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Road to Kokoda (1942)


This Movietone News special edition features Australian troops fighting on the Kokoda track in the Owen Stanley Ranges of Papua New Guinea during the Second World War. It uses footage taken by cinematographer Damien Parer for the Commonwealth Department of Information.

Curator’s notes

The film’s introductory text presents Road to Kokoda as a 'graphic document of Australian heroism and suffering in tropic mountain jungles of New Guinea’. Kokoda Front Line! (1942), rival Cinesound’s special edition newsreel, incorporated much of the same footage. Cinematographer Damien Parer’s Catholic background is said to have informed his work and the emphasis on suffering and heroism in both newsreels. Through the images in Road to Kokoda, Parer frames the action as a spiritual battle between good and evil where Australian troops – 'fighting the good fight’ in the words of the narrator – encounter and overcome a series of physical challenges (tropical conditions, malarial jungles and harsh terrain) and fight a brutal unseen enemy (the Japanese). What’s remarkable about Parer’s released footage is that there is no actual combat, and the Japanese presence is felt most keenly through its absence. It is the Australian troops that attracted Parer’s interest and empathy and he did his best to convey their plight.

Both the Cinesound and Movietone newsreel specials covering events at Kokoda were released in the same week. At the time, Cinesound and Movietone were the only two Australian newsreel companies operating during the war, and their rivalry was fierce. But while both films feature Parer’s remarkable footage, only Cinesound benefited from a close working relationship with Parer. Kokoda Front Line! (1942) cleverly and memorably book-ended its newsreel with a sincere and urgent address to camera by Parer himself – fresh from the mud and sweat of the New Guinea highlands. His plea to audiences, reminding them that the nation was 'in peril’, was the icing on the cake denied to Movietone. Parer was friends with Cinesound director Ken G Hall, and their conversations informed Parer’s opening speech to camera in Kokoda Front Line! (1942).

The Movietone News narration, by contrast, contains no first person account of the war in the Pacific and relies solely on its anonymous voice-over narrator. Where Parer says 'I’ve seen the war’, the Movietone narrator can only call upon 'Mr and Mrs Citizen’ to believe that the enemy is 'lurking behind every tree’. In Kokoda Front Line! it is a weighty and persuasive voice that accompanies Parer’s images, aided by an emotionally charged and dramatic musical score, and in comparing the two, Road to Kokoda comes off second best.

This newsreel was first screened on 18 September 1942.