Queensland coal industry on the silver screen

A new documentary about the workers’ struggle in the Queensland coal industry is due for release this month.

‘Blood on the Coal – the Queensland Miners’ Story’ will make its first screening in Sydney on 12 August.

Narrated by Australian icon Jack Thompson, the film charts the story of struggle and tragedy in the Queensland coalfields

The film concentrates on the issues faced by coal workers throughout a 150 year history, examining underground disasters, rescues, industrial strife and strikes, as well as the recent push by global miners to change the face of mining workforces from local teams to itinerant FIFO individuals.

Director Jeff Bird said the project was two years in the making, and involved more than 20 interviews with some remarkable mining personalities, as well as extensive historical research.

Bird has a history of telling the stories of the Australian mining industry, starting with the 1996 film Black Gold Kindred Spirits, as well as Last Stand at Nymboida (2010) which describes the NSW worker rebellion and takeover of the Nymboida coal mine.

Running at 103 minutes, Bird said the originally planned one hour presentation was not long enough to pay proper respects to the history of mine disasters in Queensland.

“It was such a large film, to tell the story of the entire Queensland coal mining history, which is 150 years,” he said.

“The thing that tripped us up was there were so many disasters in Queensland…when you have five or six disasters you have to give each disaster its respect, especially for the people involved, so you can’t really gloss over a major disaster, because it affects so many people.

With the film funded by the CFMEU, Bird said he returned to the union to explain his problem.

“To their credit they said to go ahead with a feature film,” he said.

“Of course I would say this, as the director, but it’s remarkable… these stories are so compelling, these people that experienced all these disasters, I mean I’ve seen it a hundred times and after that much editing you generally don’t want to see it again, but this film just really draws you in, it doesn’t feel like a long film.”

Bird said that the feedback from film narrator Jack Thompson was very good, having told Bird that he was extremely moved by his first viewing of the film.

“The film really packs a punch at the end, when you start getting into Kianga and Moura disasters, it’s so powerful, the film really grows on you and there’s just one too many disasters,” Bird said.

“We sent Thompson a rough cut of the film to see if he would do it, and he said he got halfway through the film, and he had to switch it off and go and make a cup of tea, he was so angry.”

The film will screen at locations around Australia, including Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Ipswich, with the next screening in Sydney on Wednesday August 12.

Blood on the Coal has been nominated for the Louisville International Film Festival, and at the Indie Fest International Film Festival it was the only Australian feature documentary film to win the Award of Excellence.

At the Accolade Global Film Competition Blood on the Coal was one of only three Australian feature documentaries to win the Award of Excellence.