Broken Hill through time

BY BETH TAYLOR

Broken Hill and the Far West has a rich filmic history: more than 35 feature films have been shot in the region. The feature films, produced primarily by non-Indigenous filmmakers, show an evolving understanding of the desert, from an unknowable place of fear to an unexpected site of celebration.

The NFSA collection holds many films and recorded sounds featuring the region. Here is a sample of the collection (including sound, feature film and documentary works) dating from 1926 to 1994.

Silver City

Silver City
Image courtesy of Cinesound Movietone Productions.

Directed by Frank Hurley for Cinesound Productions (NFSA title 19627), Silver City (1936) is an industrial documentary about mining in the mineral-rich area of Broken Hill. The film shows the processes involved in mining rock from underground sites; the extraction of zinc, lead and silver deposits from the rock; and the refining of the minerals.

Watch excerpts of the film here.

Wake in Fright

Directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff, and shot at Old Silverton Railway Station, Menindee Lakes, Silverton, Yanco Glen and Kinalung, Wake in Fright (1971) was produced by Group W films and NLT Productions. The film depicts a limitless desert and a brutal society. The NFSA restored Wake In Fright in 2009, and the restored print screened at Cannes Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival, followed by a series of very successful screenings in Broken Hill and around Australia.

 

wake in fright still
John Grant (Gary Bond) in the desert in Wake in Fright

Director Ted Kotcheff talks about filming in Broken Hill:

'I loved the outback with its unearthly colours and shapes, the courageous people who lived in its inhospitable circumstances, the town of Broken Hill and the men there who befriended me, the two-up schools I became addicted to. For years I looked for a subject that would take me back to make another film in the outback but it was not to be.'

You can watch clips from the film and learn more about it in the Wake in Fright 50th anniversary curated collection.

Mad Max 2

Mad Max 2 (1981), directed by Australian George Miller, revisits the other-worldly and unknowable desert expanses shown in Wake In Fright. In this film, the desert acts as futuristic battleground in a lawless world. See filmmaker George Miller talking about filming Mad Max 2 (1981) in Broken Hill here.

Priscilla's Adventures

Unlike many films which had come before it, the vast and humbling desert shown in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) is a site of positive transformation when drag performers are invited to dance and sing with local Aboriginal people.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (NFSA title 255515)
Image courtesy of Latent Image Productions.

The NFSA holds many items in the collection relating to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, from costumes and call sheets, to scripts and stills.

Broken Hill on screen and on the airwaves

australianscreen has many titles filmed in Broken Hill. Click here to see a full list of titles relating to Broken Hill.

The titles range from the 1936 film Silver City (NFSA title 19627), about mining in the area, to a piece from Ask the Leyland Brothers about local artist Pro Hart, filmed in 1976.

To view items from the NFSA collection relating to Broken Hill, available for viewing at the NFSA in Canberra and at access centres around Australia.

Titles include:

  • Newsreel Corralinga Wins Steeplechase Cup at Broken Hill (1907). NFSA title 5838
  • Australian Aerial Services, NSW and Vic (c. 1926). NFSA title 12276. Includes aerial shots of Hay, Cootamundra and Broken Hill, New South Wales.
  • Mineral Wealth (c. 1934). NFSA title 13412
  • Australian Diary No. 62: The Flying Doctor: The Mantle of Safety (1946). NFSA title 9386
  • Movietone News Volume 25, No. 17. The Queen Flies to South Australia (1954). NFSA title 120863. Newsreel item from 1954 showing Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh at Broken Hill, including a tour of the Flying Doctor base.
  • Walkabout: The Chauvels’ Lengendary 1950s Outback Expedition (1958). NFSA title 686329. NFSA compilation of the 13-part series made by Charles and Elsa Chauvel for the BBC about a journey made by the Chauvels from Sydney to Broken Hill, on to Port Augusta, and through Central Australia to Darwin and back again by car, horse and train.
  • The Charades’ song Northwest of Broken Hill (1965). NFSA title 323843
  • Broken Hill: A Mining History: 1883-1983 (c. 1982). NFSA title 46106
  • Radio interviewer Stella Guthrie: Interviewed by Nancy Flannery: Oral History (1996). NFSA title 319421