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About the Video Clip:

Video Clip Synopsis:
Two thousand steelworkers collect their final paychecks and walk out of Newcastle’s BHP steelworks for the last time. Men break down and cry. Many have laboured here all their working lives.

2min 9sec

Closing Day at BHP’s Newcastle Steelworks is taken from the film Steel City (55 mins), produced in 2000.

Steel City: The employees of the BHP steelworks in Newcastle are bracing themselves for Australia's largest industrial shutdown. Many have spent their entire working lives at the plant. With one month to go, they’re struggling to come to terms with an uncertain future. Peter is angry - he's lost his marriage as well as his job. Jack is on an emotional rollercoaster as he faces the challenge of setting up his own business. And workshop manager Aubrey, once a militant unionist, is worried about what will happen to the men he calls "his boys". Meanwhile, the company's spindoctor is selling the closure as a "feel good" story. This is the end of an era. Life in Steel City will never be the same.

Steel City is a Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: English
Year: 11-12
Theme: Civic Work

Key Concepts

Retrenchment; Mateship; Economic change; Community; Resources

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:English course framework (11-12) — Responding critically and analytically to texts
NSW:English Stage 6: Close study of text, Texts and society
NT:English Stage 1 Texts and contexts
Qld:English senior syllabus: Texts in their contexts; textual features; Constructedness of texts
SA:English Stage 1 Texts and contexts
Tas:Senior Secondary English: Ideas and issues strand; Texts and contexts strand; Applications strand
Vic:English Language: Unit 3 — Language in society; Unit 4 — Language in use
WA:English Year 11 — Print texts (non fiction), Non-print texts
English Year 12 — Print texts (non-fiction), Non-print texts

Context / Background Information

BHP (Broken Hill Propriety) began mining silver, lead and zinc at Broken Hill NSW in 1885. It was described as one of the most lucrative deposits in the world at that time. In 1899 BHP leased an iron ore mine at Iron Knob in South Australia. In 1915 BHP ventured into steel making and commissioned a steelworks to be opened at Newcastle. It made huge profits during World War 1 making steel for ships, ammunition and guns. Since that time, it has employed generations of steelworkers who have remained working for the company all their working lives. It was predominantly men's work. Many workers speak of their fear and revulsion when first confronted by the heat and dirt of the steelworks and the real dangers faced with working there. This was only balanced by their relief at having a job. But by 1987 the old steel rolling mills were losing money and could no longer be world competitive. As one worker said, for the past five years he had been "putting patches on patches."

In 1999 the Newcastle Steelworks closed down, with the retrenchment of 2000 workers and 1000 contractors.

A significant employer, and a part of the local community, was suddenly gone.

Discussion Pointers

  1. It is the final day at the steelworks. Workers are being given their final pay cheques. Look at the video clip. Describe the different reactions that are shown here. Would you describe them all as realistic?
  2. Describe the style of the video clip. Comment especially on the use of music, and the editing approach. What is the filmmaker trying to achieve?
  3. The Newcastle steel works involved individuals, community, society and culture. Identify how each of these elements is shown in the video clip.

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Look at each person shown in the video clip. List as many words as possible to describe that person. Now create a pen portrait of one of those characters.
  2. Imagine how you would feel if you were a worker in this video clip. Would it be hurt, a sense of being rejected? Or a sense of liberation? Or a sense of fear of the unknown? List as many different major reactions as you can. List these, and then write them on a series of cards, one reaction to a card. Working in pairs, each person draws one of these cards, and has a conversation with a partner based on the reactions they have drawn.
  3. It is three years later. Create a monologue by one of the characters in which he or she reflects on the event, its meaning, and its consequences for him or her, and the community.

Modules That Use This Clip

English Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, English Year 11-12