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Australian film and television chronology

The 1890s

1890: Aussie inventor develops prototype TV

Henry Sutton, an amateur inventor from Ballarat, Victoria, proposes the construction of a device that will transmit moving pictures. The November 1890 issue of London’s Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review published Sutton’s design for a machine he named the Telephane. The Telephane appears to have not been built, but its principles of capturing images through a lens and scanning disc, converting them to electrical signals through the action of selenium and transmitting via telegraph wires to a receiving device closely prefigured the later examples of mechanical television devised by John Logie Baird and others in the early 20th century.


Sutton, H 1890, 'Tele–Photography’, The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review, November, London.
McCallum, A Henry Sutton, 1856-1912, Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Herd, Nick 2005, 'Australian Television History – Timeline’, unpublished.

1892: The Salvation Army's Limelight Department formed

The Limelight Department was formed in 1892 under the direction of showman Major Joseph Henry Perry who had impressed the Salvation Army with his photographic work. Initially, Perry used glass slides projected by magic lantern to give presentations to increase the Salvation Army’s public impact but quickly incorporated the new media of kinematographe and the gramophone into his productions. Limelight’s production and art departments based in Melbourne produced written scripts, a range of highly detailed and elaborate sets and an extensive range of impressive period costumes and props. With the coming of moving pictures, the Limelight Department became one of the first film production units in the country and that played a leading role in the pioneering and development of the Australian film industry between 1892 and 1910. Its most famous production was Soldiers of the Cross (1900).


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema: the First Eighty Years, Chapter 1 'The First Decade’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 10-13.
Bertrand, Ina 'Perry, Joseph Henry (1863-1943)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 11, Melbourne University Press, 1988, pp 204-206.

1894: Birth of cinema in Australia

The first screening of film in Australia took place in a shop at 148 Pitt St, Sydney. The public paid a shilling to view images of an American circus and vaudeville performers on the Edison Kinetoscope. Unlike the later movie projection of the Lumière Brothers, the Kinetoscope was a box containing a 50-foot loop of film watched through an eyepiece by a single viewer. Twenty-five thousand people paid to watch the Kinetoscope in the first month of exhibition.


Sabine, J (Ed) 1995, A Century of Australian Cinema, Mandarin, Melbourne, p 2.

1895: First paying audience watches Australian boxer

The first motion picture to be displayed before a paying audience featured Australian boxer Albert Griffiths, AKA Young Griffo, in Young Griffo v Battling Charles Barnett. The bout was filmed at Madison Square Garden and projected at 153 Broadway in New York City. Although the Lumière Brothers first projected film in Paris on 22 March 1895, their public exhibitions did not commence until 28 December 1895. By any method of interpretation it can be said that Young Griffo was the first Australian to receive a screen credit.

1895: 'Talkies' arrive in Australia

In the Queensland mining town of Charters Towers, the Edison kinetophone made its first Australian appearance. A combination of the Edison kinetoscope and the phonograph Edison had invented, it synchronised images with sound delivered to an earpiece from a wax cylinder. Despite the Rockhampton Bulletin noting 'indeed every word can be heard with the utmost distinctness’, the kinetophone was not a commercial success.


Sabine, J (Ed) 1995, A Century of Australian Cinema, Mandarin, Melbourne, pp 12–13.

1896: First film projected in Australia

Calling himself 'The Premier Prestidigateur’, American magician Carl Hertz projected the first motion pictures in Australia at Harry Rickard’s Melbourne Opera House. Running no longer than 50 seconds each, Hertz’s films were mostly Edison shorts filmed at at 30 frames per second, but projected at 16 frames per second on Hertz’s equipment. Despite such technical flaws, Hertz’s show was a major success.


Sabine, J (Ed) 1995, A Century of Australian Cinema, Mandarin, Melbourne, pp 10–15.

1896: Earliest surviving film

The earliest surviving motion picture film shot in Australia is believed to be Patineur Grotesque (1896). Also known as The Humorous Rollerskater, it is a short piece of actuality footage that shows a man in costume on rollerskates performing a comic act for a gathering crowd. It is believed to have been shot only days before footage taken at Flemington racecourse of the Melbourne Cup 1896. Assisted by Australian Walter Barnett, Lumiere camera operator Maurice Sestier filmed ten 60-second reels chronicling Cup day from the arrival of crowds to the winner, Newhaven, being presented the trophy. On 24 November 1896, Sestier and Barnett premiered the films at Sydney’s Criterion Theatre. The six surviving reels were returned from the Cinémathéque Française to Australia in 1969.


National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, The Marius Sestier Collection.
Sabine, J (Ed) 1995, A Century of Australian Cinema, Mandarin, Melbourne, pp 14–16.

1897: First Australian film studio

In 1897 the Limelight Department of the Salvation Army set up a processing laboratory and film studio in an attic at 69 Bourke St, Melbourne. Productions began filming in the Limelight Department studio in October 1897. The Salvation Army continues to operate out of 69 Bourke St.


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema: the First Eighty Years, Chapter 1 ‘The First Decade’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 10–11.

1899: First government films produced

The world’s first government films were produced in Queensland by Fred Wills, the official photographer for the Department of Agriculture. Wills was assisted by his eventual successor, Harry Mobsby.


AFC (Screen Australia)