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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: 9-10
Theme: Civic Work

Key Concepts

Retrenchment; Gender; Mateship; Economic Change; Community

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Everyday texts – Language: Contextual understanding
NSW:(1997 Syllabus) C5 Mass media
(2003 Syllabus) Stage 5 Outcome 4
NT:R/V 5.1 – 5.3
R/V 5+.1-5+.3
Qld:Cr 6.2
SA:Texts and contexts 5.3
Tas:Communicating – Being literate, Standard 4
Vic:Reading – Texts 6.6
WA:Understanding Language
Attitudes, values and beliefs

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. Their fear was only balanced by their relief at having a job. However 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

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? What is your reaction to one of the men crying?

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?

The impact of an event like this is not just on the direct participants. Create a visual way of showing the ‘ripple’ effect of consequences to other people.

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. In the video clip we see and get a sense of the following; individuals, community, mates, society. Prepare a short statement about each of these based on scenes from the video clip.
  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.
  3. List these reactions 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.
  4. It is three years later. Create a short play about the reunion of some of the characters you see in the video clip. Imagine how they have fared during the three years and how they now see the day of their retrenchment.

Modules That Use This Clip

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