In 1928, there is the spectre of the Great Depression, increasingly rancorous class divisions, industrial disputes and rising unemployment. As the politicians watch for the most opportune moments to call and win an election, waterside workers around the country strike. Eventually, all except those in Melbourne return to work, the strike broken by the bosses' employment of unwitting Italian labourers, who, like the Australian workers, are hungry for work. As the Melbourne wharfies continue to strike, too innocent and eager to consider that their struggle might be used as a pawn in a bigger, more sinister game, the issues of racism and survival are brought to the fore. Among this complex analysis of race and class are a wharfie, Maxey Woodbury (Jack Thompson) and an upper-class Italian migrant Anna Chieri (Greta Scacchi), whose roles encapsulate the situation at large.