To celebrate Australia Day 2015, the NFSA has published the final episode of the Life in Australia series of short films, produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit (later known as Film Australia) between 1964 and 1966.
They were made for the Department of Immigration, to entice immigrants from Europe. There’s no denying that these films were a marketing tool; Australia was the product, and as such, it was presented as an idyllic destination where everyone led prosperous, happy lives. The scripts for each film are almost identical, covering employment and industry, education, sport, health care, shopping, religion, night-life, and art. Australia had everything anyone could wish for!
The films show a ‘typical’ day in 12 locations around Australia. All the capital cities were included, except Darwin and Canberra. These two, however, had been the focus of other recent Film Australia productions.
The series also includes other destinations that the government considered to be areas of potential growth; places that might offer great opportunities for those who chose to settle in regional centres rather than stay in the big cities. These were Mount Gambier (SA), Cairns (QLD), Launceston (Tas), Wagga Wagga (NSW), Geelong (Vic), and Geraldton (WA).
But perhaps Life in Australia is a misleading name. After all, how can a 10-minute film capture the diversity of any city, let alone an entire country?
Despite the nostalgia generated by these images of a recent past – the ‘good old days’ – it is important to understand the context in which the films were made. It was the last years of the ‘White Australia’ policy, and the government wanted to attract (mostly British) migrants. Inclusiveness was not the goal, and anything that didn’t fit into the perfect postcard image was left out of these films. It’s the TV sitcom version of a complex country going through a transformative period.
The 1960s were a time of change around the world, and Australia was no exception. The Vietnam War sparked social unrest and protests challenging Australia’s participation in the conflict. There are no Indigenous people in any of these films, at the time when Charles Perkins embarked on the Freedom Ride, and only a couple of years before the landmark 1967 referendum. Women’s rights movements were also transforming Australian society, yet in these films women only play traditional roles: employed in ‘women’s jobs’ until they ‘graduated’ from working life through marriage, to become devoted housewives.
These films are fascinating examples of the 1950s-60s government filmmaking style, and capture different aspects of the Australian experience 50 years ago. They may not represent 100% of what life in Australia was, but they do capture the spirit of a nation aspiring to fulfill its potential.