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Australian film and television chronology

The 1950s

1950: Film festival planning pow-wow held

In January 1950 at Newport beach in Sydney, the NSW Federation of Film Societies hosted a weekend conference for interstate film society representatives. The outcome of the meeting was the establishment of the Australian Council of Film Societies. At the 1951 meeting of ACOFS, the Victorian Federation of Film Societies offered to stage a film festival in the Victorian town of Olinda. On the Australia Day long weekend in 1952 the Olinda event took place, and has since become popularly accepted as being the first Melbourne Film Festival.


Olinda Film Festival Official Programme, 1952.

1951: Feature film production nosedives

In mid-1951 the Capital Issues Board of the Department of National Development prohibited the formation of public companies for specified productions whose capital exceeded £10,000. With film production included on the list, the ruling caused the collapse of Ken G Hall's proposed international coproduction of Robbery Under Arms, which was eventually made in 1957. Despite strong protests from the local industry, the order stayed in place. Between 1952 and 1966 the Australian film industry produced an average of two films per year, including coproductions.


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 7 ‘Renewed Hopes’, Currency Press, Sydney, p 183.

1951: Actor exodus in lean years

During the moribund years of the Australian film industry in the 1950s and 1960s, a large contingent of Australian actors left to seek work overseas. Among those who found success were Charles Tingwell (Murder She Said, 1961), Rod Taylor (The Time Machine, 1960), Diane Cilento (Oscar nominee for Tom Jones, 1963), Ray Barrett (The Reptile, 1966), Leo McKern (The Day the Earth Caught Fire, 1961) and Peter Finch (The Trials of Oscar Wilde, 1961). Between 1951 and 1970, Michael Pate notched up more than 130 credits in American film and television productions.

1952: The first Melbourne Film Festival

On the Australia Day weekend in 1952, the Federation of Victorian Film Societies and other affiliated groups staged a film festival in the Victorian country town of Olinda. This is commonly accepted as being the first Melbourne Film Festival. The opening night film on Friday 25 January was La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast, 1946), and the program included a discussion on censorship and a lecture titled 'The Cine Camera as a Scientific Instrument’, by Dr AR Michaelis. In his official program notes for the Olinda Festival, Prime Minister Robert Menzies wrote 'I would like to congratulate all who have helped to organize (sic) this splendid event. I hope it will encourage even higher standards of film production in Australia, and help develop in our people a love of good films of every kind’. In 1953 the first officially titled Melbourne Film Festival was held at the Exhibition Building. Known as the Melbourne International Film Festival since 1989, it is Australia’s longest-running film festival.


Hope, C & Dickerson, A 2006, 'Films for the Intelligent Layman’: The Origins of the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals (viewed May 2007).
Olinda Film Festival Official Programme, 1952.

1952: Mike and Stefani, Australian neo-realist landmark

Three years after it began production in Europe, the immigrant docudrama Mike and Stefani (1952) premiered at the Jubilee Film Festival in Melbourne. A landmark of postwar Australian filmmaking, Mike and Stefani (1952) told the story of real-life Ukrainian couple Mycola and Stefani, who migrated to Australia after being reunited at the Leipheim refugee camp in Bavaria in 1949. Director Maslyn Williams and cinematographer Reg Pearse filmed at Leipheim and surrounds in the winter of 1949–50. Much of the drama was improvised as the couple applied for immigrant status and were filmed undergoing an emotionally gruelling interview by an actual immigration official. Produced by the Film Division of the Department of the Interior, Mike and Stefani (1952) aroused disquiet in government ranks in Australia for its unflinching depictions of real situations and was never widely exhibited or distributed. It was the only feature-length film directed by Maslyn Williams, who continued to make government-sponsored shorts and documentaries until his resignation from the Commonwealth Film Unit in 1962.


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 213–214.

1952: The Waterside Workers' Federation Film Unit formed

Under the banner 'we film the facts’, the Waterside Workers’ Federation Film Unit produced a dozen documentaries on issues affecting Australian working-class people. Driven by central figures Keith Gow, Jock Levy and Norma Disher, the Film Unit’s productions included Pensions for Veterans (1953), The Hungry Miles (1955) and November Victory (1955). The unit also produced films for the Building Workers’ Industrial Union, the Boilermakers’ Society and The Miners’ Federation before disbanding in 1958. Its final production was Hewers of Coal (1957).


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 8 ‘Into the Void’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 189, 195–196.

1953: Giorgio Mangiamele, experimental filmmaker

Italian migrant Giorgio Mangiamele directed Il Contratto (or The Contract, 1953), the first of five 16mm independent films he made about migrant life in Australia. Il Contratto (1953) was followed by The Brothers (1958), Ninety Nine Per Cent (1958) and two versions of The Spag (1962). Mangiamele’s 1965 feature, Clay, was selected for competition at the Cannes Film Festival.


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 9 ‘New Strings’, Currency Press, Sydney, p 213.

1953: Chips Rafferty and Lee Robinson join forces

Frustrated by government regulations concerned with raising capital for film productions and the poor state of the Australian film industry, actor Chips Rafferty and Lee Robinson, a director with the Film Division of the Department of the Interior, formed Platypus Productions. Their first venture was The Phantom Stockman (1953), which was pre-sold to America as Return of the Plainsman and to Britain as Cattle Station. With these deals in place, the film had recouped more than double its production budget by the time it opened in Australia in June 1953. Under the Southern International company banner, Robinson and Rafferty produced features including King of The Coral Sea (1954), Walk Into Paradise (1956) and Dust in the Sun (1958).


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 216, 217, 222, 226.

1954: First Australian drive-in opens

The Skyline drive-in opened for business in the Melbourne suburb of Burwood on 18 February 1954. It was the first of 330 drive-ins (or 'ozoners’, as they are known in industry slang) built in Australia. The drive-in was fitted out with (state-of-the art) projectors manufactured in Edwardstown, South Australia, by the Standard Projector Company set up by Reg Fitton. The number of drive-ins fell dramatically with the advent of home video in the early 1980s. As of March 2007, fewer than 20 drive-ins remain operating in Australia.

1954: First Sydney Film Festival

The first Sydney Film Festival was held over four days in four halls at Sydney University. The festival was a great success, with all 1,200 tickets sold at a cost of one guinea each. The 1954 program included Jacques Tati’s Jour de fête (1948) and John Heyer’s Australian documentary, The Back of Beyond (1954). In 1968 the festival relocated to the Rose Bay Wintergarden Theatre and in 1974 it moved to its present headquarters, the State Theatre. The longest-serving director of the SFF was David Stratton (1967-1983). During Stratton’s stewardship, the SFF became a key player in the movement to change Australian film censorship standards.


Kaufman, T May 2003, Looking Back, Looking Forward: the Sydney Film Festival at 50, Senses of Cinema (viewed May 2007).

1954: The Back of Beyond triumphs at Venice

The dramatised documentary The Back of Beyond (1954) was awarded the Grand Prix Assoluto (Absolute Grand Prize) at the Venice Film Festival. Directed by John Heyer, The Back of Beyond chronicled the daily life of mailman Tom Kruse on the track between Birdsville in QLD and Marree in SA. The film was the most acclaimed production made by the Shell Film Unit Australia, a division of the international oil and petroleum company. Heyer had been producer in charge at the SFU since 1948, and became executive producer for films and television at Shell International in London in 1956.


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 218.
The Internet Movie Database

1954: First 35mm colour documentary feature produced

Produced by Stanley Hawes for the Department of the Interior’s Film Division, The Queen in Australia (1954) was the first Australian 35mm colour feature-length film. A documentary about Queen Elizabeth II’s 1954 royal visit, the 70–minute film proved to be a financial and critical success in Australia and several overseas markets. The first colour drama feature was Jedda (1955).


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 8 'Into the Void’, Currency Press, Sydney, p 193.
Australian Centre for the Moving Image: Film Australia Retrospective

1954: Limited broadcast of Queen's visit

Television coverage of the tour of Queen Elizabeth II was broadcast into hospitals in Sydney and Canberra. The Queen travelled 10,000 air miles (16,000 km) and 2,000 road miles (3,200 km) between 3 February and 1 April. In Brisbane the royal party was shown King of the Coral Sea (1953), directed by Lee Robinson and starring Chips Rafferty.


National Archives of Australia, Royal visit 1954
Herd, Nick 2005, 'Australian Television History – Timeline’, unpublished.

1955: Jedda, landmark Australian colour feature

Jedda (1955), the first fully-Australian funded colour narrative feature, premiered at the Star Theatre in Darwin. It starred Anmatjere woman Ngarla Kunoth (now known as Rosalie Kunoth-Monks) in the title role and Robert Tudawali, a full-blooded Aboriginal man from Melville Island, as Jedda’s captor, Marbuck. It opened in Sydney on 5 May to critical and commercial success. Jedda (1955) was the tenth and final feature directed by Charles Chauvel, who died on 11 November 1959.

The first feature-length narrative colour film shot in Australia was the US production Kangaroo (1952). The feature-length narrative Long John Silver (1954), an Australia-US co-production, was made here in colour two years later. The Queen in Australia (1954) was the first fully-Australian funded feature-length colour film.


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp 220-221.
Graham Shirley

1955: First Australian film in Cannes competition

Jedda (1955) was the first Australian feature film to be selected in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Charles Chauvel's final feature was released in England in 1956 with 40 minutes cut, and was retitled Jedda the Uncivilised for American release on 27 February 1957.


Pike, A & Cooper, R 1998, Australian Film 1900–1977, 1st edn, rev. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 220.

1955: Television licences granted

In March the government granted the first commercial television licences in Melbourne and Sydney. Successful applicants were Sydney Amalgamated Television Services (Sydney, call sign ATN7), Television Corporation (Sydney, call sign TCN9), General Television Corporation (Melbourne, call sign GTV9) and a company to be formed by Herald and Weekly Times Ltd (Melbourne, subsequently called HSV7).


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

1956: Television officially launched

TCN9 Sydney was the first TV station in Australia to begin regular transmission. On Sunday 16 September at 7.00 pm, television announcer John Godson introduced the station with the greeting 'Good evening and welcome to television’. Bruce Gyngell then introduced the first program, This Is Television (1956).

1956: Channel 7 Melbourne launched

HSV7 Melbourne officially began broadcasting on Sunday 4 November 1956. On 2 December 1956, ATN7 Sydney began transmission.

1956: ABC TV on air

ABC television station ABN2 Sydney commenced transmission on 5 November 1956. Hosted by Michael Charlton, the opening night special featured studio guests including the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and ABC chairman Richard Boyer. The broadcast included a newsflash about the Suez Canal crisis read by James Dibble. ABV2 Melbourne began transmission on 18 November 1956.


Borchers, W 2000, A Pocket History of ABC Television, ABC Archives, Sydney.

1956: First Crawfords production on Australian TV

The first program made by an independent producer was transmitted less than a week after the official launch of television in Melbourne. Crawford Productions’ Wedding Day (1956-57) was broadcast on HSV7 at 9.30 pm and ran for 39 weeks.

1956: First current affairs program goes to air

On 3 December 1957, ATN7 Sydney launched Australia’s first current affairs program, At Seven On Seven, hosted by Howard Craven.

1956: First live opera broadcast

ABC TV broadcast The Telephone (1947) by Menotti from its Gore Hill studio in Sydney on 20 December 1956. It was the first of hundreds of live operas broadcast by the ABC.


Borchers, W, Technical Advances in ABC Television, ABC Content Services, Chronology 4th Draft.

1956: Commonwealth Film Unit established

The Department of the Interior Film Division was renamed the Commonwealth Film Unit. During the 1960s the CFU's headquarters in Burwood and then Lindfield in Sydney became a hub for filmmakers seeking support for a renewal of the Australian feature film industry, and provided the training ground for filmmakers including Peter Weir, Joan Long, Richard Brennan and Donald Crombie. Many CFU documentaries during this period showed exceptional cinematic flair and made impressions on the international film festival circuit. Among these were Shades of Puffing Billy (1967), Desert People (1967) and The Pictures That Moved (1968). The CFU became involved in narrative feature production with Three to Go in 1971. In 1973, the CFU was renamed Film Australia.


Shirley, G & Adams, B 1983, Australian Cinema the First Eighty Years, Chapter 9 ‘Subsidy and Growth’, Currency Press, Sydney, pp 264-265.

1956: Film and Television Production Association formed

In the same year television arrived in Australia, the Film and Television Production Association of Australia was formed. In the late 1970s a Feature Film Division, whose members included David Hannay and Margaret Fink, was organised within the FTPAA. Representing the interests and concerns of independent television and film producers, the FTPAA was known as the Screen Production Association of Australia from 1985 to 1994, when it was retitled Screen Producers Association of Australia.

1957: Graham Kennedy's first TV appearance

Graham Kennedy's first television appearance was on GTV9 Melbourne on 31 March 1957, reading donations during a telethon to raise money for the Red Cross. On the same day, Kennedy was offered a nightly TV show. At 9.30 pm on 6 May 1957, In Melbourne Tonight (1957-70) debuts, launching the career of the presenter who became known as 'The King’ of Australian television.


Blundell, G 2003, King: The Life and Comedy of Graham Kennedy, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, pp 81, 85, 92.

1957: TV takes toll on cinemas

In 1957, the year after television was introduced, cinema attendance in Victoria alone plummeted by 5 million admissions. By 1959 an estimated 28 per cent of Sydney cinemas had closed, along with 33 per cent of Melbourne’s hard tops.


Collins, D 1986, Hollywood Downunder: Australians at the Movies 1896 to the Present Day, Angus and Robertson, NSW, pp 226-229.

1957: Australian Cinematographers Society founded

In 1957 a group of cinecamera photographers in Sydney founded the Australian Cinematographers Society. The first official meeting was held on 31 October 1958, and its Articles of Association were formalised in 1960. Originally limited exclusively to film cinematographers, the ACS broadened its membership to include video photographers as technology in this field advanced rapidly in the 1980s and ’90s. The ACS's highest award for excellence is the Golden Tripod, and it presents the Milli Award to its Cinematographer of the Year.

1957: TV Week hits the stands

On 5 December 1957, the first issue of TV-Radio Week was launched. Produced in association with GTV9 Melbourne, it was Australia’s first dedicated TV magazine and featured station personalities Geoff Corke and Val Ruff on the cover. Initially sold only in Melbourne, TV-Radio Week abbreviated its name to TV Week in 1958 and launched a Sydney edition. In 1959 the ABC-owned rival publication TV News-Times (later retitled TV Times) was launched. TV Week and TV Times remained in competition until the 1980 demise of TV Times. TV Week is still being published by ACP. Its all-time peak circulation was 850,000 in the mid-1980s.


The History of Australian Television: TV Week
Herd, Nick 2005, 'Australian Television History – Timeline’, unpublished.

1958: Broadcasters unite for royal tour

The ABC combined with Channels 7 and 9 for the first time to bring an Outside Broadcast to the nation. Three OB vans were stationed along the procession route as HRH The Queen Mother travelled from Sydney Airport to Government House.


Borchers, W, Technical Advances in ABC Television, ABC Content Services, Chronology 4th Draft.

1958: Bandstand on TV

TCN9 Sydney launched the musical variety program Bandstand (1958-72) on 1 November 1958. Hosted by the station’s neatly dressed newsreader, Brian Henderson, the show ran until 1972 and introduced a 'who’s who’ of Australian music to audiences.

1958: Inaugural AFI Awards

Australian feature film production was at an all-time low when the first Australian Film Institute Awards were held as part of the Melbourne Film Festival. In 1958, only 30 films were entered in the six categories of documentary, educational, advertising, experimental, public relations and 'open’. As the Australian film revival gathered momentum in the 1970s, further categories were added. Until 1975, the Best Film award was open to non-features and documentaries. The first film to win the new category of Best Feature Film was The Devil’s Playground in 1976. In 2004 Somersault won all 13 feature film awards for which it was eligible.

1958: Australian Film Institute founded

The Australian Film Institute was founded. The non-profit organisation was dedicated to promoting film culture by fostering engagement between the general public and the film industry. Receiving government funding and corporate sponsorship, the AFI's membership stood at 10,000 in 2007. It has presented the AFI Awards since 1958 and its Research Collection has been held at RMIT in Melbourne since 2001.

1959: Six O'Clock Rock rocks on to TV

Six O’Clock Rock (1959-61) was the first Australian music show aimed squarely at the teenage market. Where Channel 9’s Bandstand (1958-72) had offered clean-cut, family-oriented musical entertainment, the ABC production served up a roster of much wilder acts until December 1961. Originally hosted by Rickie Merriman, it was most famously fronted by Aussie rocker Johnny O’Keefe, who also wrote the program’s theme song and performed it in the first episode with his band, The Dee Jays.


Borchers, W 2000, A Pocket History of ABC Television, ABC Content Services, ABC Archives.

1959: Mr Squiggle arrives

Mr Squiggle appeared for the first time on ABC TV on 1 July 1959. The beloved children’s TV character created by Norman Hetherington drew his last picture on 9 July 1999. Presenters of Mr Squiggle and Friends (1959-99) include Gina Curtis (1959-1960), Patricia Lovell (1960-1975) and Jane Fennell (1975-1986).


Borchers, W, Technical Advances in ABC Television, ABC Content Services, Chronology 4th Draft.

1959: Logie Awards forerunner launched

After public voting forms were distributed in late 1958, the inaugural TV Week Awards were held in Melbourne in early 1959. Graham Kennedy and Panda Lisner from the GTV9 Melbourne program In Melbourne Tonight (1957-70) shared the TV Week Star Of The Year Award. It was Kennedy who named the awards the 'Logies’, after the middle name of British TV pioneer John Logie Baird. Kennedy won the first Gold Logie – for most popular personality – in 1960. The Logie Awards remain a premier event in the Australian TV calendar.