A Mountain Goes to Sea
Shipbuilders work at the Whyalla shipyards for Australia’s war effort. A woman shakes out a broom over a veranda with the ship visible to the left. Men walk through the streets to or from work. A pastor addresses the gathered workers where the finished ship awaits launch. He is filmed against the backdrop of a cloudy sky. Summary by Poppy De Souza.
Although the soundtrack to this film no longer survives, this clip conveys a strong sense of patriotism and pride in hard work through its imagery. The pastor and many of the workers are filmed from a low angle, giving the impression of height and aligning their shipbuilding efforts with the 'gigantic things’ that the opening title of the film says the nation will achieve. Chauvel ennobles the workers, filming them backlit by late afternoon sunlight and in beautifully lit and carefully staged close-ups. In all his wartime documentaries for the DOI, workers on the domestic frontline are never lost in the great machinery of war but presented as vital parts. In what looks more like a sequence from a 1930s MGM feature film than a documentary, the priest delivers his service against a backdrop of picturesque clouds. For other examples of Christianity featuring in Commonwealth propaganda during the Second World War, see Kokoda Front Line! (1942) and Give Us This Day (1943).
A Mountain Goes To Sea synopsis
This is a short documentary made by Charles and Elsa Chauvel for the Commonwealth Department of Information about shipbuilding during the Second World War and the thousands of iron and steel workers contributing to the war effort.
A Mountain Goes to Sea curator's notes
A Mountain Goes to Sea (also known as Shipbuilders) was the third of four wartime documentaries made by the Chauvels for the DOI that described the important contributions of Australian workers to the war effort. During the Second World War, the shipbuilding yard and engineering works at Whyalla (where the film was shot) were thriving with an expanding workforce to meet the needs of the war effort. Like their other films for the DOI, A Mountain Goes to Sea was intended as a morale booster for the workers who built the equipment and machinery of war.
Unfortunately, only the 35mm original picture negative survives. The sound negative has been lost so the print is mute. Nevertheless, it is still possible to get a sense of the film from its images and on-screen text. An emotive title announces that 'we are gaining strength greater than we had ever dreamed and are tapping great resources … we have found that, if we will, we can do gigantic things’. George Heath’s cinematography frequently frames the shipyard workers from low angles, casting them as commanding figures amongst the wooden scaffolding and great steel monolith they are building. A Christian pastor is positioned against a vast expanse of sky as he blesses the finished ship before it is launched to sea. We cannot hear his sermon, but the closing on-screen text reads, 'we have placed our feet in the stirrups of resolution, and our hands up on the reins of confidence – in God – and we are marching forward’.
Notes by Poppy De Souza