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Roads and Traffic Authority

The Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) Collection spans approximately 50 years and contains over 75 films publicising safety issues, recording developments in traffic engineering and documenting the building of roads and bridges.

It incorporates the 16mm Film Library Collection of the RTA’s forerunner, the DMR (Department of Main Roads). The DMR's impressive film library documents road and bridge construction in New South Wales between 1928 and 1976. The RTA Collection also includes the output of the ongoing RTA Oral History Program.

The RTA is the NSW government agency responsible for, among other things, maintaining the state’s network of roads. It was formed in 1989 from a merger of the Traffic Authority of NSW, the Department of Motor Transport and the Department of Main Roads. The DMR began in 1932, replacing the earlier Main Roads Board, and looked after the construction of roads and bridges and maintenance of the road network.

The 78 films in the DMR Film Library range in length from five minutes to over two hours. The earliest title dates from 1928 and is a silent, black-and-white 15-minute record of improvements to the grade and alignment of the Princes Highway at Engadine. Later films – including the examples from the 1960s and ‘70s featured below – were made in colour with instrumental scores and voice-over narration. Only about 20 were made locally; the rest were sourced from overseas to demonstrate engineering techniques to DMR staff.

One of the aims of the DMR films on this site was to address public concern over traffic congestion. Many roads began to reach saturation point with the increase in suburban sprawl and rising levels of car ownership following the Second World War. Government attempts to redress overcrowded roads led to work beginning on the state’s first motorway (in 1960, extending from Peat’s Ferry to Gosford) and expressway (the Cahill Expressway, commenced in 1955 and completed in 1962). Sydney-Newcastle Expressway (1968), Warringah Expressway (1969) and The Western Distributor (1973) are all concerned with documenting – and promoting – new and extended expressways as a means of alleviating congestion on NSW roads.

These films present the work of the DMR to a general audience. Their tone is upbeat, highlighting feats of engineering and the progress made towards reducing traffic delays and overcrowded roads and highways. They were shown by the DMR to new staff, such as engineers starting work with the department. Educational institutions – high schools, technical colleges and universities – borrowed them for screenings, as did historical societies and community groups (like Lions and Rotary Clubs). By contrast, Continuously Reinforced Concrete Pavement (1976) is aimed at a more specialised audience, showcasing technical developments in road engineering to the department and wider construction industry.

Several of the sponsored films were produced for the DMR by Kingcroft Productions. Kingcroft Productions was co-founded in 1946 by John Kingsford Smith, nephew of aviator Charles. John Kingsford Smith had worked for Cinesound studios in the 1930s and 1940s before becoming a successful and prolific independent producer of documentaries. From 1948 into the 1980s, he produced 327 sponsored films and commercials and played a key creative role in all of them – as writer, director, cinematographer or editor. Other examples of his work include films promoting industry (Just Peanuts, 1954), tourism (The Rocks: Sydney, Australia, 1983), the Snowy Hydro Scheme (Snowy Hydro – The Snowy Mountains Scheme, 1952) and the Australian Inland Mission (The Inlanders, 1949, and Australia’s Land of Tomorrow, 1962).

Other sponsored film collections on ASO include Snowy Hydro (1949–74) as well as films sponsored by the Shell Company of Australia (c1920–current) and Australia Post (1942–92).

Since 1996, the RTA has also run an Oral History Program. It collects material relating to eminent individuals and records thematic histories. An example of the latter is Maintaining the Links: Maintenance of Historic Timber Bridges in NSW (2001), which documents the work of those who look after heritage-listed timber bridges. This film neatly illustrates the dual value of the Oral History Program. Not only are workers’ contributions preserved for posterity, but a visual record of their skills and work techniques allows these historical structures to be cared for into the future.

Titles in this collection

Continuously Reinforced Concrete Pavement 1976

This sponsored film demonstrates the successful application of continuously reinforced concrete pavement in a major infrastructure project.

Maintaining the Links: Maintenance of Historic Timber Bridges in NSW 2001

This film from the RTA Oral History Program documents the history of timber bridge design and construction in New South Wales.

The New Gladesville Bridge 1967

A public relations film made for the NSW Department of Main Roads documenting the construction of the New Gladesville Bridge, then the longest reinforced concrete arch span in the world.

Sydney-Newcastle Expressway 1968

This film comprehensively covers three-and-a-half years of construction of the Sydney-Newcastle Expressway in 50 minutes.

Warringah Expressway 1969

This public relations film for the NSW Department of Main Roads documents completion of the first stage of the Warringah Expressway from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Cammeray.

The Western Distributor 1973

This sponsored film documents the construction of the first stage of the Western Distributor, providing a route from the Sydney Harbour Bridge through to Ultimo and the city’s west.