Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Australian film and television chronology

The 1940s

1940: Department of Information Film Division established

The Commonwealth Government’s Department of Information (formed five days after the outbreak of the Second World War) launched its film division on 9 August 1940 to 'mobilise the film medium for national ends’. DOI cinematographers Frank Hurley and Damien Parer were dispatched to war zones and their footage was made available to Cinesound and Movietone. Parer’s footage of the Kokoda track was shaped by Cinesound into the Academy Award-winning documentary short Kokoda Front Line! (1942). When the Department of Information was disbanded in 1950, the unit became part of the News and Information Bureau of the Department of the Interior. The Department of Information Film Division evolved into the Commonwealth Film Unit in 1956.


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 7 ‘Renewed Hopes’, Currency Press, Sydney, p 166.

1940: Forty Thousand Horsemen an international hit

After its Boxing Day premiere at the Mayfair Theatre in Sydney in 1940, Charles Chauvel's Forty Thousand Horsemen became Australian cinema’s first genuine worldwide success story. It was a critical and popular success in Britain, where it played from August 1941, and opened in New York in September 1941. The New York Times described it as 'a brawling, boisterous entertainment’. Forty Thousand Horsemen was released in other countries including Singapore, Denmark, France, Sweden and Italy.


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 191–193.
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1940: Cinesound halts feature production

In June 1940, Cinesound Productions announced it would cease feature film production for the duration of the Second World War and concentrate its efforts on the Cinesound Review newsreel. The final feature film produced by the company was Dad Rudd, MP, which was released in June 1940. Cinesound staff including director Ken G Hall made Smithy in 1946, though the film was entirely financed by US studio, Columbia Pictures.


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 7 ‘Renewed Hopes’, Currency Press, Sydney, p 171.

1942: Kokoda Front Line!, Australia's first Academy Award Winner

The first screenings are held of Kokoda Front Line!, which won Australia’s first Academy Award for its producer, Cinesound chief Ken G Hall. It also made a national hero of war cinematographer Damien Parer, who photographed and introduced the film. At the Academy Awards ceremony on 4 March 1943, Kokoda Front Line! was awarded 'for its effectiveness in portraying, simply yet forcefully, the scene of war in New Guinea and for its moving presentation of the bravery and fortitude of our Australian comrades in arms’. It was one of four short documentary subjects to receive Oscars in the Documentary category that year.

1943: Australian director John Farrow nominated for Academy Award

John Farrow received a Best Director Academy Award nomination for Wake Island (1942). Born John NB Villiers-Farrow in Sydney in 1904, Farrow was one of the first Australian filmmakers to make an impression in Hollywood. His screenwriting career began with the western White Gold (1927), and he shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Around the World in Eighty Days in 1956. Farrow’s directing credits included The Big Clock (1948), His Kind of Woman (1951) and John Paul Jones (1959). Farrow was the father of actress Mia Farrow. His Hollywood Walk of Fame star is located at 6304 Hollywood Blvd.

1944: Damien Parer killed in action

The great Australian combat cinematographer Damien Parer was killed on the island of Peleliu (now part of the island nation of Palau) while filming advancing Japanese soldiers. Born in Melbourne on 1 August 1912, Parer was appointed official movie photographer to the AIF and filmed in Greece, Syria and Timor, and on board HMAS Sydney. Parer’s most famous footage was shot in New Guinea. His short documentary Kokoda Front Line! won a 1942 Academy Award.

1945: Hector Crawford Productions founded

In an office in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Hector Crawford (1913–1991) and his sister Dorothy established Hector Crawford Productions. The company initially produced radio programs and became one of the most important and influential production entities in Australian television. Crawford’s TV hits include Homicide (1964-76), Division 4 (1969-75), Cop Shop (1977-84), The Sullivans (1976-82) and The Flying Doctors (1986-92).

1945: Realist Film Unit formed

The politically left-wing Realist Film Unit began operations in Melbourne at the end of the Second World War. Formed around the nucleus of Ken Coldicutt and Bob Matthews, the RFU produced a series of docudrama short films on social and political issues affecting postwar Australia. Titles include These Are Our Children (1946) and A Place to Live (1950). The RFU was the filmmaking arm of the Realist Film Association, which exhibited films imported largely from Eastern Bloc countries.


Gionfriddo, A 2005, Independent Voice: Australian Political Documentary from the 1940s to the 1980s, RMIT AFI Research Collection, Melbourne.

1945: British Rank Organisation acquires 50% share in Greater Union

In 1945 the British Rank Organisation acquired a 50 per cent share in the Australian producer-exhibitor-distributor Greater Union, which was also the parent company of Cinesound Features. The move initially promised Rank’s strong involvement in the Australian industry, commencing with a large-scale production of Robbery Under Arms to be directed by Ken G Hall. The Rank–Greater Union deal was adversely affected by the 1947 decision of Britain’s Labour Government to impose a 75 per cent tax on the earnings of all imported films. When this tax was lifted Rank was no longer in a financial position to enter Australian production. Robbery Under Arms was eventually made by Rank in 1957, with British director Jack Lee.


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 7 ‘Renewed Hopes’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 173–174.

1946: The Overlanders premieres, Ealing Studios arrives

The Overlanders premiered at the Lyceum Theatre in Sydney on 27 September 1946. It ran for five months and was a considerable commercial success in England, the US and Eastern European markets. Directed by Harry Watt and starring Chips Rafferty, it was the first Australian production by England’s Ealing Studios. Between 1946 and 1959, Ealing Studios and Ealing Films were involved in the production of Australian features including Eureka Stockade (1949), Bitter Springs (1950), The Kangaroo Kid (1950), The Shiralee (1957) and The Siege of Pinchgut (1959).


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 204.

1946: Columbia Pictures finances Smithy

In 1946 the Hollywood studio Columbia Pictures financed Smithy, a biography of the Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. Using film hire revenues it had accumulated during the Second World War – which could not be returned to the US because of Australian government restrictions – Columbia’s Australian branch chief NP Pery hired Cinesound director Ken G Hall and his crew to make the film for the large sum of £53,000 – twice the budget of any pervious Cinesound feature. Starring Ron Randell and Muriel Steinbeck (both of whom had successful international careers), Smithy was a box-office hit on release in July 1946. In mid-1947 Columbia released the film in England under the title Southern Cross, and in the US (with almost all references to Australia removed) as Pacific Adventure. Despite Pery’s promise of further Columbia productions in Australia, the company did not invest in another Australian feature until its London branch provided partial funding for Age of Consent in 1969.


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 202, 242.

1948: Horror movies banned

In 1948, Chief Censor JO Alexander imposed a ban on all horror films. Outside of film festivals, horror films were not exhibited in Australia until the ban was lifted in 1968.


Sabine, J (Ed) 1995, A Century of Australian Cinema, Mandarin, Port Melbourne, p 74.

1948: Government green lights commercial TV

The Chifley government announces Australia will have a national television service with one station in each capital city. The PMG calls for tenders and the Australian Broadcasting Act 1942 establishes the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to regulate commercial and national broadcasting. Television officially launched in Australia on 16 September 1956.


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

1949: Sons of Matthew, an Australian epic

In March 1947 director Charles Chauvel began filming his ambitious production Sons of Matthew (1949). Based on the pioneering O’Reilly family, who had setttled in the mountains of south-east Queensland, Sons of Matthew was made on a lavish £120,000 budget and was co-produced by Greater Union Theatres in association with Universal Pictures. Shooting in remote locations was plagued by bad weather and took 18 months to complete. Starring Michael Pate, it premiered in Sydney on 16 December 1949 at the Lyceum and Victory cinemas and performed strongly in Australia. Though not as successful in England or the US, Sons of Matthew (1949) eventually made a profit.


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 208–209.