Research: Graham Shirley in Singapore

Mel Nichols behind camera, Singapore 1941

NFSA Historian Graham Shirley will visit Singapore in early August to deliver several talks for Singaporean cultural institutions.

On 9 August at the National Museum of Singapore he will deliver his 90-minute lecture Outback on Screen: Physical Space/State of Mind, and then introduce the Australian feature film Sunday Too Far Away (Ken Hannam, 1975).

On 10 August at the Objectifs Centre for Photography and Filmmaking he will deliver the lecture Singapore in 1941: A Unique Kodachrome Record featuring 16mm colour footage shot by Australian cameraman Mel Nichols of everyday life in Singapore, in between his Singapore-based assignments for the Australian government’s Department of Information.

Graham has also written a 3000-word essay, The Outback on Screen, which will be published in the inaugural issue of the Museum of Singapore’s Cinematheque Quarterly. The museum has agreed for this essay to be published online by the NFSA. Graham’s visit to Singapore is being funded by the Australian High Commission and the National Museum of Singapore.

Singapore in 1941: a Unique Kodachrome Record
Objectifs: Centre for Film and Photography, Singapore, 10 August 2011 7.30-9pm

Mel F Nichols was one of the very few Australian cinecameraman who worked regularly in Southeast Asia in the 1930s and early ’40s. In 1941 the Australian government sent Nichols to Singapore to film newsreel stories of Singapore preparing for possible war, and in his spare time he used a 16mm camera to film personal observations of everyday life on the island and in Malaya. Nichols left Singapore before the Japanese invasion in early 1942, joining the Royal Australian Air Force Film Unit with whom he stayed until the end of the war. His 16mm footage of Singapore, filmed in colour and black-and-white, remains an all-too-rare and precious record of life in this city at a time when any possibility of invasion appeared to be distant.

Nichols’s unique and remarkable footage of Singapore will be screened during this special presentation by Graham Shirley, Historian with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Shirley will screen Nichols’s personal Kodachrome footage of life in Singapore, which included street parades, a Chinese opera performance, children visiting a shrine, Australian troops sightseeing, and a Chinese general meeting in secret with Australia’s General Gordon Bennett at a Malayan rubber plantation. Amongst the other films shown will be Nichols’s Coo-ee Singapore (1938), a documentary about the then new flying boat service from Sydney to Singapore,

The screening will be accompanied by background commentary from Nichols himself, whom Graham Shirley interviewed in 1984. Shirley will also speak about the significance of archival film footage and oral histories as historical records.

Graham Shirley is the inaugural NFSA Historian, working with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. He has written and directed several historical documentaries, has researched many others, and has recorded oral histories with a wide range of people including Australian filmmakers and war veterans. He is also the co-author of the definitive book, ‘Australian Cinema: the First 80 Years’ (published 1983, 1989).

Museum of Singapore flyer for 'Outback on Screen’ (front – click to enlarge)

Museum of Singapore flyer for 'Outback on Screen’ (back – click to enlarge)


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