Film – Life in Australia: Melbourne

Somebody shared this short government film on Facebook and I thought it was well worth sharing and commenting on. The film itself is from the National Film and Sound Archive’s Film Australia Collection, part of which has been uploaded to Youtube (more films here).

The film was made in 1966, but, according to some of the exchanges between viewers and the uploader, it seems that bits and pieces of the film may have been taken from different years:

Although dated at 1966, the shots around 7:00 (in the Holden engine factory) would have been shot in 1965 (149 cubic inch engines are shown being built, the 1966 Holdens didn’t have those). Around 13:15, all the finished Holdens in the yards are 1965 (HD) models – long gone by ’66… – Conniptions886

Yes well spotted. The production dates were usually given at the completion of the production which in this case was ’66 even though production may have started much earlier. It’s also possible that some material was used from other productions. CFU / Film Australia were great cannibals of their own material. Thanks for the detail. – FILMAUSTRALIA

That fact aside, I find it fascinating that there are people out there with such a level of detail of knowledge that they are able to identify when a particular scene in a documentary must have been shot by the model of the engine being built in a factory. It just goes to show how great it is that films like these can be made permanently and freely available for viewing and discussion to preserve and communicate history.

What I found most interesting about the film was what had changed in Melbourne and what had stayed the same. At the beginning of the film (after the initial AFL scene), we see part of the city skyline from the Yarra River upstream of the city. Although the skyline of the city is somewhat different, landmark buildings such as St Pauls Cathedral and the Forum Theatre are clearly recognisable. However, we next see a  milkman delivering new bottles and retrieving empties from a horse-drawn cart; a scene almost comically “old-fashioned” to my generation (although, I suspect, not to my parents’).

The shots down key city streets are, too, a mixture of sameness and difference. Most shots are identifiable through the landmarks they feature; looking up Bourke Street to Parliament House or down Elizabeth Street to Flinders Street Station. Other buildings are recognisable with reference to such a landmark, although perhaps unfamiliar otherwise outside of their modern context (street-level Swanston Street is almost unrecognisable without its collection of tacky souvenir shops, brightly-lit retail and noodle bars).

It is almost disconcerting to see such familiar places in an unfamiliar way. One shot shows the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets and a tram stop that I often use (it appears not to have changed much in the past 45 years) but the sky behind the railway station’s tower is oddly devoid of Southbank’s high-rises and the quirky picture of a cat on the side of an old building today is, in the 1960s, part of an advertisement for lamps.

Judging by the jaunty tone of the music used for the scene featuring the high-rise public housing towers, it is clear that they were, at the time, seen as architectural and social achievements, rather than as unattractive and socially divisive, as they are often seen today. The film proudly shows our suburban homes with their well-kept gardens, as well as the bustling city streets (the beeping of cars seems, as in Hollywood films, to indicate thriving urbanity). It also depicts various occupations: shipyard and factory workers, smiling women in foodhalls selling roast chicken from the (presumably) state-of-the-art “Rotiss-O-Mat”, even well-dressed executives arriving to the city by “helicab”.

All in all, the film is good fun to watch, particularly if you are familiar with Melbourne and its landmark locations. It’s interesting to see how the city has changed in the past half-century and think how it will continue to change in the future. The film evokes a somewhat nostalgic image of a quite different city populated by quite different people wearing quite different clothes and driving quite different cars. Now if you’d prefer to watch something that evokes cringing rather than nostalgia


– Alexander Sheko

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One thought on “Film – Life in Australia: Melbourne

  1. […] Other posts include Adventure – Footscray, Le Miel et La Lune restaurant review by James Zarucky, a very informative post about Yarraville by Ashley Onori, a story about the old Children’s Hospital (with photos which look apocalyptic) which is being demolished, and a review of the White Rabbit Record Bar in Kensington. The blog includes posts expressing political concerns (a letter to Daniel Andrews) and commentary on a film  from the National Film and Sound Archive’s Film Australia Collection. […]

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