Vale Sue Chauvel Carlsson

 Graham Shirley
& Meg Labrum
Sue Chauvel Carlsson and her son Ric at the Ken G Hall Film Preservation Award 2012

Susanne Chauvel Carlsson passed away on 19 March 2013 in Toowoomba, Queensland, after a short illness. Born in 1930, Sue was the daughter of Charles and Elsa Chauvel. A determined supporter for the collection and preservation of their work, she tirelessly continued to research both her family and her father’s film industry history.

Only four months ago the NFSA presented the Ken G Hall Film Preservation Award to Sue.


Everyone who was there on the night witnessed how happy she was to be shown such love and appreciation by her colleagues, friends and family.

In this blog post, Meg Labrum and Graham Shirley reflect on Sue’s legacy.

Our 2012 recipient of the Ken G Hall Film Preservation Award, Sue played a long-term role in supporting the interests of the NFSA, as both an ardent advocate for the continued celebration of the film work of her parents Charles and Elsa Chauvel, and a passionate researcher into both their professional and family history.

With her son Ric, Sue represented, lobbied for, researched and wrote about Charles and Elsa Chauvel for most of her life. Her contributions include a 1989 published biography, numerous articles, presentations, support to other researchers, travel to remote locations of her father’s films, and her ongoing work on a definitive, detailed biography.

Personally, Sue remained a dynamo until this most recent illness. Her presentation at the Ken G Hall Film Preservation Award event in November last year made everyone sit up as she spoke articulately, with humour and pride, and acknowledged the constant support provided by Ric. She took great delight in the opportunity to further celebrate the Chauvel film legacy, as well as having the chance to dress to the nines and meet so many new admirers.

We will miss her as one of the NFSA’s timeless supporters and identities, and send Ric and her extended family our sincere sympathies.

Meg Labrum
Senior Curator – Film, Documents, Artefacts

I first met Sue Carlsson when I recorded an oral history with her mother, Elsa Chauvel, in 1976. Sue had witnessed first-hand her parents’ filmmaking activity in the late 1940s and 50s, and was an ideal contributor to the interview, helping to complement her mother’s memories of Charles and Elsa Chauvel’s working lives between the feature film Sons of Matthew (1949) and the Walkabout (1958) travel TV series. With the passing of the years, I remained impressed with Sue’s intellectual energy and her essential warmth and humanity.

Sue was to become a friend, and every so often we would exchange emails to swap news, information and perspectives. She became a tireless chronicler of her parents’ lives, first with her beautifully illustrated book, Charles & Elsa Chauvel: Movie Pioneers in 1989, and recently with the more detailed The Life and Cinema of Charles Chauvel, yet to be published. With her son Ric helping with research, Sue also wrote Pitcairn: Island at the Edge of Time (2000), a combined travel and historical account of the island her parents had visited to film In the Wake of the Bounty (1933). Sue wrote concisely and with a sure hand, even injecting into the stills captions for Charles & Elsa Chauvel: Movie Pioneers previously unpublished information about how the Chauvels had made their films.

In 2004 I recorded a video oral history with Sue, covering her life as well as the lives and work of her parents. Shining new light on how Charles Chauvel’s formative years had influenced his films, Sue was able to tell her story with a series of word pictures that made the listener clearly see the characters, locations and events she described. I realised that in doing that, Sue had inherited a talent that had enabled Charles and Elsa Chauvel to make visually striking films that had, in their day, helped shape the character of a nation.

Graham Shirley
Manager, Access Projects

A memorial service for Sue Chauvel Carlsson will be held this Saturday 23 March at 11am at Macquarie Park Cemetery in Sydney.