Media Release

The National Film and Sound Archive has restored the powerful 1996 documentary The Coolbaroo Club, which provides astonishing insight into a Perth dance club run by the Noongar community between 1946 and 1960, in the face of Australia’s repressive policies in the twentieth century.  

Directed by acclaimed Tasmanian filmmaker Roger Scholes, The Coolbaroo Club follows the fortunes of the only Indigenous-run dance club in a city which regularly submitted its Indigenous population to curfews, police harassment, and bureaucratic obstruction. Using interviews, archival footage and dramatisation, the film tells the stories of those involved in the establishment of the club, and what it meant to them. 

The Coolbaroo Club’s popular dance nights were attended by Indigenous people from all over the area. They also attracted Black musicians, performers and celebrities from all over the world, who were barred from performing in other venues. Its guests included Nat ‘King’ Cole, Harold Blair and the Harlem Globetrotters. The club’s organisers also went on to establish The Coolbaroo League, which published a newspaper, and which became a political organisation advocating for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.  

Writer and academic Steve Kinnane, a Marda Marda man from Mirrawoong Country in the East Kimberley, co-wrote and co-produced The Coolbaroo Club, and will present it with producer Penny Robins at a special Melbourne International Film Festival screening on Saturday 19 August at 1.45pm. The film will also be available to stream via MIFF Play.   

The documentary’s 1996 premiere provoked a strong response from the critics of the day. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, writer Robert Drewe called it ‘more shaming than a hundred news stories,’ and reflected: ‘it lifts the lid on postwar relations in this country.’ 

NFSA’s Chief Curator Gayle Lake said ‘We’re extremely excited that we’ve been able to preserve and restore this powerful and revealing documentary and bring it to audiences at the Melbourne International Film Festival. The work of an archive is as much about the past as it is about the future. The NFSA is in a unique position to use 21st-century technology to reflect and contextualise our history. With this restoration, I hope that audiences in 2023 can acknowledge the resilience and strength of the Noongar community during a painful era in West Australian history.’  

NFSA Restores is a program to digitise, restore and preserve classic and cult Australian films to the highest archival standards so they can be enjoyed on the big screen in digital cinemas. Previous NFSA Restores titles have included My Brilliant Career (1979), Shame (1988), The Year My Voice Broke (1987), Gallipoli (1981), Storm Boy (1976), My Survival as an Aboriginal (1978)  Starstruck (1982), Bliss (1985), Proof (1991), Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Floating Life (1996) as well as silent films The Sentimental Bloke (1919), The Cheaters (1929), The Man from Kangaroo (1919), and Snowy Baker films The Empire Builders (USA, 1924) and Three Days to Live (USA, 1924), all of which have been screened at various film festivals and events.  


1.45pm, Saturday 19 August 53 minutes 
The Forum, 154 Flinders Street, Melbourne 

Written by                                          Steve Kinnane, (Mirrawong) Lauren Marsh, Roger Scholes  

Director                                               Roger Scholes  

Produced by                                       Penny Robins  

Co-producers                                     Steve Kinnane, Lauren Marsh  

Director of Photography               Roger Scholes  

Editor                                                    Tony Stevens  

Music                                                    Lucky Oceans, Lois Olney 


Images here  


Media enquiries: 
Louise Alley | Communications Manager | 0422 348 652 |