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Prices and the People (1948)


This dramatised documentary made by the Realist Film Unit supports a ‘yes’ vote in the 1948 federal referendum on the continuation of price control.

Curator’s notes

This documentary persuasively argues for the continuation of price control as a protection against effective wage cuts. It provides a working class view of price increases, wages and mounting profits and the effects on everyday people. It is divided roughly into three sections: first, a series of enacted scenarios that allow easy identification with workers trying to get by on the little wages they earn; second, arguments about costs and profits illustrated with cartoons; and third, a final push for a ‘yes’ vote with a direct plea to the audience. The referendum was defeated, and the Chifley government relinquished its responsibility for price control nationwide.

The Communist Party of Australia initially sponsored the production of the documentary and funded the cost of six prints. However, the funding was withdrawn and this plunged the Realist Film Unit into debt. The Realists had made a number of social realist films and engaged with issues surrounding workers rights and housing conditions, in Victoria especially.

The print held at the National Film and Sound Archive was deposited by the filmmaker, Bob Mathews. In parts of the documentary, the soundtrack is only partially audible because of the damage to, and age of, the print. Independent filmmaker John Hughes re-voiced sections of Prices and the People for his new media installation and documentary entitled The Archive Project which exhibited at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image as part of the 2006 Contemporary Commonwealth exhibition.