Thursday, 25 July 2013

Mary Callaghan, film and Greetings from Wollongong

Steel City Pictures was launched in 1979 by Australian artist and film director Mary Callaghan as a vehicle to assist with production of the social realist drama Greetings from Wollongong. Written and directed by Mary, this 45 minute colour film was released in 1982 to much critical acclaim, and some local consternation from the Wollongong lord mayor Frank Arkell, who objected to elements of the film'scritical portrayal of a day in the life of 'his' city. Aspects of Callaghan's career in film prior to the creation of Steel City Pictures, and of the development of Greetings from Wollongong from 1979 through to its premiere in 1982, are outlined below, along with references to associated promotional and fundraising materials such as posters and student newspaper advertisements.

Michael Callaghan, Greetings from Wollongong, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Wollongong, 1982.

A young film maker

Mary Callaghan (1955 - 2016) grew up in Wollongong and revealed an early interest in film making whilst at high school. She possessed a natural artistic talent which flourished alongside her elder brother Michael (1953 - 2011). The latter went on to become a master print maker and artist of renown, famous for his work with the Earthworks Poster Collective at the University of Sydney's Tin Shed facilities in the late 1970s, through to his formation of Redback Graphix in 1979. Upon leaving school, Mary pursued a career in film making, though on many occasions the professional and artistic paths of the brother and sister overlapped, usually to the benefit of both. For her Higher School Certificate examination in 1972, Mary produced an 8 minute long film on 8mm colour stock entitled Bird Power. It was written, directed and fully costumed by her and shot in the picturesque Bombo Quarry, near Kiama. This was around the same time that the locality was utilised by the ABC's Aunty Jack team in their famous open sequence to the television series The Aunty Jack Show (1972-3, 1975). Mary's film featured family and friends, including her brother Michael and friend Philip Batty. The group wore brighly coloured and ornate bird costumes in the quarry as they carried out a series of movements and gestures, amidst the volcanic rock and pools of artificial flourescent green water.

Scene from Mary Callaghan's Bird Power, Bombo Quarry, 1972.

A partial copy of the film survives and is available below, under the title 'An experiment in colour and movement'. It runs for approximately 4 minues, which is half hte length of the original version,. This copy was  digitised by the University of Wollongong Library during 2015.

Mary Callaghan, An experiment in colour and movement, Bombo Quarry, 1972.

According to the director, "The theme behind the scenes was power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." At the time of its production James Mollison, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, sought to purchase the costumes from Bird Power, however Mary would not sell them and their ultimate fate is unknown. Wollongong artist David Humphries included the costumes in an exhibition held as part of the Wollongong Fusion Art Festival during 1972.

Another high school era experimental film - Power House - was shot on 16mm film in black and white by Mary at the then derelict Powerhouse Museum building in Sydney. Influenced by the work of Jean Cocteau and the Dada Movement, it featured cybermen-like figures and was important in assisting Mary gain acceptance during 1974, at the age of nineteen, into the initial intake of students to the new Film and Television School, Swinburne College, Melbourne. The class of 1974 comprised eleven students selected from across Australia, with two from Wollongong. Five of the original intake graduated in 1976, and Mary Callaghan was one of these. Whilst a student at Swinburne, Mary collaborated with numerous artists and filmmakers. This included Angela Gee, a student at the Preston Institute of Art. Mary used Preston's facilities in the production of a number of screen prints during 1975-6, some of which promoted her films. She remembers having to pose as a student in order to make use of the screen printing workshop, regularly receiving vague looks from teachers wondering who she was. Posters such as Wonder Woman's Revenge Part 1 1975 and It's hard to change your lifestyle 1975-6 were printed by Mary at Preston. Her work in posters and graphic design from this period is described at the Mary Callaghan Posters website. It was during this period that her brother Michael was gaining experience in the art of silkscreen printing at the University of Sydney with the Earthworks Poster Collective at the Tin Sheds facility.

Mary Callaghan received her first grant from John Flaus and the Experimental Film Fund during 1975,whilst a student at Swinburne. This was used to produce the short film Image Plus.

Mary Callaghan, Image Plus, 1975. Duration: 7.26 minutes.

It was shown during 1975 in the Silver Palace heritage cinema at St. Kilda, as part of the Women's International Film Festival. Her poster It's hard to change your lifestyle overnight 1975-6 was associated with the film. Mary was on the Victorian organising collective for this important festival held during the first International Women's Year. The same collective went on to produce Lip - A Magazine of the Visual Arts (1976-1983) for which Mary contributed graphic and textual works, including the cover for the 1977 edition and the Blood is blood is blood insert poster.

Mary finished film school at the end of 1976. The following year she worked briefly in the public service and  taught film for a term at the Preston Institute, whilst the regular lecturer was on leave. She was also involved in production of the film True Love Never Dies and did writing and design work for Lip - A journal of women in the visual arts. At the end of 1977 Mary left Victoria and returned to her family in Wollongong. During 1978 she undertook a 6 week traineeship with Brian Kavanagh, editor of the Australian film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. Mary worked as a trainee editor with him on the 1979 feature The Odd Angry Shot, and was sponsored in this by the Women's Film Fund. The Fund also put $10,000 towards the production of her next project, Greetings from Wollongong. In 1978 Mary also worked for a brief period with Film Australia and in the Drama Department at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). She was also involved in Doled Out, a 23 minute film produced by the Unemployed People of Leichhardt production company, with the support of the Commonwealth Unemployment Service, the New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services and Leichhardt City Council.

Following completion of this work, in 1979 Mary returned to Wollongong to begin development work on Greetings from Wollongong. The genesis of Greetings, and Mary's decision not to pursue documentary but instead move into 'docodrama' or 'dramatised documentary' as she labelled it, is outlined in Charles Merewether's article 'A Slap in the Face: living it out in a dying city' which was published in the trade newspaper Film News during November 1982, at the time of Greetings' release. Merewether's article is a major assessment of the film and also contains an interview with the director. In this Mary reflects on some of her earlier work, noting:

My early films were like notes to myself, that's why I see that work as being limited because it's not explained or developed. It was by way of putting women in the context of a display window, property and price tags, and TV voices representing the males.

Mary had worked on the film True Love Never Dies 1978 with internees from the Winlaton female remand centre in Victoria. It was written and directed by Euan Keddie and used the inmates as actors. Mary noted that:

The portrayal of the girls' lives  was a quite hard-edged documentary style; their "fantasy" was really stylised, so there was a shift in form and content too. It was starting to work but technically it broke down in the sound quality. If we could have gone on and done another film it would have got there.

Charles Merewether for a period taught art history at the Preston Institute and job shared with Ann Stephens, who shared a house with Mary in Melbourne during 1977. Having returned to Sydney at the end of 1978 and finding herself out of work, Mary turned her attention to her next project.

Greetings from Wollongong 

Greetings from Wollongong was written and directed by Mary and released in 1982. She began working on it in earnest during 1979. Substantive shooting took place during 1981 and the film was release the following year. In developing Greetings, Mary sought the assistance of her brother Michael, specifically in areas of art direction and fundraising. During 1979 Michael moved from Sydney to Griffith University, Brisbane, to set up a screen printing course. Prior to this he had been heavily involved in the Earthworks Poster Collective at the Tin Sheds, University of Sydney. Mary had worked with him and others there on occasion during 1978-9 on posters such as Hot Crusifixon Dance 1979. Earthworks imploded during 1979, at the same time as Michael Callaghan headed north to Queensland. The first poster Michael Callaghan produced to help raise funds for his sister's film and her company Steel City Pictures was the now famous 'Q. If the unemployed are dole bludgers, What the fuck are the idle rich?'.

Michael Callaghan, Q. If the unemployed are dole bludgers...., screenprint  proof,
Redback Posters, Griffith University, Brisbane, 1979.

Based on a postcard given him by Mary, the poster bears the logo 'Redback Posters' in the lower left corner and was the first of the long series of Redback posters which were produced by Michael Callaghan and numerous collaborators through to the 1990s.

Michael Callaghan and John on the Greetings from Wollongong shoot.

Apart from the Dole Bludgers poster, Michael also worked with Mary to have printed in Brisbane a set of postcards featuring Wollongong scenes to be used in the film. Once again, the postcards were part of fundraising efforts by Steel City Pictures.

Michael Callaghan, Greetings from Wollongong - postcards (1), screenprint, 
Redback Posters, Griffith University, Brisbane, 1979.

Michael Callaghan's circumstances changed dramatically in 1980. Due to controversy associated with his What now Mr Mao? poster - which offended some of the Maoists on campus - and the creation of fluorescent-coloured graffiti calling for students to 'Bong On' - in which he was not involved - his contract with the university was allowed to lapse. Michael returned to his family and friends in New South Wales and to work with Mary. He also continued his Redback Graphix initiative, initially at the Tin Sheds in Sydney and, from 1981 through to 1985, in Wollongong, eventually operating out of an old factory complex in Annadale, Sydney.
 Mary Callaghan, Greetings from Wollongong - Sample Scenes, November 1979. Duration: 9 minutes.

During 1980 Mary and Michael worked closely together in getting the film production underway and securing funding through various means. As Mary noted, "Michael supported me all through the arduous process of getting the film off the ground and was a fabulous Art Director willing to go to any lengths to realise and support my vision." A number of public fundraising events were held from 1980 when official channels failed to gain the necessary financial support. These included concerts, market stalls and numerous personal appeals for funds and in-kind assistance from both local and out of region organisations. Michael Callaghan's posters record some of these events, alongside the reminiscences of those involved in the making of the film. For example, during 1980-1 a number of fundraisers were held in Sydney and Wollongong. These were promoted through local newspapers, flyers and large posters under the Redback Graphix banner. A number of such promotional activities took place in connection with the University of Wollongong, including a fundraising dance, sale of posters through the Student Representative Council''s office, and articles in the student magazine Tertangala.

Michael Callaghan and Mary Callaghan, Steel City Pictures, advertisement,  
Tertangala, University of Wollongong, July 1980.

The Student Representative Council also ran an advertisement announcing that copies of Michael's Dole Bludgers poster could be secured from its office for the princely sum of $3.00. A black and white copy of the poster was reproduced in Tertangala.

Michael Callaghan, Support Steel City Pictures, advertisement,  
Tertangala, University of Wollongong, August 1980.

The first specific Steel City Pictures fundraising poster was produced in 1980 by the Callaghans. It was subsequently known as the 'Nice' poster. Printed at the Tin Sheds in Sydney, this brightly coloured screenprint promoted a concert held at the University of Wollongong Union Hall on 21 August.

Michael Callaghan and Mary Callaghan, Nice, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Tin Sheds, Sydney, 1980.

Mary Callaghan was heavily involved in the design and printing of the Nice poster. She developed the concept of the picture window of the Port Kembla steel works in the background, and of the black cut out of the husband / father in the foreground because he was working a shift whilst the mother serves the children dinner. The work was a true collaboration, with both Mary and Michael drawing up the final design together, though Michael did comment to Mary at the time that he thought her fine work on the curtains was "getting too fussy" as it involved a lot of work in cutting out the crosses. The fonts used were standard newspaper fonts, common at the time and obtained in collaboration with the local newspaper the Illawarra Mercury. A special 'Nice' edition of Tertangala was also issued around the time of the 21 August benefit dance, with a liberal use of the word throughout the publication. The 'Nice Chair' poster printed in Tertangala and reproduced as a campus flyer is sparse in comparison to the colourful and complex Redback Graphix poster for the same event.

Mary Callaghan, Nice chair, full page poster, Tertangala
Student Representative Council, University of Wollongong, August 1980.

Also during 1980 a fundraiser was been held at the Wollongong Workers' Club, on 28 August. It featured '3 great political films' - With Babes + Banners, The Hungry Mile and The Bones of Building. The poster for the event was once again printed by Michael at the Tin Sheds facilities  in Sydney.

Michael Callaghan, With Babes + Banners, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Tin Sheds, Sydney, 1980.

Whereas Michael Callaghan had made use of printer''s fonts for the Nice poster, the With Babes + Banners was hand drawn and in the style of a linocut. It featured a design reminiscent of Chinese cultural revolution posters of the 1960s, with a simple colour palette dominated by red, but with blue and green highlights. A variant print also appeared in the August edition of Tertangala, the University of Wollongong student newpaper.

Michael Callaghan, With Babes + Banners, poster print, 
Tertangala, University of Wollongong, 1980.

The third fundraiser for 1980 was held at the Wollongong Workers' Club on 18 September, with Mary having secured a copy of the landmark feminist and industrial workers film from 1954, Salt of the Earth. Michael Callaghan's stunning poster features the lead actress from the film.

Michael Callaghan, Salt of the Earth, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Tin Sheds, Sydney, 1980.

Once again, the fundraiser was advertised in Tertangala, within its September 1980 edition. The full page advertisement featured cutout letters and typescript.

Mary Callaghan, Salt of the Earth and the Fireman, poster print, 
Tertangala, University of Wollongong, September 1980.

Substantial filming of Greetings from Wollongong took place during 1981 and a Sydney fundraiser was held at the end of the year at the Tin Sheds on Christmas Eve, 1981. The special Benefit Dance poster was once again printed by Michael Callaghan and comprised a simple collage of dancing figures against a bright red background.

Michael Callaghan, Benefit Dance - Xmas Eve, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Wollongong, 1981.

This brightly coloured screenprint in red, yellow and blue was typical of the fluorescent paints used by Redback Graphix during the early 1980s. By this time Redback has set up facilities in the old Stuart Park kiosk at Wollongong, and it is most likely that this poster was printed there. Another undated poster from this period entitled 'Let's Split to the Steel City Pictures Tea Party' utilises the famous Alice in Wonderland tea party illustration by Tenniel from 1865. Once again, it promotes a fund-raising event for Steel City Pictures.

Unknown, Lets Split to the Steel City Pictures Tea Party at 47 Grey St, Keiraville, screenprint, circa 1981.

1982 saw the release of Greetings from Wollongong around October - November, with the official world premiere at the Vista Theatre, Woonona, after a plan to screen it at the Wollongong City Art Gallery was vetoed at the eleventh hour by Lord Mayor Frank Arkell.

Mary Callaghan, Greetings from Wollongong, 1982. Duration: 42 minutes.

The Lord Mayor was critical of the film as he felt it did not portray the City of Wollongong in the proper light. The classic poster for the film was printed by Redback Graphix and featured coloured stills images above a lower border landscape of the smoking stacks associated with the Port Kembla steel works. 

Michael Callaghan, Mary Callaghan and Nick Southall, Greetings from Wollongong,
screenprint, Redback Graphix, Wollongong, 1982.

Also released at the time was a second set of postcards featuring coloured stills from the film.

Michael Callaghan, and Mary Callaghan Greetings from Wollongong - postcards (2), screenprint, 
Redback Graphix,Wollongong, 1982.

Greetings from Wollongong was met with critical acclaim, gaining awards and screening at the Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals and the Australian Film Industry presentations. Many thought the dialogue by the non-professional actors used was ad lib, though, as Mary remembers, "I wrote every word with room to move for actors as long as true to meaning" of the film. Following the release and promotional campaign for Greetings, Mary Callaghan began writing and developing new scripts and treatments. This culminated in her direction of the Australian feature film Tender Hooks, released in 1989. A copy of the film is available here: In 2017 Senses of Cinema published an in depth interview with Mary, taken from the original 1989 Tender Hooks press kit. It covered her background, influences and recent experiences, along with a number of stills from her various films.

Mary and Michael Callaghan with a friend, Sydney, 1990s.

Greetings from Wollongong was publicly screened at the University of Wollongong on 31 July 2013, with a Q&A featuring the director and historian Glenn Mitchell. Mary passed away during 2016, after a long battle with cancer.


This blog was compiled with the assistance of Mary Callaghan, as a result of a number of interviews carried out between 2013-16. Philip Batty, Davind Humbphries and Michael Callaghan's partner Bronwyn Barwell were also of assistance.

Mary Callaghan film resume

1. Bird Power - an experiment in colour and movement, 8 mm, colour and no sound, 7 minutes 47 seconds, 1972. Director and costumes: Mary Callaghan. Surviving clip of duration 4 minutes.

2. Power House, 16 mm, black and white, 1973. Director: Mary Callaghan.

3. Image Plus, 8 mm, colour and sound, 7 minutes 26 seconds, 1975. Director: Mary Callaghan.

4. True Love Never Dies, 1978. Producer and director: Euan Keddie. Script and design: Mary Callaghan.

5. The Odd Angry Shot, 1979. Trainee editor: Mary Callaghan.

6. Greetings from Wollongong - sample scenes, 16 mm, colour, no sound, October 1979, 8 minutes 32 seconds. Director and writer: Mary Callaghan.

7. Greetings from Wollongong, 16 mm, colour, 1982, 42 minutes. Director and writer: Mary Callaghan.

8. Tender Hooks, 16 mm, colour and sound,  1989. Director: Mary Callaghan.

Compiled by Michael Organ and Mary Callaghan.
Last updated: 4 February 2019.