Finding 1920s film locations


A scene from The Cheaters (sound version) (1931)

As producers of sophisticated urban melodramas in the mid-to-late-1920s, Australian filmmakers Isabel, Phyllis and Paulette McDonagh aimed to make films that, by not specifying where they were set, had currency anywhere in the world. The McDonaghs intended to make films that would compare with the best American society dramas while shrugging off the ‘Australian’ label associated with bush comedies. Yet for Australian audiences familiar with Melbourne or Sydney, there were Melbourne city locations (for instance, Flinders Street Station) in The Far Paradise (1928), and the presence of CBD Sydney streets and the under-construction Sydney Harbour Bridge in The Cheaters (1929, 1931).

Today the inclusion of real-life exterior and interior settings adds extra value to the McDonaghs’ silent films as records of locations now much changed or no longer surviving. But while some of these locations are still clearly recognisable, others have slipped from public memory to the extent that they have become historical mysteries.

In the mid-to-late-1970s, I knew two of the McDonagh sisters, especially Paulette, who became a friend. During our conversations, Paulette talked of some of the locations that she, as director of the McDonagh films, had used. Initially there was Drummoyne House, a 19th century mansion that the McDonaghs had lived in and filmed for Those Who Love (1926) and The Far Paradise. There was also Tamarama Beach, where they filmed some of what survives of Those Who Love, and the Ambassadors Café, in the basement of Sydney’s Strand Arcade, for which they filmed a hotel dining-room sequence for The Cheaters.

But there were other places that I didn’t ask Paulette about. Among them were a palatial ballroom where the masked ball in The Far Paradise was filmed, and two locations in The Cheaters – an idyllic bushland weir that the film’s lovers drive past on their way to a picnic, and a large, white-painted country or outer-suburban hotel. Also unknown is the shipyard location in which the lovers of Those Who Love meet for lunch.

These images from Those Who Love feature the shipyard location, which was certainly shot in Sydney, but where was it exactly? Click on the thumbnail to enlarge.


These images from The Far Paradise feature the ballroom used for the masked ball sequence.


These images from the sound version of The Cheaters feature two unknown locations – a hotel foyer which may or may not have been that of Sydney’s famed Australia Hotel (a place where the McDonaghs were known to have filmed some of The Cheaters), and the bushland weir scene, which I suspect may have been filmed at Audley Weir in the Royal National Park south of Sydney.


Today’s Audley Weir, modernised but with a bush backdrop that could conceivably match that of the weir in The Cheaters, can be seen in this photograph.

Audley Weir in 2008, Royal National Park, NSW. Photo by Looking Glass


If you have any information that might help the NFSA identify these locations, please leave a comment below.


Read about the McDonagh sisters and Drummoyne House on the Drummoyne Sailing Club blog »