The Last of the Knucklemen (Australian Mining Movie – 1979)

The Last of the Knucklemen is a 1979 Australian film directed by Tim Burstall.

The story involves a gang of rough miners. Tom (Peter Hehir) turns up at the mine looking for a place to hide. He allies himself with the mining foreman Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy) before the big fight.

Original Play

John Power’s play had been produced in 1973.[2]

Leslie Rees described it as “a sequence of sketches using the same basic characters but without much development or thematic resolution”.[3]


Before Tim Burstall started on Eliza Fraser he thought Hexagon Productions should make a male bonding film, and considered Rusty Bugles, The Odd Angry Shot and Last of the Knucklemen. He eventually decided on the latter. He had to wait to get the rights because the Melbourne Theatre Company were negotiating to sell the rights to the US but this fell through.[4]
Burstall did the adaptation himself, which was largely faithful to the play. He felt that the film was weak in the first half setting up characters.[4] Burstall:

I was trying to take the ocker stuff and cross it, as I think John Powers’ play was, with anthropology. Before I rehearsed the cast, I got them to read ‘The Territorial Imparity of the Native Aid’. I wanted it to be seen not just as ockerism but as anthropology. But the only people who got that were the French. It was bought in France and it’s done terribly well there – much better than it ever did in Australia.[5]

The movie was shot over six weeks in September and October 1978 mostly on sets at Melbourne’s Cambridge Studios.[1]


The Last of the Knucklemen grossed $180,000 at the box office in Australia,[6] which is equivalent to $703,800 in 2009 dollars. Reviews however were strong.[1] Burstall:

I don’t think they knew how to market it. A lot of women said to me, ‘I’d never go to a picture that had the title The Last of the Knucklemen’. But nobody ever looked at it as an analysis of the way men work. It’s a right-wing view of unionism.[5]

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