Aussiewood Rules! Ok?

Everything old is new again – Hollywood might feel that Australia has come out of nowhere to take the golden crown of filmmaking, but they should have read the history books before demonstrating in the streets …

Word on the streets of Hollywood (and everywhere else) is that Australia (Sydney and Melbourne in particular) is slowly taking the crown as the home of the movie blockbusters. Could this be true? Could it be that Hollywood is about to hand over the mantle to another, less jaded and more youthful competitor – along with the hefty pay-cheques that come with it?

And why not?

Little Known Fact #1
Australia was one of the first filmmaking bases in the world. Beginning in 1896, we were producing classic silent documentaries that captured the Australian way of life for posterity.

Little Known Fact #2
We are widely credited for being in the forefront of developing the medium of film at the beginnning of the century.

Little Known Fact #3
In the period 1906 to 1911 Australia produced more feature films than any other country in the world.

Little Known Fact #4
Australia produced what is widely regarded as the first full-length feature film in the world – The Story of the Kelly Gang – in 1906, directed by Charles Tait.

Little Known Fact #5
A total of 150 feature films were produced in Australia between 1906 and 1928 . These include several films still considered masterpieces:

  • Robbery Under Arms (1907)
  • For the Term of His Natural Life (1908)
  • The Sentimental Bloke (1910, Raymond Longford)
  • A Ticket in Tatts (1911)
  • Mark of the Lash (1911)
  • The Miner’s Curse (1911)
  • The Tide of Death (1912),
  • Won at the Post (1912)
  • Transported (1913),
  • The Kid Stakes (1927, Tal Ordell)

Little Known Fact #6
In the mid-1890’s, going to the cinema was considered so much a necessity of life that the ticket price was used to help determine the basic Australian wage.

Little Known Fact #7
The Australian film, Dad and Dave, was the first film to use sound – by way of sounds of wildlife over the title sequence.

Little Known Fact #8
Australia invented the first colour stills camera and colour motion picture camera.

So what happened? How did we go from being the largest and most prolific and innovative feature film producing country in the world to suddenly (from 1928 to the late 1960’s) producing nothing at all?

The First World War which ran from 1914-1918 had a lot to do with it. The declaration of war pretty much disrupted everything, including film production in Europe and the Commonwealth.

And that’s where Hollywood stepped in. Films from the USA were virtually all that were available. This, together with the devastating effects of the Depression and the subsequent introduction of costly sound technology in 1927, caused the collapse of the Australian feature film industry.

What is my point? Well, it’s simple really – as Australia began the feature film industry, why shouldn’t we now be reaping the benefits of our forefather’s early innovation and dedication? We are still recognised as leaders in the Special Effects industry, with films such as The Matrix being completely made here, which used Australian techniques and crew, and our own futuristic movie, Dark City, which was completely Australian made.

Also, US and UK film production in Australia is nothing new. During the 1940’s through to the 1960s, a number of British and American companies made feature films in Australia. In most instances Australians were cast in supporting roles or used in non-key crew positions. Some of these films are now considered classics such as The Overlanders (1946), Bush Christmas (1947), On the Beach (1959) and The Sundowners (1960).

With the resurgence of Australian films on the world market, and our history as trailblazers and leaders in the international film industry, both for filmmaking and technical development, no-one should be surprised that we are finally claiming our share of the industry back. And getting a slice of the international filmmaking pie, along with the money attached to big budget productions – is just the icing on the cake.

As an independent Australian filmmaker, I am proud of my industry’s history and very optimistic about it’s future. Every dog has it’s day and our hounds are barking up a storm – as well they should.

Originally published August 1999 © S. McLean.  All rights reserved.

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