Screening Unions: Representations of Worker-citizenship in Australian Films

By Lisa Milner.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In Australia in the 1950s, the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit was the only film production group in the world that was funded by a trade union. The unit produced short films on subjects that other production units would never tackle, like the political background of protests from the union members’ viewpoint, and issues concerning workers’ rights. The filmmakers took a particular stylistic approach to the portrayal of workers, in a period when attempting to make public any left-wing culture was problematic. Since that time, unions in Australia have continued to represent their members on film, television and the internet. In focussing on a selection of works over the past fifty years, this paper examines the ways that working Australia has been represented on screen during a period of major demographic, economic and social change, and discusses the ways in which union-produced films provide a unique window into exploring the relationships between popular media and visual citizenship. It considers how the particular screen culture of worker representation reflects national values, identities, and socio-economic trends.

Keywords: Film, Union, Labor, Culture, Visual Citizenship, Australia

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp.139-150. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 724.032KB).

Dr. Lisa Milner

Lecturer, School of Arts and Social Sciences, Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia

Dr. Lisa Milner teaches in the Media program at Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour, Australia. Published work includes Fighting Films: a History of the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit (Pluto Press, 2003) and articles and papers on non-feature and community screenworks, particularly documentaries. She has presented conference papers in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Current areas of research includes representations of workers and trade unions, in Australian film and television, Australian media and elections, and the power of the documentary format to represent working communities.


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