‘Women of Steel’, a lasting legacy for women in Australia

‘Women of Steel’ is a documentary film directed by Robynne Murphy telling the remarkable and inspiring story of an Australian landmark victory against BHP that won trailblazing rights for working women during the 1980s/90s. Where can you see ‘Women of Steel’? ‘Women of Steel’ is touring cinemas around the country and by virtual presentation from 19 to November to 7 December. Watch the trailer on YouTube or on Facebook. Read on for film screening dates, locations and ticketing.

In Australia today more and more women seek employment in male dominated industries. We see women employed in mining and construction and in other traditionally male-centric workplaces. And although we still have a long way to go for equal pay, which isn’t only limited to the industrial, we’ve got our foot in the door. In the 1980s though, a very different story played out across Wollongong’s industrial lands, and BHP then known as The Big Australian was in the firing line.

Women of Steel, Jobs for Women campaign poster, Robynne-Murphy, Donka-Najdovska and Slobodanka-Joncevska. Courtesy Women of Steel

In 1980 Robynne Murphy created the ‘Jobs for Women’ campaign, a crusade that lasted for 14-years. With the potency of collective action, Murphy and hundreds of Australian working class and migrant women from the NSW Illawarra region fought the highest powers of BHP, then Australia’s richest and most dominant mining company, to secure jobs for women at the steel giant’s industrial plant on the shores of Port Kembla in Wollongong.

The ‘Jobs for Women’ action group was a force to be reckoned with. They did win the right to work at BHP, but the fight for equality wasn’t over. The women faced discrimination and sexism in the workplace and after only eight months on the job, a slump in the industry forced BHP to retrench many of their workers. And yes, as you probably guessed the women went first – last employed first to go. Steadfast the group of women took to the campaign trail again arguing that if they hadn’t had to fight for so long to get jobs in the first place then they wouldn’t have been the last employed. Thirty-four women took BHP to court and won their cases, and a further 709 women ran a successful class action against the company.

In ‘Women of Steel’ Murphy unpacks the audacious journey with some of the women who were front and centre of the movement. Driven by their passion for equality and freedom, and with unwavering determination these courageous ‘women of steel’ paved the way for generations of young women to make their way in the world today. ‘Women of Steel’ is an empowering story that deserves our attention!

Robynne Murphy, operator hot strip mill. Courtesy Women of Steel

During her 30-year career as a steelworker Murphy worked as a welder, crane driver, and hot strip mill operator. Today Murphy is a celebrated filmmaker who produced her first film in 1974, she is a volunteer truck driver for the RFS brigade and joined firefighting crew on the ground during the recent 2019/20 bushfires that ravaged the far south coast.

Reflecting on her campaign achievements and with thoughts for the the future Murphy shares, “I am personally very proud of being part of a successful campaign that has changed the landscape for women’s right to work in male dominated industries. Having banded together with other women and our supporters gives me confidence that we can overcome the biggest of hurdles when we stick together.”

Accolades for ‘Women of Steel’ include: History Council of NSW’s 2020 Macquarie PHA Applied History Award, and the film was a recent finalist in the prestigious $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival, and a finalist in Best Documentary – History and Best Documentary – Social & Political Issues categories of the 2020 ATOM (Australian Teachers of Media) Awards.

‘Women of Steel’ is available to the public across a series of in-house screenings at Port Kembla, Hobart, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, and via Virtual Screening. Each session is for one night only, be quick to purchase your tickets and reserve your seat.

Thursday 19 November at 7pm – includes Q&A after the film: Gala Twin Cinema: 204 Cowper St, Warrawong, Port Kembla NSW. Tickets here

Wednesday 25 November at 7pm Village Cinemas Hobart. 181 Collins Street, Hobart. Tickets here

Virtual screening – Thursday 26 November at 7pm: Watch the online. Tickets here

Thursday 26 November at 7pm Palace Cinemas: Raine Square Raine Square, 300 Murray Street, Perth. Tickets here

Friday 27 November at 7pm: Palace Cinemas Barracks: The Barracks Shopping Centre. 61 Petrie Terrace, Brisbane. Tickets here

Wednesday 2 December at 6pm: ARC CINEMA – NATIONAL FILM & SOUND ARCHIVE 20 McCoy Circuit, Acton, ACT. Tickets here

Monday 7 December at 7pm: Event Cinemas: 505 George Street, Sydney. Tickets here

To find out more about the Women of Steel ‘Jobs for Women’ Project visit www.womenofsteelfilm.com