The Bloodhouse

The Bloodhouse in the February 1978 edition of FilmNews
The Bloodhouse in the February 1978 edition of Film News

Publisher’s Note: The plight of the migrants in Wollongong depicted in Garry Lane’s film ‘The Bloodhouse’ (shown below) makes me think of refugees fleeing Syria today with the prospect of ending up as cheap labour somewhere in Europe … when they are not being tear gassed at borders, that is.

Humphrey McQueen’s critique in the film of the Federated Iron Workers Union led by Laurie Short is very strong and telling.

I am interested to hear how effective Communists were in union struggles in Wollongong … and how things went after the demise of the Communist Party?

In 1979, I worked in a steel pipe factory (Steel Mains in Montague Road in South Brisbane) where the only union present was the Federated Ironworkers (FIA) … redundancies were accepted by the union and workers were employed as casuals.

I wanted to join the union but the FIA organiser knocked me back because I was a casual. I remember the factory having a huge lunch room, but such was the decline in our numbers that during smoko we were huddled together in one corner of the room.

I would like to think that times are different here but they are not … however if recent changes in southern Europe and Britain are any indication, change may come here too …. but are our union and political organisation too far gone to do something about it?  I hope their is a resurgence in worker political organisation again!

Many thanks to Peter Gray from Radical Times Historical Archive for bringing Garry’s excellent film (released in 1976) to light. The documentary can be viewed by scrolling down to the section for New South Wales under thumbnail 1A. And a special thanks to Dave Eden & Nic Southall for putting me straight on the proud history of the Communist party in Woolongong.

Ian Curr
September 2015

The Bloodhouse – a film by Garry Lane (16mm, 24 minutes)
Narration written by Humphrey McQueen (and Garry Lane)
With thanks to Martha Ansara, Chris Tillum, and Larry Zetlin
The film premiered at the Sydney Filmmakers’ Cooperative in 1976
Also available from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne and the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

2 thoughts on “The Bloodhouse

  1. During the 1940s the FIA (Federated Iron Workers Union) was organised by the CPA under the leadership of Ernie Thorton.

    CPA member, Jack McPhillips, was elected national secretary of the Union in 1950.

    After being jailed twice for his union activities, Jack was defeated in his position by the anti-communist ‘industrial groupers’ in 1952.

    During these ‘red scare’ years, the CPA’s influence in the FIA was challenged by both Trotskyists and right wing groups and anti-communists took control of many unions.

    During the 1960s, the CPA and other communists played key roles in establishing FIA Rank & File organisations to oppose the Short/Hurrell leadership.

    In 1972, the Rank & File ticket won the FIA Port Kembla branch elections with Nando Lelli, an Italian migrant steelworker and a ‘friend of the CPA’, becoming the branch Secretary.

    This broke the national dominance of the hard right in the FIA. However, the Port Kembla branch remained an isolated ‘red’ branch for many years and had to constantly struggle against being sabotaged by the national leadership.

    During the 1960s – 1970s, CPA members and other communists also led the Wollongong branches of the Metal Workers’ Union, Engine Drivers Union, Waterside Workers Federation, and more, they also had significant influence in the Miners Federation, Council Workers Union, Teachers Federation, Academics Union, and other local unions.

    Sally Bowen who you hear in ‘The BloodHouse’ as ‘a Wollongong resident’ – was a former steelworker, key figure in the Miners Women’s Auxiliary, matriarch of the CPA in Wollongong and the Party’s South Coast President.

    [PN: With permission from a discussion on fb here]

  2. The Bloodhouse in the February 1978 edition of FilmNews
    The Bloodhouse in the February 1978 edition of Film News

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