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The Origin of Oil (c.1923)


Made by Herschells Films for the Shell Company of Australia, this industrial documentary traces the path of oil from its initial extraction from the ground to its refining, packaging and transport and finally as petroleum which modern city dwellers increasingly rely on.

Curator’s notes

A natural subject of interest for Shell, The Origin of Oil is one of the earliest documentaries the company sponsored. The documentary is silent and does not use intertitles to explain the action on screen, but clever use of animated illustrations allow the viewer to understand the process of extracting oil from the ground.

Before the formation of the Shell Film Unit in 1948, the Shell Company of Australia sponsored various industrial and promotional documentaries as well as films with a broader subject matter. Shell collaborated with the Melbourne-based production company Herschells Films on this documentary as well as They Serve (1940), about the work of the Australian Red Cross, Mosquito (1941), about the history, biology and treatment of tropical diseases; and Timber (1947) about the forestry industry.