Following three decades of involvement in the Australian film industry, husband and wife Charles and Elsa Chauvel transferred their talents to the burgeoning medium of television. In 1955, while in London completing their ambitious feature Jedda (1955), the Chauvels were asked by the BBC to produce a documentary travelogue of the Australian interior for British TV audiences. Accepting the challenge, and with a working series title of This Is Australia, the duo and a small crew set off from Sydney on a 9000 mile (15,000 km) adventure diagonally up the country.
On location from April to September 1956, a gargantuan 54,000 feet of 16mm colour film was compiled; such a filmed inland journey of the country had never before been attempted. The result was Australian Walkabout, a 13-episode half-hour travel series, highlighting the people, places and wildlife the Chauvels encountered. 'I feel it is the greatest opportunity I have ever had to publicise our country', Charles Chauvel told the Sydney Sunday Mail (21 April 1956).
Viewer reaction to Australian Walkabout in Australia and the UK was positive, with repeat screenings following, though the BBC’s decision to initially schedule the series after 11 pm on Saturday nights led to some complaints. Though produced in colour, episodes were first viewed in black-and-white, since colour transmission was still years away for both countries.
This was the Chauvels’ final completed production. Further feature films and a plan to undertake a similar travel series in the South Pacific went unfulfilled, given Charles Chauvel’s untimely passing at age 62, in November 1959.
The NFSA is ensuring the digital preservation of the complete series by scanning the 16mm colour film prints. The whereabouts of the series’ complete original 16mm film components, sent to the UK in 1958, are presently unknown.