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Not Only the Need (1957)


This sponsored film made for the Australian Council of Trade Unions proposes a Commonwealth solution to the housing problems facing families living in inner-city slums. It contrasts crowded and dilapidated city tenements with better homes in the suburbs, illustrates the financial considerations of families deciding to build a home and features highlights from the 1957 NSW People’s Housing Conference.

Curator’s notes

The title of this WWF Film Unit documentary is from a 1944 Commonwealth Housing Commission report which stated that 'a dwelling of good standard and equipment is not only the need but the right of every citizen.’ Originally titled The Housing Problem and You, the film was commissioned by the Secretary of the ACTU Building Trades sub-committee. Its purpose was to raise interest in the ACTU People’s Housing Conference being convened in September 1957.

In 1957, The Housing Problem and You (1957) screened to thousands of people at public meetings and union events, in migrant hostels and factories, and was broadcast on the ABC. It was renamed Not Only the Need after the addition of seven minutes of material and updated statistics, and premiered on 1 July 1958 at the National People’s Housing Conference in Melbourne.

The film builds an argument for the provision of affordable housing and is loosely divided into thematic sections. The first (see clip one) vividly depicts the reality of the 'housing crisis’ by contrasting images of overcrowded inner-city slums with new and spacious suburban homes. Next is a case study of a young couple who are prevented from building their own home by high interest rates and the prohibitive cost of repayments. Finally, members of the ACTU and affiliated unions gather for a national housing conference and propose releasing Commonwealth funds to relieve pressure on interest rates and make homes more affordable for the average family.

The film supported the ACTU campaign to make housing an important issue in the forthcoming November 1958 federal election. Nevertheless, despite a worldwide economic downturn earlier in the year, the Liberal-Country Party Coalition led by Prime Minister Menzies returned to office with a slightly increased majority.

The WWF Film Unit (Norma Disher, Keith Gow and Jock Levy) made a series of films in the 1950s that addressed important issues concerning the labour movement at the time including workplace safety, affordable housing, industrial relations history and wages. Their films make good use of cinematic and narrative devices to deliver persuasive arguments and depict the experience of the working classes. The Melbourne-based, independent Realist Film Unit also made compelling documentaries on the conditions of postwar housing (see Beautiful Melbourne, 1947, and A Home of their Own, 1949).

Fighting Films: A History of the WWF Film Unit (2003, Pluto Press) was written by academic Lisa Milner based on her PhD research into the WWF Film Unit. The book was jointly funded by the Maritime Union of Australia, the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (Mining and Construction Divisions) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. To coincide with the publication, the MUA released a three-DVD compilation featuring 13 of the WWF Unit’s films as well as John Hughes’s documentary Film-work (1981).