Cute and cuddly, furry or feathered, slippery or scaly; our collection of Australian native animals - both real and imagined - will charm and delight you.
The following selection of films, sounds and stills form a snapshot of just some of the fascinating and iconic wildlife that is unique to Australia.
You'll see the world's only monotremes up close in their natural habitat, hear the bizarre sounds of the superb lyrebird as it mimics its surroundings and watch how our native animals have been represented in film, television and popular culture since the advent of the moving image.
Included are cheeky koalas, a superstar kangaroo and playful wombats, alongside less celebrated but equally astounding Australian creatures.
A wombat forages in the snow of the Mt Kosciuszko National Park looking for grasses and roots to eat in this documentary that follows three friends on a skiing trip in the NSW snowfields.
Summary by Damien Parer
After overcoming an earlier threat to his survival from a car accident, Yindi the koala emerges from his mother’s pouch. He starts to explore the world, unaware that a new threat to his safety is just around the corner.
Summary by Kate Matthews
Samuel François-Steininger has colourised footage from the NFSA collection of Benjamin, the last Tasmanian Tiger in captivity.
Naturalist David Fleay shot the original footage in black-and-white at Beaumaris Zoo, Hobart in December 1933.
Through his company, the Paris-based Composite Films, Samuel François-Steininger has developed a well-deserved reputation as a leader in the field of colourising black-and-white archival footage.
His impressive list of credits includes his collaboration with the NFSA and Stranger Than Fiction Films on the award-winning series Australia in Colour and Australia in Colour Season 2.
Read more about the challenges and process of colourising this precious thylacine footage.
The hustle and bustle of town life are quickly left behind anywhere in Australia. This film shows the national parks which provide sanctuaries for many of the native birds and animals and which are within easy reach of all city dwellers.
From the Film Australia Collection. Made by the Commonwealth Film Unit 1956. Directed by Peter Dimond.
Sonny (Garry Pankhurst) and older brother Mark (Ken James) race through the Waratah National Park Wildlife Reserve playing a game of hide and seek with Skippy. Skippy wins round one and hides her eyes with her paws for a rematch. However, someone is secretly filming and, back in a viewing room, it is revealed to be Dr Stark (Frank Thring). The dastardly doctor is behind a plan to ‘make a deal’ with head ranger Matt Hammond (Ed Devereaux) to secure the amazing Skippy for his private zoo. This teaser leads into the opening titles introducing the audience to the characters, bush setting and the special relationship between Sonny and Skippy, all set to the now world- famous theme song.
Summary by Tammy Burnstock
Presenter Greg Grainger visits the home of Bev and Bob Birtles. They are caring for Yindi after he was rescued from a bushfire and will eventually return him to the wild. Grainger then introduces us to some of the problems facing koalas in areas where humans live.
Summary by Kate Matthews
Dot and the Kangaroo (1977), based on a children’s book by an English writer, Ethel Pedley, was the just the second animated feature film made in Australia.
In this clip Dot (voiced by Barbara Frawley) has become lost in the forest, but a large red kangaroo (Joan Bruce) takes pity on her. The kangaroo gives her some roots to eat. This allows her to understand animal language. Dot enjoys the delicious 'food of understanding’ but the female kangaroo, who has lost her own joey, warns her not to eat too much of it. Knowing too much will only make you miserable, she tells Dot.
Summary by Paul Byrnes
The Big Island is a documentary about life in Australia in 1970. There is little narration in the film, but many pictures of Australian life. This brief clip shows some of Australia's interesting wildlife.
The Queen in Australia documents the two-month official visit, in February and March 1954, of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. This was her first visit to Australia and the first by a reigning monarch. The film was shot by a total of 16 cameras, documenting her visits to each state capital and many regional areas.
In this clip, the film offers a quick glimpse at some of Australia's unusual wildlife.
A mother takes her twin children, Janet and Michael, for a birthday outing to Sydney's Taronga Park Zoo.
Made by The National Film Board in 1956 as film No. 7 in the Junior Social Studies series.
This episode from the series Australian Wildlife focusses on the echidna. The echidna is a monotreme, like the platypus. Monotremes are the only mammals whose young are hatched from eggs. The film shows the habits, feeding, burrowing and growth of this mammal.
Some appealing studies of zoological babies proving that life at Taronga Park Zoo is much the same as any nursery.
Made by The National Film Board 1950.
The kangaroo introduces Dot to Mr and Mrs Platypus, who are difficult to be polite to, because they are easy to offend. Mr Platypus (voiced by Spike Milligan) gives Dot a history lesson. Mrs Platypus (June Salter) corrects her pronunciation of their biological name.
Summary by Paul Byrnes
This episode of the series Australian Wildlife is about the platypus. Like the echidna, the platypus is a monotreme - the only mammals whose young are hatched from eggs.
This film shows the platypus in its natural surroundings - swimming, feeding, burrowing and at play.
This film from the series Australian Wildlife contains information about the treatment of crocodiles both within Australia and New Guinea prior to the passing of a crocodile protection law in Queensland.
It demonstrates the cultural and religious significance of the crocodile to Aboriginal people as well as its exploitation by Europeans for profit.
A short excerpt from a wildlife documentary study of the numbat. In this clip the numbat is seen foraging for food in its natural habitat and eating ants from a log.
This clip captures images of the Tasmanian tiger, alone in its enclosure at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. The thylacine is shown in close-up investigating the camera, pacing up and down its small cage, yawning, lying in the sun, and sitting quietly. Summary by Poppy De Souza.
This introductory song and animated sequence gives the back story to the series. Blinky (Robyn Moore) and his friends live in the idyllic little bush town of Greenpatch which, suddenly one night, is logged by bandit loggers and the trees taken to the woodchip mill. ‘Good old Blinky’ is the hero who will save everyone from the woodchip mill, save the bush, replant and rebuild the town.
Summary by Annemaree O'Brien
Lyrebirds are great mimics, copying many sounds in their environment. In nature this consists predominantly of other birds but, in rare circumstances, their calls reflect the human impact on their environment. In this recording the lyrebird's call
Greg Wignell recorded Chook, a Superb Lyrebird, at Healesville, Victoria for ABC TV in 1987. The original recordings are in the ABC’s natural history audio collection at Ripponlea in Melbourne.
In this Commonwealth Film Unit production from 1964, Federal Treasurer Harold Holt introduces Steward Devlin's designs for the new decimal coins. The designs are based on Australian fauna – a kangaroo, emu, platypus, lyrebird, echidna, frilled-neck lizard and feathertail glider (possum).
Australia had been considering a decimal system since 1901 but it was not until 1959 that a federal government committee began to investigate the issue. In June 1963, Holt confidently announced that the new decimal currency would be called the ‘royal’. Public outrage followed and by September he was telling Parliament that the 'royal' was now the 'dollar'.
A government campaign hit radio and television to educate Australians and prepare them for the changeover to decimal currency on 14 February 1966, by which time Holt was prime minister.
When recorded in 1990 this was the only known recording made of a solo dingo howling in the wild. Powys recorded the dingo sounds early in the morning at Palm Valley in Finke Gorge National Park, Northern Territory, during a winter camping trip. She used a Sony Cassette Walkman and two ‘tie-pin’ microphones at a distance of only a few metres as the curious dingo approached her campsite. Powys is a landscape artist who has been recording nature and studying wildlife since the 1980s. She is a key member of the Australian Wildlife Sound Recording Group.
Willie Wombat was produced by Eric Porter – Australia’s first career animator – to promote the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia’s School Banking program. Willie lounges and plays while the other animals, showing foresight, collect and deposit food (or in the case of the dog, signposts) in the bank.
The voice-over announces 'the male koala grunting’. We hear a series of deep-voiced grunts similar to the sounds of a large pig.
Summary by Maryanne Doyle
Image from: Koalas - The Bare Facts (1990), Creator: Paul Scott, © NFSA. All Rights Reserved
Still from Festival in Adelaide (1962), of British broadcaster and naturalist, Sir David Attenborough patting a koala at Adelaide zoo.
In this recording of Chook the lyrebird, made for ABC TV in 1987, the bird's call resembles the sound of workers.
Lyrebirds are great mimics, copying many sounds in their environment. While in nature this consists predominantly of other birds, their calls sometimes reflect the human impact on their environment.
Greg Wignell recorded the Superb Lyrebird at Healesville, Victoria. The original recordings are in the ABC’s natural history audio collection at Ripponlea in Melbourne.
Image: CSIRO (CC BY 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
An excerpt from Welcome Your Majesty (1958) showing the Queen Mother as she greets crowds in Sydney and Canberra and enjoys a cuddle with a cute baby koala, during her royal visit in 1958.
This documentary of the tour was made by the Australian National Film Board.
Still image of Frances Hattam (Carol) holding a joey in a scene from Nullarbor Hideout (1965).
Produced by The Commonwealth Film Unit, Nullarbor Hideout is about a group of children living at Cook on the Nullarbor Plain discover a swimming pool in some limestone caves and make the cave their hideout. Unfortunately a gang of kangaroo shooters who are wanted by the police for car stealing have the same idea.
Winifred Atwell was a ragtime pianist who enjoyed great success in the UK and Australia, including two number one singles in the UK (in 1954 and 1956).
A note on the back of the photo reads:
'Long before she went to Australia, Winifred Atwell had an ambition to meet up with a real live koala bear. Here she is pictured with one at the Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney, when she toured the zoo as guest of Sir Edward Hallstrom.
'Australia keeps a careful eye on its koalas, and before one is allowed to be taken out of the country the authorities first have to be satisfied that the right kind of food (locally grown) can still be supplied.'
In the 1960s when field recordist Mark Franklin was born, East Australian Humpback whales were near extinction. Their number have since recovered.
Using a hydrophone, Mark has been documenting the evolution of the Humpback whale song over time. Each year the whales all sing the same song ‘by heart’ and every year they modify the song slightly and so the syntax evolves. Mark has been extremely meticulous in ensuring that the exact syntax of the song is preserved. Even though as humans we cannot understand what the whales are saying, the University of Hawaii have concluded that the information content of the whale song is equivalent to human language.
This clip is an excerpt of a number of whales singing to each other, known as a 'Pleiades'. Mark has added reverb and delay effects to create a custom acoustical environment in the same way that a producer would enhance a human singer’s voice in a studio environment.
Louise Brooks with Archie the koala (USA, 1928). From the Taussig film stills collection.
Matilda the Kangaroo, mascot of the 1982 Commonwealth Games held in Brisbane, winks at the crowd during the opening ceremony of the games. After Matilda makes her way into the QE II Stadium (now the Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre), children in kangaroo suits emerge from Matilda's massive pouch. The Australian flag and a map of Australia (minus Tasmania because it 'didn't fit') are created by over 6000 school children with coloured boards and fabric that blow about in the wind.
We see the teams from Canada, Jersey, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Vanuatu and Australia marching out while the crowd cheers. This is an excerpt from All That Glitters, 1983, The Official Film XII Commonwealth Games Brisbane 1982. Film Australia Collection © NFSA.
Notes by Beth Taylor
This home movie footage was shot by Kethel Timothy (KT) Buckley, father of filmmaker Anthony Buckley, in the 1930s in Sydney. It features a koala and then a kangaroo with joey; where the film was shot is unknown.
It is part of a collection of home movies that together create a unique record of a family, from 1929 to the 1960s. Three Buckley brothers – Horace Patrick (HP), Brian and Keth – all took up the hobby of home movies in the late 1920s and early 30s.
Anthony Buckley, Kethel's son, started shooting 9.5mm home movies in 1950 and 16mm in 1956. His childhood fascination with home movies led to a successful film career, first as an editor on notable films such as Wake in Fright and then as a producer of iconic Australian titles such as Caddie, Bliss, The Harp in the South, Bedevil and the Oyster Farmer.