PEOPLE WE MEET
I was born in the port city of Liverpool, England, in 1949. During school holidays I would walk around the 14 miles of docks that were the lifeblood of the port. Reading the destinations of the dockside cargos, from New York to Yokohama, gave me a sense of belonging in a wider world. It also fuelled a sense of adventure that led me around the world for three years as a seafarer from the age of 16. I'd already visited Australia a number of times before I settled here in Newcastle in 1969. The following year I moved to Sydney where I lived in Bondi for almost 20 years before coming to Scarborough in the late 1980s. The commute to work based in Sydney was a pain, but the pleasure of living within sight of the escarpment and being able to hear the sound of the sea more than made up for it. I spent most of my working life as a national research and industrial officer for a number of unions. This took me to all the state capitals around the country and to many regional and rural centres as well. It was a privilege being employed to negotiate better working conditions and increased wages for members across a number of industries that ranged from metal and engineering workshops in Queensland to pulp and paper production plants in Tasmania.
I've always been drawn to writing, and editing a union journal during this period whetted my appetite for more. In 1991 I co-authored a book on the politics of wage fixation and in the following year another co-authored book critiquing human resource management was published. From 2002, I spent about five years in Perth. During that time I started researching a book called Consuming Pleasures, a history of the international drug business and Australia's place in it. This was published by Fremantle Press in 2009 when I was back in Wollongong. In February my latest book, A Short History of Social Democracy, was launched in Thirroul. From the early 1990s I began collecting interviews from retired coalminers and their wives in the northern suburbs. They told me about the working conditions they endured, the battles to make the industry safer, and the crucial role played by the Miners Women's Auxiliaries. They were filed away with the idea that I'd one day use them as the basis for a book about Wollongong's radical history.
About four years ago I began writing articles for a national weekly newspaper called Green Left Weekly. The editor was Melanie Barnes from Port Kembla who was also hosting a weekly current affairs program online at Green Left TV. This prompted the idea that the proposed book on the region's radical history might be better accessible if it was instead a documentary film. So I turned the notes into a film script and Melanie Barnes and I started work as co-directors of a film that we called Radical Wollongong. With the support of a team of filmmakers from Art Resistance in Sydney, the film premiered in front of a big crowd at the Gala Cinemas in Warrawong in May last year. It was then shown around the country and in Malaysia and Indonesia. It got a great reception and in December last year we were informed by the Canadian Labour International Film Festival that Radical Wollongong was named Best in Festival and also awarded the other festival prize named in honour of the labour activist Miguel Cifuentes. A few weeks ago we were notified by the Filmmaker World Festival in Indonesia that we had won a Platinum Award for the film.
The one constant theme that came through from people who attended the various showings of the film was that one particular segment we featured, the Jobs for Women campaign at the steelworks from 1980 to 1994, should be made into a full-length film. So late last year, the crew who made Radical Wollongong teamed up with some of the women who were instrumental in the campaign to form the Jobs for Women Producers Group committed to making a feature film of the fight for jobs for women at the steelworks. Renewed interest in the campaign has led to Carla Gorton, who wrote an honours thesis on the campaign, and Pat Brewer who was involved in it from the start, writing a book about it called Women of Steel, which will be published in May. The film project and book launch will be held on May 9 at the Excelsior Hall in Thirroul Community Centre from 3pm.