Step back to 1927 in the NSW town of Orange

BY JENNIFER COOMBES

View of Summer Street, Orange, with Club Hotel on the right. Orange Attractions and Businesses, c1927. NFSA: 741822

On Wednesday 1 August, people in Orange will have the opportunity to see rare footage of the town, taken in 1927. The National Film and Sound Archive has joined with the Orange Historical Society to present this special screening of footage that captures a very different place to the city of today.

The charming 35-minute film captures a unique insight into Orange life and businesses between the two World Wars. The silent black and white footage includes aspects such as the local flour mills and bakeries; the ladies of the Country Women’s Association, members of the Orange Municipal and Canobolas Shire council; and well–known contemporary local identities such as Henry Hansen, the founder of Hansen’s Jewellery.

The footage was donated to the NFSA by Alan Press, a projectionist for Snider and Dean’s Orange Cinemas who helped clear out the building when the cinema ceased operations in 1964. In one of the cupboards he discovered a few spools of film, including the nitrate negative of footage of the town. He nearly sent it off to the tip, but decided to keep it and even held on to the reels when he moved to Condobolin in 1966.

Merlis and Deans – sporting – Tennis racquet re-stringing. Orange Attractions and Businesses, c1927. NFSA: 741822

In 2006, Press read about the restoration work being done by the NFSA on the feature film The Story of the Kelly Gang. Remembering the nitrate film he had saved so long ago, he decided to contact us to see if we were interested. And indeed we were! Closer inspection of the reels revealed beautiful, clear images of a mid-1920s Australian town, its inhabitants and businesses. Like many other silent films that survive only in negative format, it arrived with the inter-titles spliced together. This was possibly for tinting purposes, where differently tinted individual sequences – in this case the inter-titles – were grouped together in the one run before a final release print was made. They were clearly intended to be intercut with the relevant images.

With assistance from staff at the NFSA, Alan was able to identify that most of the film was shot in Orange and the surrounding district. But the identity of the filmmaker still remains a mystery. Alan and other members of the Orange Historical Society thought the film may have been shot by, or for, a family named Passlow, who were connected with cinemas in Orange or Wellington. Another projectionist who worked with Alan told him the Passlow family made films in the Orange region and that at least one of them may have been a cinematographer.

Above: The Country Women’s Association. Orange Attractions and Businesses, c1927. NFSA: 741822_0009_023

Local Orange historians have found references in The Sydney Morning Herald to a film that has shots of Orange shown in May 1927, and some of the scenes listed in the article, were similar to those in the donated footage. It appeared to have been made for or by Edwin Daniel Passlow, the proprietor of Theatre Orange (later known as the Coronet), which opened in November 1926.

Earlier this year, with the invaluable assistance of Alan and the Orange Historical Society, the NFSA created a digital copy of the original film and inserted the original inter-titles with the relevant identified footage. This new version – still a work in progress as there is footage that we are unable to link together – is being screened in Orange on August 1 at the Odeon Cinemas from 6pm, and will provide the opportunity for the public to view unique footage of their town and hopefully to help us identify some of the places and people that appear on screen. The NFSA is delighted to be involved in screening this insight into regional Australia’s past and welcomes the opportunity to gain more information from the public about this original and rare footage of Orange.