Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Australian film and television chronology

The 1920s

1920: Dad and Dave Rudd arrive on screen

The first appearance in a feature film of the bush characters created by 'Steele Rudd’ (Arthur Hoey Davis) was in Raymond Longford’s On Our Selection (1920), which premiered at West’s Olympia Theatre in Brisbane on 24 July 1920. The popular residents of Snake Gully featured in a further four features to 1940, and were revived in 1995 in Dad and Dave: On Our Selection. A 14-part TV series Snake Gully With Dad 'n’ Dave was produced by ATN7 Sydney in 1972.

Source

Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 99.
Classic Australian Television, Snake Gully with Dad 'n’ Dave

1920: Infamous 'contract system' develops

During the 1920s the infamous 'contract system’ developed. Under this system exhibitors were required to 'block book’ films from predominantly US distributors one year in advance. This practice severely hampered exhibition opportunities for Australian films that were unable to secure a place in contracts overwhelmingly favouring imported films. To counter this system, Australian filmmakers including Charles Chauvel often bribed exhibitors to secure exhibition. Dissatisfaction with the contract system and many other aspects of the Australian film industry led to a royal commission in 1927–28.

Source

Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 87.
Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 4 ‘The Royal Commission’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 79–80.

1921: Kate Howarde, first female director

Co-directed by Kate Howarde and Charles Villiers, 'Possum Paddock opened on 29 January 1921 at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney. A rural farce in the Dad and Dave mould, 'Possum Paddock was based on the hit play by Howarde and proved a financial success in Australia and New Zealand. It was the only feature credit for Howarde (1864-1939), one of the few female playwrights and theatrical entrepreneurs of the time.

Source

Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 102-103.

1922: Longford-Lyell Productions formed

In May 1922 filmmakers Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell established Longford-Lyell Australian Productions with capital of £50,000. The company’s first and only production was The Dinkum Bloke (1923), which made a profit despite suffering distribution problems which delayed its release for seven months. When their financial backers withdrew, Longford and Lyell formed Longford-Lyell Productions and continued to make successful films until Lyell’s death in December 1925.

Source

Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 3 'Reaching Towards Nationalism’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 71–72.

1924: Master Pictures series announced

On 19 November 1924 an article in Everyones magazine announced plans by Australasian Films to produce a series of world-class films for the international market. Australasian’s Scottish-born director F Stuart-Whyte declared 'I propose to construct bright, snappy, amusing productions such as find favour in all parts of the world, and prepare them in an Australian setting. While I am not going to eliminate the Australian atmosphere from my pictures, it must not obtrude’. The first Master Pictures production was Stuart-Whyte’s Painted Daughters, which was a comercial success when released in May 1925. Subsequent Master Pictures films include Sunrise, directed by Raymond Longford in 1926.

Source

Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 125–126.

1925: Lottie Lyell dies

Generally regarded as Australia’s first movie star, Lottie Lyell (born Lottie Edith Cox on 23 February 1890) died of tuberculosis in Sydney at the age of 35. With filmmaking partner Raymond Longford, Lyell was also an accomplished writer, producer and director. Although her only directing credits were as co-director of The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921) and assistant director on The Dinkum Bloke (1923), it is generally accepted that Lyell contributed much more behind the camera than was ever officially acknowledged. Lyell made her acting debut in Captain Midnight, the Bush King (1911) and appeared in more than 20 films including The Woman Suffers (1918), Ginger Mick (1920) and Longford’s 1919 classic The Sentimental Bloke. Her final on-screen role was in Rudd’s New Selection (1921). Her writing and production credits include The Mutiny of the Bounty (1916), Australia Calls (1923), Fisher’s Ghost (1924) and Peter Vernon’s Silence (1926).

Source

Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p. 19, p 109.

1926: Film history up in smoke

During production of the historical epic For the Term of His Natural Life (1927), two tonnes of nitrate film was loaded onto an old sailing ship, The Inca, and set alight. The scene was the most spectacular in the film, but it is now reckoned that a significant proportion of early Australian film history was sacrificed to achieve it.

Source

Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 4 ‘The Royal Commission’, Currency Press, Sydney, p 91.

1926: The filmmaking McDonagh sisters

Self-taught filmmakers Paulette, Phyllis and Isabel McDonagh debuted with Those Who Love, which premiered publicly in Newcastle on 26 November 1926. The daughters of a Sydney doctor, the McDonaghs produced four features between 1926 and 1933. Paulette McDonagh assumed principal directing and writing duties, Phyllis McDonagh served as producer and art director and Isabel McDonagh acted under the name Marie Lorraine. Financed by family money, Those Who Love was filmed almost entirely at the McDonagh’s residence, historic Drummoyne House, and was successful enough to bankroll their next picture, The Far Paradise (1928). The other McDonagh productions were The Cheaters (1930) and Two Minutes Silence (1933).

Source

Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 135–136.

1926: Charles Chauvel's directing debut

Charles Chauvel’s first feature, The Moth of Moonbi, was released on 25 January 1926 at the Wintergarden Theatre in Brisbane. Budgeted at £4,400 and based on a novel by Queensland author Mabel Forrest, The Moth of Moonbi starred Dell Ferriss as Dorish Ashwin, a naive country girl drawn to the excitement of the big city. A writer, producer, director and publicist who collaborated with wife Elsa Chauvel on eight more films up to Jedda (1955), Charles Chauvel is among the most important early Australian filmmakers. The Brisbane International Film Festival lifetime achievement award is named after Chauvel.

Source

Fraser, B and the Macquarie Library 1997, The Macquarie Encyclopedia of Australian Events: Revised Edition, Macquarie Library, p 714.
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 129–130.

1927: Royal commission into film industry

Amid growing concern over increased foreign dominance of the Australian film industry, a Commonwealth Royal Commission began hearing 250 submissions from local film representatives and members of the public. Its recommendations, released in March 1928, included the implementation of a quota for features produced in Australia and other Empire countries. Aimed at providing a guaranteed level of exhibition for Australian films, the quota legislation was never passed.

Source

Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 87.

1927: For the Term of His Natural Life, first Aussie megapic

The most expensive Australian feature to date, For the Term of His Natural Life premiered in Newcastle on 20 June 1927. The film was initially planned as a £15,000 production directed by Raymond Longford and starring Frank Harvey as Rufus Dawes, an English aristocrat transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) for a murder he did not commit. With the aim of securing an American release, Australasian Films asked Longford to stand down and replaced him with Norman Dawn, an American technician experienced in special effects but with only minor directing credits. With American actor George Fisher hired to play Dawes the budget expanded to £40,000 and reputedly ballooned to £60,000. For the Term of His Natural Life proved a massive success in Australia but underperformed overseas in competition with the first wave of talking pictures. The budget of most Australian films at this time was around £2,000.

Source

Fraser, B and the Macquarie Library 1997, The Macquarie Encyclopedia of Australian Events: Revised Edition, Macquarie Library, p 715.
Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 138–139.

1928: Cinema admissions hit all-time high

The arrival of talking pictures in 1928 prompted a massive surge in cinema attendance. It is estimated that approximately 187 million tickets were sold in this year. The figure has never been surpassed and represents 29 cinema admissions per capita for the year.

Source

Collins, D 1986, Hollywood Downunder: Australians at the Movies 1896 to the Present Day, Angus and Robertson, NSW, p 16.

1928: Director Ken G Hall calls 'action' for first time

When the German silent movie Unsere Emden (1926) was released in Australia it required new scenes to make it 'play’ to local audiences. Given his first directorial assignment in March 1928, Ken G Hall shot the new material which was added to the picture and released under the title The Exploits of the Emden. Considered a founding father of the Australian film industry, Hall went on to direct hits including The Squatter’s Daughter (1933) and Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938).

Source

Fraser, B and the Macquarie Library 1997, The Macquarie Encyclopedia of Australian Events: Revised Edition, Macquarie Library, p 715.

1929: Australian engineer tackles the talkies

On 29 June 1929, engineer Ray Allsop invented the Raycophone sound projector and exhibited four short sound-on-disc musical films he had produced. By mid-1937, when the sound wiring of all 1,420 Australian cinemas was complete, 345 Raycophone systems had been installed. Located at 62 Booth St, Annandale, NSW, the Raycophone company also produced domestic wireless receivers and developed sound recording and mixing technology.

Source

Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 5 ‘The New Pioneers’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 104–105.
Talkie Season Opens: Wintergarden Theatre (c1929).

1929: Movietone Australia formed

Newsreel company Fox Movietone (Australia) was launched. On 8 August 1929 the sound-equipped Movietone truck began filming stories for international syndication. The first full local issue of Movietone News featured – inevitably – the Melbourne Cup and premiered on 6 November 1929, the day after the race.

Source

Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 5 ‘The New Pioneers’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 105–106.
Cinesound Movietone Australian Newsreel Collection on australianscreen.

1929: Experimental TV broadcasts in Melbourne

Experimental television broadcasts were carried out from the late 1920s to 1940, mostly by enthusiastic amateurs. In 1929 several test broadcasts were made from radio stations 3DB and 3UZ by the Television and Radio Laboratories company.

Source

Herd, Nick 2005, 'Australian Television History – Timeline’, unpublished.