1917 promo clip 4
The Great STRIKE Teaser

A film in development


Thousands had stopped work, the government recruited volunteers to break the strike, allowing them to bear arms; unions were deregistered and union leaders charged with conspiracy. It was a time of violent emotions, state violence and individual acts of violence by and against strikers. A striker was shot and killed. It was Sydney, 1917.

Scratchy black and white film footage shows men and women formally dressed marching through the streets of Sydney; a child riding on the shoulders of his father, holds out an empty cap. A number of passers-by stop and stare at the camera. The footage was shot by a man who filmed both sides’ of the Great Strike of 1917. Only fragments survive.

In 1917 the world was in the grip of “The Great War”. The Easter Rebellion in Ireland had been crushed the year before and the Bolshevik Revolution was stirring in Russia. Australia was divided over the great Conscription debate.

Rail and tram employees had been forced to work longer hours, with reduced wages and conditions. With the premature introduction of a new ‘timecard’ system workers at the Randwick Tramways and Eveleigh Locomotive Workshops walked off the job in protest, triggering the strike.

Within two weeks the stoppage turned into the biggest industrial upheaval Australia has seen before or since. At its height the strike stopped coastal shipping, mining, stevedoring and transport on the eastern coast of Australia, and involved tens of thousands of workers in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

Interwoven into the historical story are the rare black and white silent clips, photographs and newspaper headlines, and a series of oral history interviews recorded in the late 1980’s. City of Sydney historians and National Film and Sound Archive staff uncover the story behind the rare archival footage of the strikers.

The Centenary of the Great Strike is being celebrated by the City of Sydney Council and Carriageworks which have commissioned 5 contemporary artists to produce works for the exhibition, 1917: The Great Strike. The artworks invite younger audiences to consider history as an on-going source of inspiration and analysis. During the exhibition, audiences will be asked, in vox pop style, about their reactions to the exhibits.

The documentary will examine the industrial, social and political context of a struggle that had lasting consequences for the labor movement in Australia. It was 100 years ago, but personal stories and legacies were to filter through generations of families for years to come, reflecting on the fight for decent conditions and fair treatment on the job, which still strongly resonate today.