The 1950s and 60s saw the growth of on-camera interviews with a wide range of people in documentary, and in television news and current affairs. Some of the earliest interviews with Australian film pioneers were recorded on film – Raymond Longford in the late 1950s for a Commonwealth Film Unit Australian Diary segment that was never completed; the Salvation Army’s Reg Perry and Colonel Howarth in the 1960s for interviews not included in Alan Anderson’s The Pictures that Moved; and Elsa Chauvel, Ken G. Hall and Bert Cross for Tony Buckley’s documentary on early Australian film, Forgotten Cinema.
From 1957, Hazel de Berg pioneered the audio-recording of many Australians, eminent and otherwise, and in the mid-1970s the Australia Council started commissioning, on 16 mm colour film, oral histories with a wide range of Australian veterans of the Australian arts and media including at least one filmmaker, Ken Hall, and the film distribution executives Herc McIntyre and Al Daff. The Australia Council also funded filmmaker Hugh McInnes to record audio interviews with a variety of film workers. In the early 1970s Joan Long recorded several audio oral histories with film pioneers to research stories she wanted to tell in her documentary, The Passionate Industry. In August 1971, I recorded my first oral history. My interview subject was Neville Macken, a businessman who had funded one of Australia’s first viable sound-on-film recording processes.
The Film Pioneers Project
In approximately 1975 the Australia Council decided that although they would continue filming oral histories from the creative community generally, they would from now on leave oral histories with film personnel to other bodies including the National Library.
Fortunately, from October 1975, the Australian Film, Television and Radio School injected a new burst of energy into media-related oral history. Julie James Bailey, who from that month headed the school’s Research and Survey Unit, had oral history among her responsibilities. In 1976, I was invited to join a steering committee chaired by Julie at the Film School which intended to find ways to record oral histories with early film industry people. After the committee had met a couple of times, in August 1976 the AFC announced that they would grant $12,250 for the audio-recording and selective filming of 35 film pioneers. The arrangement was that AFTRS would administer what became known as the Film Pioneers Project. AFTRS organised that the National Library would supervise the transcription of and ultimately hold the interviews. AFTRS also negotiated with 3M to provide free audio stock, and with Colorfilm Laboratories to provide free processing and printing of the film segments.
In 1977, a meeting of the committee was held to discuss and finalise a list of industry pioneers to be recorded. I sent Julie a list of suggested interviewees, and AFTRS staff wrote to filmmakers and film historians around Australia seeking their recommendations on who should be interviewed.
A Project Officer is appointed
After the initial recording of interviews for the Film Pioneers Project had made sluggish progress, AFTRS employed me to be its project officer. My duties included matching potential interviewees with interviewers, to build up momentum via regular contact with the interviewers, and to conduct a number of the interviews myself. Ultimately the other interviewers included Alan Anderson, Ina Bertrand, Ross Cooper, Ray Edmondson, John Hughes, Joan Long, Margot Nash, Andrew Pike, and David Stratton.
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