines, BHP was unwilling to cross-subsidise its Wollongong collieries and steelworks during a time of economic recession.
  • The striking miners were located about 5 km underground and, as the miners’ transport train only seated 14, a roster was organised so that every man had at least one daily trip to the top. BHP erected a gate at the tunnel mouth – an action that increased the tide of public support for the strikers – and it was only unlocked at 8 am, noon and 5 pm when food supplies and family members were allowed in. A BHP official prevented anyone from joining the men underground.
  • The clip gives a clear indication of the support the strikers had from their families and from organisations such as the Women’s Auxiliary who provided food for the miners. A 24-hour presence outside the gate was also maintained by volunteers from other mines, retired coal-and-steel industry workers, the unemployed in the region and members of the wider community, including health professionals who treated striking miners who became sick.
  • The stay-in led to the introduction of severance and retrenchment pay to the miners’ award, but failed to save jobs. Many strikers were black-listed by BHP, never again working as miners. The Kemira stay-in can be considered one of the 'most defining actions ever undertaken by rank and file workers’, but it was probably 'the last significant spontaneous demonstration of militancy in the Australian coal industry’ (B Swann 'The Kemira Stay-in of 1982’, Illawarra Unity, 2004).
  • Kemira: Diary of a Strike was the first Australian film to show a strike from the inside and from the point of view of the strikers and their supporters. It was award-winning producer Tom Zubrycki’s second film and the production concept began with the 'characters and a situation involving conflict’. The filmmakers 'returned to the pit-top again and again, documenting the strike and its long-term effects on one particular family’ (http://www.arts.nsw.gov.au).

This clip starts approximately 11 minutes into the documentary.

This clip shows the ninth day of industrial action in October 1982 at the Kemira colliery near Wollongong in New South Wales, where 31 miners had refused to leave the pit. It opens with a group of miners coming to the surface at the tunnel mouth while a member of the Miners Women’s Auxiliary comments on the effect of the action on the families. One of the miners’ wives tells how she has been affected. The clip concludes with a scene of family reunion at the pit head and Kevin Donohue, the miners’ leader, expressing optimism about the outcome of the strike.

Subtitle – Strike: Day 9. Striking miners underground make their daily visit to pit-top. The families of miners have gathered at mouth of the tunnel.
Woman It’s a very big trial for women to have to cope with all the things that a family has to cope with, and still have the thought of your husband being down the pit all the time. So there’s a lot of problems and a lot of tension. And the Auxiliary and some of the other women’s movements, the Women’s Centre and others, are trying to bring in some back-up support there, take them out to dinner and see if they can go and do some babysitting for them. Of course, it’s a real struggle coming up here two or three times. Some of them come up twice a day, some once a day.

Ngaire Wiltshire, miner’s wife I haven’t got a routine any more. It’s total chaos. Where I was getting up in the morning and tidying the house up and getting Vicky to school and then going and doing my normal routine, I’ve got none at the moment. I think the first couple of days, the house looked like a cyclone had hit it. I didn’t have a shower for three days, only a cold shower, because I couldn’t get my fire lit to get my hot water system going.

Back at the mouth of the tunnel.
Reporter What are you missing most?
Kevin Donohue, miners’ leader Of course, we miss our family but, you know, I think whatever we miss, we’ll make up for it later on when we win this fight. We can just hang on for as long as it takes to win this blue, mate.

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