A collage of images including David Gulpilil, Annette Kellerman, fashion models and detail from a Polish Storm Boy film poster

50 wonderful surprises

50 delightful surprises from the NFSA collection

50 things to cheer you up
 Beth Taylor

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

Put a smile on your dial

As winter sets in, and the world faces uncertain times, we've chosen 50 items from our collection to gladden your heart, pique your curiosity and get your foot tapping:

  1. Pelicans had never been trained for a film before 1976’s Storm Boy. Learn more about the challenges of working with Sandwich, Carpenter and Dum Dum.
  2. Con Colleano - the world-famous ‘Wizard of the Wire’ - shows off death-defying feats in this home movie footage.
  3. Immerse yourself in London in 1904. Spoiler: they all wore hats!
  4. A wombat playing in the snow (true story).
  5. David Gulpilil teaches the Devil Dance:

An excerpt from the documentary Walkabout to Hollywood (Bill Leimbach, 1982) featuring David Gulpilil. Courtesy: Bill Leimbach. NFSA title: 548282

  1. With concerts and music festivals on hold, experience the 1980s excitement of INXS and Jimmy Barnes.
  2. This basket of puppies will make you smile.
  3. Peak Straylia: children dressed up as joeys climbing out of a giant kangaroo on wheels.
  4. Did you know the iconic thong dress from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) was almost made from pieces of vegemite toast instead?!
  5. Can you make hats out of hair? Yes, you can. Take a look:

The Mike Walsh Show, Episode 1157 (excerpt), broadcast 23 September 1981. Courtesy: Mike Walsh AM, OBE Hayden Productions. NFSA title: 1244459

  1. Production designer Catherine Martin shares the secrets to creating Strictly Ballroom’s ‘diabolical beauty’.
  2. Catch a ride around Melbourne on this tram from 1910.
  3. Marvel at the ingenuity of this DIY home cinema from the 1940s.
  4. Jack Thompson impresses with his tai chi moves.
  5. Listen to the incredible songs of the East Australian Humpback Whale.
  6. Sing along with John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’ through the ages. Spoiler alert: includes bagpipes. 
  7. A close shave from this 3 year-old barber will have you on the edge of your seat!

Victor Willey Jnr works in his father's barber shop at Brighton-Le-Sands, Sydney (newsreel). Courtesy: Cinesound Movietone Productions. NFSA title: 129214

  1. Improbable numerological ridiculousness with Dame Edna Everage.
  2. Do you believe in UFOs? This woman didn’t until she saw one in Sydney.
  3. Skippy’s epic drum solo.
  4. Fascinating flapper dance moves from 1926.
  5. The Central Australian Women's Choir will lift your spirits.
  6. ‘That’s not a knife...’ The cheeky story behind Crocodile Dundee’s iconic knife.
  7. Much more than garbage bags - revel in the fabulous finalists in the Glad Bag Fashion Show chosen from 5,000 entries.
  8. Joan Crawford. Enough said.
Joan Crawford stands on a staircase, holding the train of her evening dress, in a still from the film Dancing Lady, 1933.

Joan Crawford in a still from Dancing Lady (USA, Robert Z Leonard, 1933). From the Taussig film stills collection. NFSA title: 748083

  1. Annette Kellerman’s stunning underwater ballet.
  2. Early in Australian TV history JO’K leads overseas stars Dusty Springfield, Gene Pitney, Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, and Gerry & The Pacemakers in a toe-tapping rendition of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.
  3. Learn about ugg boots’ Aussie surfie roots.
  4. Do eels make good pets? This lady certainly thinks so.
  5. Check out this intimate living room performance by Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach who were partners in life and music.
  6. Disclaimer: watching the mass production of Iced VoVo and Sao biscuits might make you hungry:

'Ingenious Machines Produce Biscuits by the Million', Australian Diary 46, 1951. National Film Board. NFSA title: 67216

  1. Get your pom poms ready for this strut down 1980s TV memory lane with game show It’s a Knockout!.
  2. People often ask what our most unique item is. This Graham Kennedy candle is certainly in the running.
  3. Exquisite colour footage of a Russian ballerina dancing on an Australian beach in 1939.
  4. Rare colour footage of The Don playing cricket.
  5. Yodel along to this look at the Australian ski fields in 1934. 
  6. ‘Bowie projects such incredible sexuality on stage you could die’. Seamlessly interweaving criticism, fandom, wit, gossip and personal narrative, Australian journalist Lillian Roxon is an incredible storyteller and became a voice for a generation of music lovers. This anecdote about David Bowie versus Mick Jagger and Angie Bowie biting her on the bosom paints a vivid picture of the contemporary rock scene for Australian listeners, placing Roxon at its epicentre.

Excerpt from a 2SM radio interview in Sydney with Lillian Roxon (1973). Used with permission from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. NFSA title: 551081.

  1. When too many Elvises is barely enough.
  2. The pure glamour in this colour footage of European haute couture fashion at Mark Foy’s department store in 1947 will take your breath away.
  3. Babakiueria uses role reversal to satirise and critique Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  4. The Gay Liberation Quire’s hot take on a Christmas classic.
  5. This tiny terrier from Taree enjoys collecting the mail for his elderly owners.
  6. Winifred Atwell, the Queen of Honky Tonk, plays outside the Sydney Opera House during its construction.
  7. This daredevil motorcycle chariot racing stunt will get your heart racing.

Motorcycle chariot race at the 1936 NSW Police Carnival, Movietone News, 7 March 1936.

Courtesy: Cinesound Movietone Productions. NFSA: 136981

Polish poster for the film 'Storm Boy' shows a drawing of a pelican sitting on top of a young boy's head.
This Polish one-sheet poster for Storm Boy represents the bonds of friendship between a boy and his pelican, depicting them as inseparable. NFSA title: 461776.

  1. Since Polish film poster artists weren’t constrained by Hollywood movie studios they were free to create designs inspired by the mood of a film (like this poster for Storm Boy). Check out the intriguing and sometimes bizarre world of Polish film posters.
  2. Trained with kindness, this cockatoo plays the piano.
  3. Emily Kame Kngwarreye began painting when she was 79 years old having already worked with sand, ceremonial body painting (Awelye) and batik designs on silk. She went on to create more than 3,000 paintings and Earth's Creation became the first work by a female Australian artist, and the first Aboriginal artwork, to be sold for more than one million dollars. Learn more about her lifetime of creativity.
  4. Hugo Weaving calls this footage, which is the earliest moving image captured in Australia, ‘both of its day, yet somehow essentially timeless’. 
  5. Seeing is believing when it comes to Smokey the four-eared cat.
  6. Lucky last is an old school TikTok from Hobart's beloved Cat and Fiddle clock.

Did we miss something?

With over three million items in our vaults there are many others to choose from. Get in touch with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.