Australian film and television chronology
Citing a lack of moral standards elsewhere in the film industry, the Salvation Army closed down its filmmaking branch, the Limelight Department. Founded in 1892, the Limelight Department was responsible for 80 per cent of all Australian film production between 1900 and 1906. The Department was headed by English-born showman Major Joseph Henry Perry. In addition to its own productions, the Limelight Department frequently filmed non-religious material on commissions from state governments and the New Zealand Government. The most famous of all Limelight productions are the film sequences inserted into the multimedia presentation Soldiers of the Cross (1900).
Moran, A & Veith, E 2005, Historical Dictionary of Australian and New Zealand Cinema, The Scarecrow Press, Maryland, USA, pp 5–6.
On 24 April 1911, The Fatal Wedding opened at the Lyceum cinema in Sydney. It was the first film directed by Raymond Longford (born John Walter Longford in 1878), who was Australia’s most prolific director of the silent era. Starring Longford and his filmmaking partner Lottie Lyell, The Fatal Wedding was one of the biggest successes of the year, returning £16,000 on its £600 budget. As a director, Longford averaged almost two films per year until 1926. Among his many hits were The Silence of Dean Maitland (1914), The Sentimental Bloke (1919) and On Our Selection (1920). Despite his success, Longford’s fortunes declined after 1926 and he directed only one more feature, The Man They Could Not Hang (1934). He spent his final years working as a nightwatchman on the Sydney waterfront and died on 2 April 1959. The AFI award for lifetime achievment is named after Raymond Longford.
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 18–19.
On 15 May 1911 the Glacarium cinema in Melbourne played the first known double feature in film history. The Australian film The Lost Chord (1911) was the 'A’ feature. It was supported by the Italian film The Fall of Troy (1910).
Wallechinsky, D 1996, The People’s Almanac Presents the Twentieth Century, Aurum Press, London, p 411.
In December 1911, Frank Hurley travelled to Antarctica on the expedition led by Douglas Mawson. His feature-length documentary Home of the Blizzard (1913) was released to great acclaim in Australia and Britain in 1913. This film and In the Grip of Polar Ice (1917), a record of British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 1915-16 Antarctic expedition, cemented Hurley’s reputation as Australia’s greatest photographer and documentary filmmaker. In June 1917, Hurley joined the Australian Imperial Force and became Australia’s first official war photographer. Continuing his documentary work in the 1920s, Hurley later photographed several Cinesound features including The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934).
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998 Australian Film 1900-1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 131–132.
1911: Peak production year
1911 was a benchmark for Australian film production, with 52 narrative fiction films released. Many were bushranger films, a genre banned in three states the following year. This level of production remained unsurpassed until 1975. It is widely accepted that in 1911 Australia produced the largest number of feature films in the world.
Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 2 ‘The Growth of an Industry’, Currency Press, Sydney, p 24.
1912: Bushranging films banned
Claiming that films about bushrangers mocked the law and glorified criminal behaviour, the New South Wales Police Department imposed a ban on what was then the most popular category of film in Australia. South Australia had imposed a ban in 1911 and Victoria followed suit in 1912, effectively killing the genre. The only film to escape the ban before it was lifted in the 1940s was Robbery Under Arms in 1920.
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 3.
Australian Government Culture Portal, Film in Australia
In 1912 the US-based National Kinematograph Company produced and exhibited the first colour films shot in Australia. Using their patented Kinemacolor process, the company showed a series of short travelogues and films depicting Australian industry at work. The high cost of projection and the scarcity of colour films made such screenings rare in Australia until the 1950s.
Betrand, I (ed) 1989, Cinema in Australia: A Documentary History, New South Wales University Press, Sydney, p 51.
1913: 'The combine' formed
A series of amalgamations and mergers resulted in the formation of Australasian Films and its exhibition arm, United Theatres – commonly known as 'the combine’. It soon emerged that this effective monopoly was not interested in producing Australian films and was much more inclined to distribute and exhibit imported attractions. The stranglehold of the combine forced a decline in local production and contributed to many Australian production companies closing their doors.
Sabine, J (Ed) 1995 A Century of Australian Cinema, Mandarin, Melbourne, p 42.
Australian champion swimmer and vaudeville performer Annette Kellermann – 'The Australian Mermaid’ and 'Diving Venus’ – starred in a series of successful American movies including Neptune’s Daughter (1914) and A Daughter of the Gods (1916). Esther Williams played Kellermann in the biography Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).
Walsh, GP 1983, 'Kellermann, Annette Marie Sarah (1886-1975)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 9, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, pp 548–549.
With the outbreak of the First World War, production in Europe was brought to a halt. In the early years of the conflict, patriotic Australian movies such as The Hero of the Dardanelles (1915), Within Our Gates, or Deeds that Won Gallipoli (1915) and The Martyrdom of Nurse Cavell (1916) were enthusiastically received. As the reality of trench warfare became widely reported, Australian war movies temporarily declined in popularity as audiences sought escapism and comedy.
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 48.
Within a few weeks of the Australian landing at Gaba Tepe, Gallipoli, on 4 May 1915, the scene was restaged at Tamarama Bay near Sydney for the feature film The Hero of the Dardanelles (1915). Directed by Alfred Rolfe and produced 'by permission of the Minister for Defence, with the whole-hearted cooperation of the Military and Naval Authorities’, The Hero of the Dardanelles recruited hundreds of troops from the army training camp in Liverpool, NSW, and opened to strong business in Melbourne on 17 July 1915. Later in 1915, another Gallipoli landing was staged at Obelisk Bay near Sydney for Within Our Gates, also known as Deeds that Won Gallipoli (1915).
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 53–54.
Australian War Memorial, Raid on Gaba Tepe
Australian Government film censorship officially began with the appointment of a three-member, part-time Board in Melbourne, with former public servant Sir Harry Wollaston serving as Chair. On Wollaston’s retirement in 1919, Archibald Thomas Strong, then acting Professor of English at the University of Melbourne, became Chief Censor.
On 19 March 1917 Our Friends, the Hayseeds opened to spectacular business at Waddington’s Grand Theatre in Sydney. It was the first of seven films about the misadventures of Dad Hayseed and his country bumpkin family which drew heavily on the influence of Steele Rudd’s On Our Selection. The Hayseeds films were made by Adelaide-born writer-director-producer-showman Beaumont Smith, whose ability to shoot quickly and efficiently on minimal budgets earned him the nicknames 'That’ll Do Beau’ and 'One-take Beau’.
Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema: the First Eighty Years, Chapter 3 ‘Reaching Toward Nationalism’, Currency Press, Sydney, p 51.
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 68.
Following the end of the First World War, Hollywood emerged as the dominant movie producer and several of its studios opened branches in Australia to distribute US films. The first of these was Biblical Biographs (later known as Paramount Pictures), which established an Australian base in 1913. The arrival of the US companies broke the virtual monopoly on distribution and exhibition held by Australasian Films and Union Theatres, commonly known as 'the combine’. In 1922-23, 94 per cent of films shown in Australia were American.
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 86.
Raymond Longford’s adaptation of CJ Dennis’s verse narrative premiered at Melbourne Town Hall on 4 October 1919. The Bloke is played by Arthur Tauchert, who was once described by Longford as 'the most lovable larrikin that ever lived’. Longford’s long-time filmmaking partner Lottie Lyell plays the Bloke’s girl, Doreen. Released successfully in the US and UK, The Sentimental Bloke is regarded as one of the great treasures of Australian silent-era filmmaking.
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 89–91.
Active since the early 1910s, the Actors’ Federation of Australasia was officially registered in July 1919. A lack of confidence among members forced the deregistration of the AFA two months later, in September 1919. On 6 March 1920, a new organisation with the same name was registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904. This union evolved into Actors’ Equity on 25 February 1936.
On 4 September 1919, American filmmakers Wilfred Lucas and Bess Meredyth arrived in Sydney to make a series of films starring Australian sporting champion Reginald Leslie 'Snowy’ Baker. Regarded as one of the finest sportsmen Australia has ever produced, Baker represented NSW in Rugby Union and excelled in distance running, fencing, wrestling and rowing. Baker won a silver medal in boxing at the 1908 London Olympics and opened a highly successful physical fitness centre in Castlereagh St, Sydney, in 1909. He made three films with Lucas and Meredyth in 1920: The Man From Kangaroo, The Shadow of Lightning Ridge and The Jackaroo of Coolabong. Baker went to Hollywood in 1920, where he found more success as a coach and businessman than as an actor.
Fraser, B and the Macquarie Library 1997, The Macquarie Encyclopedia of Australian Events: Revised Edition, Macquarie Library, pp 712–713.
Australian Dictionary of Biography