Wharfies: The Film

produced and directed by Elizabeth Knight, written by Elizabeth Knight and Keith Gow

Rowan Cahill

Wharfies is a fifty-two minute chronological film history of the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia from its formation in 1902 in the primitive days of hard, physical, exploited labour, to the mechanised, computensed present. It shows how the conditions enjoyed by wharfies of today are the result of eight decades of history, a colourful often turbulent history of human suffering, struggle, and conflict.

The film develops the Federation’s history in the context of Australian political and social history. Wherever possible archival footage has been used, going back to the trenches of WWI, and the General Strike of 1917. Later footage is drawn from documentaries made in the 1950s by the WWF Film Unit. Dramatic reconstruction of events using professional actors is also used.

Oral history is utilised as veteran wharfies, with memories back to the 1920s, appear in the film, recalling experiences of waterside work, life, and the politics of the WWF, recollections still tinged with anger and bitterness, but a history recalled with passion, humour, dignity, and pride.

Wharfies is a moving, passionate film, and I was moved close to tears during my viewing of It. Produced and directed by Elisabeth Knight for the WWF and written by Elisabeth Knight and Keith Gow, an original member of the WWF Film Unit, the film is a credit to its creators, and to the wharfies whose history it records. The film is available for purchase or hire from Oceania Media Network, GPO Box 1391 Sydney 2001.