Australian
Screen

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The Breaking of the Drought (1920)

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clip Grim drought’s devastating hand

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

The drought has dried up rivers and creeks and cracked the earth around Wallaby Station, but Jo Galloway (Charles Beetham) holds on grimly. His stockmen cut down trees to feed hungry sheep. They are so hungry the stockmen have trouble keeping them back while the trees are falling.

Curator’s notes

These scenes so distressed a local MP that he complained in Parliament about the image the film would foster overseas. This was in mid-December 1919, six months before the film would open. The film, as completed, begins and ends with seasons of plenty, as if Barrett was trying to placate these complainers. It’s quite probable he was scared the film would not be exportable without them. The Chief Secretary’s office warned in January 1920 that the film could be stripped from export if the Minister for Customs thought it detrimental to the country’s interests.

Barrett was himself a fervent nationalist. Although born in England, he believed strongly in Australia and the need for a home-grown film industry. It’s unlikely that he would have willingly damaged Australia’s reputation, but these were different and sensitive times. The Great War had just ended, the country’s economy was faltering and drought had greatly damaged national agricultural production. There was a catastrophic worldwide epidemic of influenza and a great deal of industrial unrest in key industries in Australia. The First World War had greatly increased the tolerance for censorship in Australia. The new legislation in 1919 established a Commonwealth Film Censor. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses was banned in Australia in 1919.

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