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Beneath Black Skies

1h 10m Documentary, History 2009

The Illawarra, South of Sydney, once held a reputation for the dustiest and gassiest coal mines in Australia.

In 1887 the miners at the Old Bulli Colliery were on strike to better conditions and increase their pay, but a train load of ‘scab’ (non union) labour was being brought to the Old Bulli Colliery to replace striking miners. It was the women who stopped the labour getting to the pits as they stood in front of a moving train and with their babies pleaded for the non union men to return home… two months later the Bulli pit blew up killing 81 men and boys.

Australia’s two most tragic and largest industrial disasters took place within 20 years and within twenty kilometres of each other. In March 1887, the Bulli Explosion and in July 1902, 120 children became fatherless, when 96 men and boys were killed in the Mt Kembla Disaster. Grandfathers, fathers and sons who worked together, perished together…

The south coast miners were regarded by some as the most militant miners in the mining industry as they were at the forefront of campaigns such as the fight against dust and the 35 hr week. In 1944, young miners in the Southern District were sent to war over an industrial dispute when for the first time an Australian coal mine was taken over by the Federal Government. How did Australia’s first mineral export, coal, shape the men and women who lived the mining life… beneath black skies? This remarkable history of the area is told through the miner’s, their wives, their unions, mining historians, and the mining official’s perspectives.

Narrated by Australian actor David Field with a striking musical score, and dramatic re-enactments of the late 19th and early 20th Century, this film is a community treasure of Australian significance.


Sandra Pires


Sandra Pires


Sandra Pires


Joanna Jordan

Director of Photography

Javier Valledor






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