A film about “The Big Australian”, B.H.P.

In the 1930’s, Australian Iron and Steel and B.H.P. commenced a massive program of industrial expansion at Port Kembla, Wollongong, in Australia.

The unemployed made homes out of the discarded packing cases in which the equipment had arrived from England. A large shanty town grew up in the shadow of the works. The hungry men would gather around the gates desperate for work. They waited for the whistle to blow.

The sounding of the whistle meant that somebody inside the plant had been injured, or perhaps killed. So there would be a new job available. By the time the victim’s blood had been washed away, the replacement would be on the job. Consequently, the Port Kembla steelworks quickly became known as the “Bloodhouse”.

As B.H.P. would not allow cameras inside the steelworks, the footage of the appalling working conditions has to be shot guerilla style without official approval.

The power of big companies like B.H.P. deeply affects the Australian economy, environment, living standards and quality of life. The film describes the effects of highly developed capitalist industry — the environmental pollution, the disregard for the conditions of the workers who produce the wealth but do not share in it, and the exploitation of migrant workers who were lured into a job at B.H.P. by the false promises promoted in immigration programs.

The main research for this film came from the mouths of B.H.P. workers themselves, from the wharfies and ironworkers.

The documentary delves into the political economy of monopoly capitalism in the Australian context. The “Big Australian” is exposed as having extensive links with foreign capital and other big monopolies.

This film is relevant to anyone interested in worker’s safety, class struggle, migrant workers, political economy and, of course, Australia’s richest, most powerful company, The B.H.P.

A film by Garry Lane (16mm, 24 minutes)

Narration written by Humphrey McQueen (and Garry Lane)

With thanks to Martha Ansara, Chris Tillum, and Larry Zetlin

The film premiered at the Sydney Filmmakers’ Cooperative in 1976

Available Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne and the National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, Australia.