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Australia Today – Australia’s 5th Column (1941)


The opening title card to this Australia Today newsreel declares that Australia is at war and threatened by a ruthless enemy whose objective is the ‘downfall of the British Empire’. That enemy is the ‘5th Column’.

Curator’s notes

The ‘5th Column’ of the title refers to a subversive group or faction who tried to undermine a nation’s solidarity from within its borders. This newsreel drums up fear and suspicion based on the perceived threat of Australia (part of the British Empire at the time) being taken over by the evils of Nazism. It then calls on loyal citizens to do their part to stamp out the threat that invasion from within brings.

While Rupert Kathner’s newsreels can be seen as overdramatic to a modern viewer, this newsreel is of particular interest to contemporary viewers. Towards the end of the newsreel, the narrator says it is the ‘darkening terrorism that threatens the entire free and civilised world’. The call to citizens to help fight the face of terrorism has resonance in today’s current political climate.

Australia Today was set up in the late 1930s by Kathner as an alternative news source to the established Cinesound and Movietone newsreels and was billed as a ‘pictorial digest of current events’. Many of his newsreels engaged with the issues of crime, poverty and politics.