Farey: Backyard play

Farey: Backyard play
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This simple home movie clip taken by Leslie Francis Farey from 1932 shows us children candidly playing in a suburban backyard in Melbourne. Three children play with a pram, doll and tin drum. The youngest child is holding what looks like a box brownie camera and he then tries to climb the front gate. Summary by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers.

This home movie clip shows a glimpse into suburban life in the 1930s. Although during the Great Depression, the family represented in this clip is fairly affluent, but it does show an aspect of the roles men and women had in family life.

This home movie clip was filmed with a hand-held 16mm camera and natural lighting. There is no commentary nor any intertitles used which leaves any interpretation of the footage based solely on what is visible on screen.

Farey home movies synopsis

This home movie includes a diverse range of footage taken by Leslie Francis Farey and features a trip taken by his family who travelled from Melbourne, Victoria to witness the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It includes the official parade as well as brief footage of Old Parliament House and the Lodge, taken en route as they passed through Canberra.

Farey home movies curators' notes

Home movie making became possible with the invention of 16mm film in 1923. Since cameras were very expensive, home movie footage generally depicted a narrow spectrum of Australian society. However, it has provided amateur records of significant national events, experienced on the personal level, as seen in this home movie.

Lesley Francis Farey, the cinematographer of this film, was a resident of Victoria, Australia. He has captured part of the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the excitement which surrounded it.

Featuring a trip from his home in Victoria to the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it gives us a sense of the national significance of this event and what it was like to be in the crowd during the official parade.

Family scenes of children playing in a backyard and a picnic by a riverbank are all shot with natural lighting. The subjects sometimes play to the camera, but at other times remain quite unaware of its presence.

This home movie is black-and-white and silent.

Notes by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers

Education notes

This clip shows three young children playing with a pram, doll and tin drum in a suburban backyard in Melbourne in 1932, with the youngest child holding what may be a box brownie camera. The clip then cuts to a woman and toddler walking up the pathway in the front garden. The Federation-style houses across the street can be seen clearly in the rear of the shot. The toddler is then filmed trying to climb over the front gate. The black-and-white silent footage was shot by Leslie Francis Farey as part of a home movie and may show members of his family.

Educational value points

  • The clip provides examples of the toys children played with in the 1930s. Toys such as those shown reflected the more traditional and defined gender roles of the period, with dolls, prams and mini-kitchen appliances for girls, and tin soldiers, trucks and trains for boys, similar to but more pronounced than is the case today. While economic hardship caused by the Great Depression meant that families had little or no money to spare for toys, most children had homemade toys that were often quite inventive and well crafted. The boy in this clip may be holding a box brownie, probably the first mass-produced and inexpensive camera, a small box camera made from jute board and wood.
  • Like the houses shown in the background, middle-class suburban homes built in the 1930s were generally smaller than in earlier years, as such families were increasingly unable to afford domestic help. The houses usually consisted of two or three bedrooms, often with a sleep-out (enclosed patio or veranda) at the back, a kitchen and formal living room. Most houses had a kitchen garden in the rear yard that provided a fresh supply of vegetables.
  • A Federation-style house is shown. Federation is the name given to a style of house designed and built in Australia between the 1890s and the 1920s, from around the time the individual colonies joined together as a Federation in 1901. It was the first house type designed to incorporate the outdoor lifestyles adopted by Australians and the houses usually included groups of windows, and wide verandas that were integrated under the main pitch of the roof. Notable for their distinctive decorative features, the houses were usually made of brick and had strapped gables, tall chimneys and leadlight windows.
  • Suburban gardens in Australia were generally based on an English model. The front garden shown is planted with roses, and the front fence is bordered by a hedge. Introduced English plant species and picturesque cottage gardens were still favoured in this period and it was not until the 1970s that indigenous species became popular as garden plants.
  • By the 1930s Australians were increasingly moving from the inner city, which was associated with slum housing and pollution, to the suburbs, which were seen to offer a quieter neighbourhood with fresh air, a pleasant view and a garden, and regarded as an ideal place to raise a young family. The popularity of the suburbs became such that in 1972 social critic Donald Horne dubbed Australia 'the first suburban nation’.
  • In the 1930s, men were usually the sole wage earners and most married women remained at home to fulfil domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning and childrearing. The family shown here appears to be fairly affluent. However, in this period the Great Depression had a disruptive effect on many families, as many men lost their jobs due to the slowdown of the economy.
  • The woman shown in the clip wears a style of dress that was common at the time. It extends to just below the knee and has a low waistline, straight bodice and collar. In the 1930s, fur stoles and wraps were popular. Both men and women wore hats in public, and women also wore gloves.
  • The types of clothing worn by children in the 1930s are shown. At that time most mothers made their children’s clothing. A playsuit with tie, like the one shown, was popular for very young boys, who also wore shorts. Young girls wore either cotton or woollen smocks while older girls often dressed in skirts with a blouse and jumper.
  • Lesley Farey shot this home movie footage using 16 mm film. Amateur filmmaking such as this took off after the 16 mm camera was introduced in 1923 as an inexpensive alternative to the conventional 35 mm film format. In that period the camera was still priced beyond the reach of most people and therefore the home movie footage we are able to see dating from the time generally comes from fairly privileged sources. These sources, however, offer a record of the lifestyles, cultures and traditions of Australians, and significant events in the nation’s history.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia