Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Australia Today – Men of Tomorrow (1939)

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'They start life's race with a handicap' education content clip 1, 2

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

This clip shows the conditions of those living in low income areas of inner city Sydney. The children living in this environment, according to the narration, ‘start life’s race with a handicap’ placing a responsibility on the community whose duty it is to lift it. It focuses on the living conditions of a boy and his family, and the life of crime he gets into on the street. It hints at a cycle of behaviour learned by son from father.

Curator’s notes

The documentary-style to this newsreel, and the melodramatic narration about society’s social ills, make it difficult for a contemporary viewer to separate inflated half-truths from fact. In parts, it appears like a propaganda piece. It does, however, depict the social reality of the time – when Australians were emerging from the Depression.

A point of interest: Rupert Kathner’s filmmaking partner, Alma Brooks, can be seen playing the mother. Brooks often appeared in Kathner’s films, both actuality and fiction.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows children and a family living in inner-city Sydney in 1939. The clip includes exterior shots of slum housing as well as shots of children playing in the street and collecting wood. The melodramatic voice-over decries the lack of opportunity for children living in this environment and claims that without the community’s assistance, their lives are doomed from the outset and the cycle of poverty will continue. These shots are followed by scenes in which actors portray an impoverished family. Footage shows the squalid interior of a house with crumbling plaster. The drunken and abusive father takes money from his wife and son and lurches off to the pub. The son takes to the streets and a potential life of crime. The black-and-white clip is from an item that appeared in the newsreel series Australia Today.

Educational value points

  • The clip depicts urban poverty and social misery in Sydney in the 1930s. The Great Depression (1929–1933) had caused many Australians to suffer great economic hardship and social dislocation. The Australian economy depended to a large extent on exports, particularly wool and wheat, and exports fell by 50 per cent because Britain, Australia’s biggest trading partner, was also affected by the Depression. Businesses failed and unemployment was widespread, in 1932 reaching 29 per cent, one of the highest rates in the world. When families could no longer afford to pay the rent or, as in this case when a family member drank it away, they were evicted from their homes, while farmers were forced from the land.
  • The ‘cycle of poverty’, referred to in the clip as ‘history repeating itself’, is a term used in economics and sociology to describe ongoing poverty across generations. The primary causes of this cycle are a lack of resources such as housing, employment and education. People with little or no money cannot generate enough income to escape poverty. Education increases skill, and less skill usually equates with lower reward, that is, lower pay, in the job market. This group of chronically disadvantaged people often become permanently disenfranchised from society.
  • The narrator strongly suggests, in a highly emotive manner, that positive role modelling from parents and peers is important in the development of young people. While holding fears for the young man’s future, the narrator also expresses compassion for his drunken, abusive father and queries how the father has come to be this way.
  • The issues of alcohol abuse and domestic violence are raised. Research over time has established a close link between alcohol abuse and domestic violence. The lack of jobs during the Depression caused many men to leave home in search of work, known as going ‘on the track’. Many others ‘took to drink’, abused alcohol, in response to their plight. As depicted in this clip, the social consequences of low income and poor circumstances led to children leaving school at the age of 13 or 14, taking up petty crime and having a sense of hopelessness (Lowenstein, Weevils in the Flour: An Oral Record of the 1930’s Depression in Australia, Scribe, 1998).
  • Newsreels were short, magazine-style films that portrayed contemporary issues. They were screened in cinemas, before the first feature film, from the silent era until the 1960s. Newsreels were usually 10 or 11 min long and screened weekly. Some cinemas screened newsreels exclusively. The demise of newsreels was caused by the introduction of television, which screened nightly newscasts that had greater immediacy and decreased the cinema-going audience.
  • Australia Today (1938–40) was an independent newsreel series that presented images of social issues in Australia. The two major newsreel producers, Fox Movietone News and its Australian competitor, Cinesound, presented sanitised and carefully selected stories, ensuring that none of their newsreels would include information or treatments of a controversial nature.
  • Rupert Kathner (1904–54) wrote, directed and produced Australian newsreels and feature films. He produced 13 editions of Australia Today. Rather than the usual light newsreel topics, the series covered darker subjects such as poverty, inner-city slums, unemployment, illegal gambling, drug addiction, juvenile delinquency and alcoholism. The Pyjama Girl Murder Case (1939) was part of this series and was one of the first non-fiction films about a real crime produced in the world.
  • Alma Brooks (c1910–88), who appears in this clip as the abused wife, was the cinematographer and coproducer, with Rupert Kathner, of Australia Today. She was one of Australia’s and the world’s first female cinematographers, but she never received screen credit as such. She used fictionalised male names, including Al Brooks. The story of her filmmaking partnership with Rupert Kathner is the subject of Hunt Angels (2006), a film written and directed by Alec Morgan (1953–) and produced by Sue Maslin (1959–), which won three Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards in 2006. She is also credited as scriptwriter on Wings of Destiny (1940) and as associate producer on The Glenrowan Affair (1951).

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

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  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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