Woman cutting another woman's hair at hair-dressing competition, circa 1960.

Australian style

Hair, fashion and shopping, c1950–68
 Tara Marynowsky

Amateur films and home movies are a rich part of the NFSA’s collection. I’ve recently curated three films from the collection for our YouTube channel on the theme of 'fashion’. While viewing and reflecting upon the subjects of these films it is fascinating to discover to what extent they are contemporary to today, despite being made in the 1950s or 60s.

The first two films are primarily about hair, though they also reveal a lot about the fashion, the hairdressing industry and social interaction at the time. In Futuristic Styles at Hairdressing Convention (c1950, 16mm, silent), a sophisticated film shot by Gordon Edwards (now deceased) in Newcastle, New South Wales, we see a popular hairstyle that looks like an atomic-age cone-head. The use of multi-coloured hair dyes, ranging from dusty green to bright pink, adds to the futuristic vision. The film also features 1950s fashion, make-up, products, and an amusing demonstration with a male client and male hairdresser who creates a cone-head piece for him by using a coconut as its base. He then adds flora to it to finish it off.

Coneheads and Coconuts: Hairdressing Convention, Newcastle, c1950 NFSA title: 440972. Please note: This film is silent.


In Hairspray! Hairdressing Competition 1968 (8mm, silent), a film shot by George Sullivan (now deceased), we witness a gruelling Best Hair contest shot at Melbourne Town Hall, an event supported by the International Hair Stylists’ Society of Australia. Hairdressers frantically sculpt hair with brushes and sprays and the hair models look seriously grumpy when filmed and inspected by the committee members. Style-wise, the (local) models in this film look as though they have just come off the set of Hairspray (John Waters, USA, 1988). We also see hairdressers hard at work competing for the title of best hairdresser.

Hairdressing Competitions, Melbourne Town Hall (1968) NFSA title: 596807. Please note: This film is silent.


These are films shot by regular people and featuring regular people. They offer realistic truths of what happened and when, and this is what makes amateur films interesting to me as a curator. The films can be revealing culturally and socially, and we can identify with them in personal ways. Most importantly, they offer an historical record of everyday life which is different to what a more polished, commercial film might present. By sharing these films on YouTube, I hope not only that the content might trigger memories for some viewers, but perhaps also inspire new creations, whether by an artist, filmmaker, hairdresser, stylist, or fashion designer.

The final film came to the NFSA from an unknown source and has limited credit details. Suburban Shopping in Australia (c1965, standard 8mm, silent) is a documentary-style film showcasing a shopping district. Shops appear (not subtly in frame) such as Prouds, Continental Expresso Bar, Glendenning and Finnish Crafts. The star of the film is a suburban housewife who spends the day on a leisurely shopping spree (groceries, pearl necklaces, a women’s glossy magazine), before picking up her child from school in the early afternoon. Since we uploaded this film to our YouTube channel there has been a great response from viewers who have confirmed that the shopping area is in Eastwood, NSW, and the school is in North Ryde. Who shot this film and why remains unknown.

Suburban Shopping in Australia (c1965) NFSA title: 44229. Please note: This film is silent.


All of these films are preserved in the NFSA collection. They have been digitised as part of an ongoing project to share more from our home movie and amateur film collection with the public.