Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

All documentaries

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1900s

Inauguration of the Commonwealth 1901

This is possibly the first feature-length documentary made in Australia and the first Australian film to use multi-camera coverage.

1910s

Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City of the South c1910

Spencer believed cinema patrons wanted to see their own people and country. He went on to produce feature films, some with director Raymond Longford.

Opening of the Prahran-Malvern Tramway 1910

This silent footage by Millard Johnson and William Gibson was made at a time when few people had seen moving pictures let alone a film camera.

The Sydney Morning Herald 1911

One of the first Australian docos to be shot at night with artificial light, this Pathé short shows the newspaper printing process of the Sydney Morning Herald.

A Thriving and Prosperous Suburb: Bird’s Eye View of Footscray c1911

This informal snapshot of daily life in 1910 is a rare record of working people in early 20th-century Melbourne.

Australia Prepared c1916

A recruiting film highlighting Australian wartime contributions, including shipbuilding and the manufacture of weapons and uniforms.

The Official Film of the Mawson Antarctic Expedition c1916

Home of the Blizzard documents part of the treacherous 600-mile 1911–1914 expedition to the Magnetic South Pole led by Sir Douglas Mawson.

Across the Trans-continental Railway: From Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta c1917

The construction of the trans-continental railway began in 1912 with work being carried out at both ends simultaneously.

Fighting in Flanders 1917

Silent footage of Australian troops in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), fighting near the Menin Road in Belgium, in September 1917.

With the Australians in France 1916 c1917

A silent film of Australian and New Zealand soldiers on the Western Front in France, between June and September 1916, much of it around Pozières.

Australia in France, Part One c1918

One of the Australian War Memorial’s most important films – the most accurate filmed record of the Battle of Pozières in 1916.

The Digger Carries On: Repatriation Illustrated 1919

This 1919 film reassured Australians that returned servicemen were being looked after, in part through retraining.

Ross Smith’s Flight from London to Australia 1919

In 1919, aviator Ross Smith and crew became the first Australians to fly between England and Australia in under 30 days. Cameraman Frank Hurley joined them.

1920s

From the Bush to the Bungalow 1920

Produced at a time when the timber industry was considered romantic, Bush Bungalow shows the power of nature and man’s ability to conquer it.

Steamboat Holidays on the Murray River c1920

This silent documentary shows the landscape and townships along the Murray River and is from a series made in the 1920s called See Australia First.

Pearls and Savages 1921

This 1979 reconstruction of Frank Hurley’s 1921 adventure film Pearls and Savages showcases the peoples and cultures of the Torres Strait Islands and Papua New Guinea.

The Sun Worshippers 1922

A scientific expedition to Wallal for the 1922 solar eclipse confirmed the bending of light by gravity predicted in Einstein’s 1915 General Theory of Relativity.

Piano Making c1924

This early film offers insights into the workmanship involved in piano manufacture and boasts the slogan, ‘Wherever you trade, buy Australian Made’.

Opal Mining Lightning Ridge c1925

Davidson collected over a million feet of footage over 40 years including the miracle of a man pulled from a mine shaft, never once hindered by the pipe in his mouth.

The Rising Generation c1925

This incomplete documentary from 1926 promotes the public education system in South Australia from kindergarten through to university.

Timber Getting in New South Wales c1925

Wood choppers balance on thin planks while rigorously swinging their axes. A silent film looking at the timber industry in New South Wales in the 1920s.

A Trip Along the River Murray 1925

This silent black-and-white film from 1925 emphasises the ‘Mighty Murray’ river’s significance in Australia’s agricultural and natural history.

Australian Cement in the Making c1926

Everything you wanted to know about cement making — in the 1920s — but were afraid to ask.

Black Sunday 1926

This silent footage was probably used as a promotional tool for fundraising in the wake of the 'Black Sunday’ bushfires of Valentine’s Day 1926 that swept Victoria.

A Morning at the World’s Greatest Agricultural Show c1926

A straightforward glimpse into the lives of the trainers, handlers and owners of horses and livestock competing at the 1926 Royal Agricultural Show.

Round About Townsville 1926

Thought to be one of the Know Your Own Country series from the 1920s, Round About Townsville positions Townsville as a veritable paradise.

An AIM Patrol 1927

This film documented outback life in the 1920s and may have been made to accompany a written report.

The Stawell Gift: Staging the Golden Jubilee Carnival 1927

The Stawell Gift, one of the oldest foot races in the world, began as a competition between miners in the Victorian goldfields.

Austin Hospital at Heidelberg, Vic: The Only Hospital for Chronic Diseases in Australia 1928

This is a remarkable visual record of what hospitals were once like — and the treatments used for some ailments in the 1920s.

Charles Ulm c1928

Historical footage such as this of Charles Ulm, hints at the challenges early aviation pioneers would have faced.

Commonwealth Film Laboratories c1928

The provenance of this film fragment is unclear, but it could have been promoting the lab’s services.

Life Guards at Bondi Beach c1929

From around 1929, this fragment of actuality footage shows a Surf Life Saving carnival at Bondi Beach.

1930s

A 5000 Mile Tour Through Central Australia 1930

Clearly, exploring Australia’s interior back in the 1930s was very challenging.

Australian Navy: Destroyers c1930

The capacity of Royal Australian Navy destroyers to carry and launch torpedoes in the 1930s is demonstrated here.

Construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge 1931

Looking back now, the lack of safety equipment used during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is shocking.

Melbourne Today 1931

Probably the first ‘talkie’ documentary made about Melbourne – in 1931, films with sound were still relatively new in Australia.

The Mighty Conqueror 1931

Made only a year before Phar Lap’s death, The Mighty Conqueror boasts some of the last moving images of Phar Lap in Australia both on and off the track.

Siege of the South 1931

Frank Hurley documents Australia’s rich history of scientific exploration of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Thar She Blows c1931

A short documentary about a whale hunt, including the dissection of the carcass and the conversion of blubber to oil.

That’s Cricket c1931

A featurette directed by Ken G Hall promoting cricket as the game that 'helps unite the Empire’ and is important to Australian identity.

The Trail of the ‘Roo 1931

The Trail of the 'Roo is one of a handful of documentary featurettes made by the McDonagh sisters, pioneers of Australia’s early motion picture industry.

Fire Guardians 1932

For this eccentric dramatised documentary on the history of firefighting, Frank Hurley dressed members of the NSW Fire Brigade in all manner of period costume.

Ghosts of Port Arthur c1932

A ‘novelty travel talk’ by Ken G Hall in 1930 has other resonances today: violent encounters after European settlement and the horror of the Port Arthur massacre.

Jewel of the Pacific 1932

In this 1932 travelogue shot and narrated by Frank Hurley, rat tails bring a reward of sixpence each and Lord Howe Island locals join the hunt for the pests.

Provincial Cities of Australia: Ballarat, Victoria c1932

Frank Thring was an enthusiastic supporter of talking pictures and a great believer in their potential to bolster the Australian film industry.

Catching Crocodiles 1933

If you’ve ever wanted to catch a crocodile, this nine-minute instructional video tells you how, 1930s style.

Endurance 1933

After watching Home of the Blizzard Ernest Shackleton asked Frank Hurley to film his expedition across Antarctica with the aim of funding part of the expedition through film sales.

Australia 1934

This record of the man on the land in the 1930s, aimed at UK audiences, would have been narrated by the filmmaker when screened.

Rodeo c1934

This silent documentary is about a rodeo held in northern Queensland in approximately 1934. It features 500 participants parading through the streets of Townsville.

Fez Please c1935

A short silent documentary made by the Owen Brothers about Melbourne’s fast-disappearing cable trams.

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