A Broken Hill time capsule

Broken Hill and the Far West has a rich filmic history: more than 35 feature films have been shot in the region. The feature films, produced primarily by non-Indigenous filmmakers, show an evolving understanding of the desert, from an unknowable place of fear to an unexpected site of celebration.

NFSA’s Living Archive holds many films and recorded sounds featuring the region. To celebrate Big Screen’s upcoming tour to Broken Hill, Wilcannia and Menindee here is a sample of the collection (including sound, feature film and documentary works) dating from 1926 to 1994.

If you have any information about the people or places in these films, we would love to hear your comments.

Image courtesy of Cinesound Movietone Productions

Silver City (1936). Directed by Frank Hurley for Cinesound Productions. NFSA title 19627.

An industrial documentary about mining in the mineral-rich area of Broken Hill. Shows the processes involved in mining rock from underground sites; the extraction of zinc, lead and silver deposits from the rock; and the refining of the minerals.

Watch excerpts of the film here.

Barrier Story (1953). Directed by Hugh B Alexander. Produced by The National Film Board. Part of the NFSA’s Film Australia Collection.

Barrier Story captures the bustling, industrious and prosperous city of Broken Hill in the 1950s.

Wake In Fright still

Wake in Fright (NFSA title 763621)

Wake in Fright (1971) was shot in Broken Hill, Silverton, Yanco Glen and Kinalung. Produced by Group W films and NLT Productions.

Wake in Fright, directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff, and shot at Old Silverton Railway Station and Menindee Lakes, depicts a limitless desert and a brutal society. The NFSA restored Wake In Fright in 2009, and the restored print screened at Cannes Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival, followed by a series of very successful screenings in Broken Hill and around Australia. The restored Wake in Fright is currently on limited release in the US through Drafthouse Films.

John Grant (Gary Bond) in the desert in Wake in FrightJohn Grant (Gary Bond) in the desert in Wake in Fright

Director Ted Kotcheff talks about filming in Broken Hill:

I loved the outback with its unearthly colours and shapes, the courageous people who lived in its inhospitable circumstances, the town of Broken Hill and the men there who befriended me, the two-up schools I became addicted to. For years I looked for a subject that would take me back to make another film in the outback but it was not to be.

You can read more about the film and the 2009 restoration here and watch clips from the film on the NFSA’s australianscreen. The film is available on DVD and Blu-ray from the NFSA Shop.

Mad Max 2 (1981), directed by Australian George Miller, revisits the other-worldly and unknowable desert expanses shown in Wake In Fright. In this film, the desert acts as futuristic battleground in a lawless world.

George Miller talks with Paul Byrnes about his early career in Australia.

See filmmaker George Miller talking about filming Mad Max 2 (1981) in Broken Hill here on australianscreen.

Unlike many films which had come before it, the vast and humbling desert shown in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) is a site of positive transformation when drag performers are invited to dance and sing with local Aboriginal people.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert still

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (NFSA title 255515)

Image courtesy of Latent Image Productions

Broken Hill and Silverton feature in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Directed by Stephan Elliot. Produced by Latent Image Productions.

Watch excerpts of the film, and read more about it on australianscreen.

The NFSA holds many items in the collection relating to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, from costumes and call sheets, to scripts and stills.

australianscreen has many titles filmed in Broken Hill. Click here to see a full list of titles relating to Broken Hill.

The titles range from the 1936 film Silver City (NFSA title 19627), about mining in the area, to a piece from Ask the Leyland Brothers about local artist Pro Hart, filmed in 1976.

Read more about films set in the outback and their centrality to a ‘dreaming’ of Australia here.

Click here to view items from the NFSA’s National Collection relating to Broken Hill, available for viewing at the NFSA in Canberra and at access centres around Australia.

Titles include:

For more footage from around Australia, see the West Australian, Far North Queensland and Tasmanian time capsules.



From my childhood experiences of Broken Hill, when I remember the heat, dust, isolation and remoteness, it is wonderful to see so many films that portray the extraordinary variety of different aspects of a fascinating mining city. Pity that there are not more insights into the indigenous perspective.

Rosemary Mangiamele on 15 Oct 2012, 10:18 p.m.

Rosemary, you can read more about Indigenous films and perspectives on the desert in Graham Shirley's research paper, Outback on Screen: http://www.nfsa.gov.au/research/paper....
Stephen Groenewegen (NFSA)

Stephen Groenewegen on 16 Oct 2012, 11:59 a.m.

I love watching these vintage Australian videos. Thanks for posting them on You Tube. I've never heard of Broken Hill until just now. Keep up the good work.

My Grandfather migrated from Italy and worked the mines in Broken Hill in the early part of the century. Must have been a hell of a place to live there in those days before air conditioning. Maybe due to part of that desert heritage I ended up living in the desert town of Las Vegas Nevada.

Jon Palmer on 25 Apr 2014, 2:28 a.m.

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