Melbourne Today: The City

Melbourne Today: The City
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This clip begins with a panoramic view from the Morehouse Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral looking south over the Yarra River to the Botanical Gardens and the War Memorial. It is followed by a tracking shot from one of the shoulder lanes on the tree-lined St Kilda Road and then views of the Princes Bridge, Collins Street buildings, the Town Hall, Parliament House and the Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens. The clip is accompanied by voice-over from Norman Campbell and an orchestral music score. Summary by Poppy De Souza.

The 'descriptive talk’, as it is characterised in the opening credits, combines facts about the city and its historic buildings with epithets such as 'splendid’, 'most beautiful’ and 'impressive’. Along with the classical score and Higgins’s accomplished photography, the narration presents Melbourne as an idyllic destination that combines the beauty of nature and the progress of a modern city.


Melbourne Today synopsis

The first documentary of Frank Thring’s Cities of the Empire series, this episode is about Melbourne in Victoria. It shows the city’s architectural highlights and public buildings along with its famous parks and gardens.


Melbourne Today curator's notes

Melbourne Today was the first of Frank Thring’s Efftee documentaries and one of three travelogues he made (the others being about Ballarat and Sydney). It was probably the first talkie documentary made about Melbourne and is a beautifully photographed promotion for the city. The cinematographer was Arthur Higgins, whose older brother Ernest had filmed the first feature-length documentary of Melbourne, Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City of the South (c1910), for Cozens Spencer 20 years earlier. Like Marvellous MelbourneMelbourne Today surveys the city’s architecture and captures its wide tree-lined streets and large parks. Higgins’s camera often tracks a path along riverbeds, walking tracks and roads, creating a gentle rhythm to match the pace of Norman Campbell’s 'descriptive talk’ (written by Frank Thring). The sweeping panoramas of the city are accompanied by a classical orchestral score.

The early 1930s saw a prolific output of films by Frank Thring through his newly established Efftee Studios, located in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD and named for his initials. Thring’s Efftee Film Productions pioneered locally-produced talking pictures that included feature films, travelogues, nature documentaries, variety shorts, newsreels and speeches. Travelogues have been a popular form of entertainment since the beginning of cinema, providing a window on the world for audiences. Thring was known to have repackaged some of his variety shorts for British audiences and it is possible that his travelogues were also seen outside Australia. See Provincial Cities of Australia: Ballarat, Victoria (c1932) for another of Thring’s travelogues.

Notes by Poppy De Souza


Education notes

This clip shows the city of Melbourne in 1931 and is from a black-and-white travelogue made by Frank Thring senior as part of his Cities of the Empire series. The clip begins with a panoramic view from the Morehouse Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral looking south over the Yarra River, followed by a tracking shot of St Kilda Road. The clip features other architectural highlights including the Princes Bridge, Collins Street buildings, the Town Hall, Parliament House and the Exhibition Building. The narration extols the virtues of Melbourne’s grand architecture.

Educational value points

  • Many of Melbourne’s landmark buildings are featured in this travelogue, including examples of Victorian architecture built in the Academic Classical style (such as Parliament House) and the Second Empire style (the Royal Exhibition Building). The grand architecture of such public buildings reflects contemporary views about their importance and the enormous wealth brought in during the gold rush of the mid-19th century.
  • The film is probably the first ‘talkie’ documentary made about Melbourne – in 1931 films with sound were still relatively new in Australia. Audiences for silent films had slumped in the late 1920s during the Great Depression, and the advent of talkies in the early 1930s revived the flagging industry. Thring’s company, Efftee Studios, produced talkies in genres such as travelogues, nature documentaries, variety shorts and newsreels.
  • Despite the footage being shot in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression the clip highlights Melbourne’s grandness and opulence without any mention of financial hardship. At a time when most Melbournians were enduring financial stress and there was high unemployment, the film dwells on the grand and opulent architecture built during Melbourne’s wealthier days. This is in keeping with the film’s purpose to entertain and to promote Melbourne.
  • The clip reflects perceptions of Australia’s place within the British Empire in the 1930s, especially evident in the British-style architecture. Links to Britain are emphasised in the series title, Cities of the Empire, and in the narrator’s references to the King and Queen and the Prince of Wales. Australia’s allegiance to Britain was demonstrated in the First World War; however, during the Second World War Australia loosened ties with the British Empire, turning instead to the USA.
  • The narrator refers to the planned nature of Melbourne’s streets, which he credits to the 1830s colonial surveyor Robert Hoddle. Melbourne was one of Australia’s first planned cities and the area that is now the central business district was laid out in a rectangular grid. Hoddle insisted that all streets be 99 feet (30 m) wide, even arguing the case with Governor Richard Bourke. The compromise was that Bourke insisted on a series of narrow lanes, each 33 feet (10 m) wide.
  • The clip features the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to the Anzacs who served in the First World War, under construction. Despite being in the grip of the Great Depression, Victorians raised the money for the Shrine within six months of the launch of a public appeal; the balance of funds was contributed by state and local government. The Shrine opened to great public acclaim in 1934.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
Efftee Film Productions
FW Thring

We see old, black-and-white footage of Melbourne in the 1930s.
Norma Campbell (narration) This is a panoramic view from the Morehouse Spire of St Paul’s Cathedral. You will see in the distance the National War Memorial which is in progress of construction. This is St Kilda Road. It is four miles long and it is three trains wide. At each side there are drives for one-way motorcar traffic, the middle track is for trams and commercial vehicles. This splendid road has the most beautiful entry into a city that the imagination can conceive. The King and Queen, the Prince of Wales and other distinguished visitors have driven along this splendid highway. Here we have Princes Bridge. Originally there was a crude sort of punt there and in 1850 came Lennox’s One Arch Bridge. In 1886 the present beautiful structure was commenced. This is Collins Street, one of the main arteries of the city and has great architectural beauty. While so many towns arose haphazard, Melbourne was surveyed and laid out with wonderful vision. It was due to the foresight of Robert Huddle that the streets were made 99 feet wide and that the infant town was laid out on a rectangular plan. This is the Town Hall. Parliament House is our most historic building, the ghost of all the great men in our political history haunted corridors and halls. It is one of the world’s gems of classic architecture. It was here that the Federal Houses of Legislature debated for upwards of 30 years before the removal to Canberra. Opened in 1856, this is one of the most impressive buildings in Australia. We have a glimpse here through the columns of the Windsor Hotel. This building is another master of architecture. It was erected for the Great Exhibition in 1880. Here His Majesty the King opened the first Federal Parliament.