From iconic films to Sesame Street

BY ADAM BLACKSHAW

Part One

Our national audiovisual collection exceeds 2.2 million items, and tens of thousands of new ones are collected by the NFSA each year. New items come from donations, deposit, formal agreements with screen funding agencies, and through other means.

So what did we collect in 2015? These are just some of the highlights!

WARNING: this article may contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

1 2 3 4 5 Kangaroos on Sesame Street

For the very first time in its 44 year history the US children’s television program Sesame Street presented Indigenous Australian content as part of its Letters and Numbers segment. Set in the Australian outback, the mixed-media music clip titled 5 Kangaroos, was written by Brisbane composer Ack Kinmonth and features ARIA Award winner Jessica Mauboy with children from Yipirinya State School, Alice Springs.

Sesame Street is the world’s longest running children’s television program and has more than 120 million viewers worldwide in more than 140 countries. The clip, produced by Carbon Media, was acquired by the NFSA in 2015.

Hamish and Andy

Who can forget the gravy flavoured chip? Or the People’s Greyhound named Fred Basset? Just two stunts created by comedy duo Hamish Blake and Andy Lee who first appeared on Australian radio in 2006. By the following year, The Hamish and Andy Show was broadcast to every state for two hours each weekday afternoon, becoming the highest-rated radio show in Australian history.

This year the NFSA acquired 200 episodes of the show. We also acquired Hamish & Andy’s Business Brunch and Hamish & Andy’s Happy Hour, broadcast from 2007 to 2014, which was heard nationally across Southern Cross Austereo’s Today’s Hit Network.

Iconic Australian cinema goes digital

While music and photography were the first artistic mediums to confront the shift from analogue to digital media, since the early years of this millennium the film industry has been embracing digital cinema which is now the dominant format. Analogue 35mm prints are more expensive to make, are at greater risk of damage when screened and are subject to degradation over time. The NFSA preserves a large number of feature films in analogue formats but we are increasingly receiving Digital Cinema Packages (DCP). This year we acquired unencrypted digital versions of iconic Australian films including Picnic at Hanging Rock, (1975), Muriel’s Wedding (1994), Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Red Dog (2011).

You can also visit our online exhibitions, Picnic at Hanging Rock: 40 Years of Mystery, and Muriel’s Wedding: Renewing Our Vows to see behind the scenes stills and footage, deleted scenes, costumes, interviews and other fascinating items from the NFSA collection.

Multi-award winning film, Charlie’s Country

David Gulpilil Portrait

David Gulpilil

David Gulpilil’s long career in film started when British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg cast the then unknown 16 year old to play a principal role in his internationally acclaimed feature film, Walkabout (1971), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Gulpilil went on to appear in numerous major Australian films such as Storm Boy (1976), The Last Wave (1977), Crocodile Dundee (1986), The Tracker (2002) and he provided the narration for Rolf de Heer’s film, Ten Canoes (2006) which won the Un Certain Regard, Special Jury Prize, at Cannes in the same year.

But Gulpilil’s greatest international recognition came when Charlie’s Country was selected to compete in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival where he won the award for Best Actor. Charlie’s Country was acquired by the NFSA in 2015.

Age of Consent – the original paintings

Helen Mirren Portrait

Helen Mirren, 2014. Photo by See Li

Stage actress Helen Mirren was in her early twenties when she was cast in British director Michael Powell’s second Australian feature film, Age of Consent (1969), based on a novel by Norman Lindsay. Mirren plays the part of Cora, a free-spirited teenager, living on a remote island on the Great Barrier Reef who becomes the model and muse (and maybe more) for jaded, world-weary, famous Australian painter Bradley Morahan, played by James Mason. Morahan has fled New York to rediscover his artistic powers.

As Morahan, James Mason is filmed drawing and painting Cora, often nude or semi nude, which made the film controversial in its day. The artworks he is seen creating were in fact made by artist Paul Delprat, Principal of The Julian Ashton Art School, Sydney’s oldest continuous fine art school. Delprat also created the paintings and drawings for the 1993 feature film, Sirens , another Norman Lindsay inspired film.

Delprat’s orginal paintings from Age of Consent were included in an acquisition we received of film posters, souvenir programs and other memorabilia.

The breadth of Australian television

The sheer size of Australia’s television industry poses a challenge for our collecting program. We aim to acquire the many iconic moments in Australian commercial TV from its beginnings in 1956 to the present, including TV drama funded by Australian screen agencies. In addition we selectively acquire Australian productions broadcast on subscription and community TV. But this will only ever be a fraction of what is broadcast; selection is based on a title’s cultural, historic and aesthetic significance and is guided by the NFSA’s collection policy.

Examples of what we collected this year include:

  • Mako: Island of Secrets, an Australian television program for children and teenagers that debuted domestically on Network Ten in 2013 and was released internationally as Mako Mermaids. Mako: Island of Secrets is a spin off of the hugely successful, H2O Just Add Water.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries, which premiered on ABC in 2013. The series stars Craig McLachlan as Doctor Lucien Blake, who returns home in the 1950s to take over his late father’s medical practice and also becomes the Ballarat area police surgeon.
  • Love Child, first broadcast in 2014 on the Nine Network, is an Australian television drama series set in 1969 and follows the lives of staff and patients at the fictional ‘Kings Cross Hospital’ in Sydney and an adjacent home for unwed mothers.

Percy

Percy Grainger Portrait

Percy Grainger, 1922

Percy Grainger’s (1882 – 1961) musical output was influenced by his study of folk music and the NFSA was recently approached by the Grainger Museum, Melbourne, to digitise 262 field recordings of traditional British folk songs on fragile lacquer records. The field recordings were originally recorded onto brown wax cylinder by Grainger himself, then in 1940 they were transferred onto lacquer records for preservation purposes. The folk songs served as a source of inspiration for his compositions, such as, Lincolnshire Posy. The field recordings were made of local musicians singing at the Brigg Fair, North Lincolnshire in 1906, 1908 and 1909.

In the following track we hear the second half of The ‘Merican Frigate (or Paul Jones) sung by George Wray. Half way through the cylinder Grainger stops recording and then starts again but the cylinder is not recording properly and he comments that it’s not cutting. Wray sings a little bit more and then we hear Grainger asking, ‘Can we hear the first verse again?’, and Wray repeats the start of the song.

Retrospective collecting: another year of the TV analogue avalanche

NFSA staff in Melbourne packing up a retrospective news collection from NWS 9 Adelaide

NFSA staff in Melbourne packing up a retrospective news collection from NWS 9 Adelaide

As TV networks and production companies continue their transition to a digital working environment, analogue collections are offered to the NFSA. This enables us to add important Australian TV titles to the national collection.

In 2015 the analogue offers continued to flow into our TV acquisition team. Collections have been received from NWS 9, Channel 31 (Melbourne), Seven Network, Endemol Southern Star and RS Productions from whom we have acquired all the episodes from the popular situation comedy Kingswood Country (1979-1984).

 

In their own words

The NFSA’s Oral History program records personal, first-hand recollections of careers in film, TV, radio or recorded sound that may be otherwise completely lost to future generations. Each year the NFSA conducts scores of oral history recordings with key professionals, practitioners, and established and emerging artists in the Australian audiovisual industry.

In this blog, we’re including excerpts from our interviews with singer Judith Durham, actor Chris Haywood, and set designer Ken Muggleston. Other interviews done in 2015 included writer, film and television producer, Brian Nankervis; film producer, television producer and magazine editor, Anita Jacoby and guitarist and singer-songwriter, Kevin Borich.

Singer and musician Judith Durham is best known as the lead vocalist of the 1960s music group, The Seekers. The Seekers were the first Australian band to achieve major chart and sales success in Britain and the United States and have sold over 50 million records worldwide. In this clip from her oral history with Wendy Stapleton, Judith reflects on the direction she thought her singing would take her when she first started out.

Chris Haywood has had one of the longest careers in modern Australian theatre, film and television, always giving memorable performances. In this oral history clip with Margaret Leask, Chris talks about having his very first stirrings in imagining acting as a career while working for a wine merchant.

Ken Muggleston, former set designer, won an Academy Award in the category of Best Art Direction for the film, Oliver! (1968). He is also known for his work on The Piano (1993) and The Taming of the Shrew (1967). In this clip from his oral history recording with Adam Bowen he reflects on hearing the news of his award.