by Malcolm Smith:    July 2020

I was nine years old in 1952 when I shot my first movie on Pathe’s 9.5mm stock. Pathe’s sprocket holes were, unusually, in the middle of the film.  My brother acted the part of a cowboy being pierced by an arrow to the heart. This involved filming with the camera upside down and pulling the arrow from my brother’s chest with a string – a cheap action reversing trick. It thrilled me enormously.

I was also becoming adept at recording and editing quarter inch gauge magnetic recording tape on reel to reel recorders. Much time was spent with friends imitating the Goon Show, especially the sound effects, which was very popular at the time.

So was born my love for media.

My first real foray into recording oral histories came in 1975 when I was working at the South Australian Film Corporation and arranged for Gil Brealey the founding Director and Chairman of the Corporation to be interviewed by Storry Walton – academic, writer, producer and director. That seminal, three hour recording is held by the NFSA.

Serendipitously I am, even now, collaborating with Storry at AMOHG.

Whilst working at Foxtel, between 2003 to 2013, I initiated two projects that resulted in recording the experiences of prominent media practitioners  – the Foxtel/Australian Writers’ Foundation Oral History Project and the Foxtel/ NFSA Reflections project.

Foxtel/Australian Writers’ Foundation Oral History

screenwriters-heroThis was a joint initiative with the President of the Australian Writers’ Foundation Geoffrey Atherden, Foxtel, and University of New South Wales academic, Susan Lever.

Over five years, this program recorded and preserved the oral history of writers who have played a significant role in the development and of Australian television.

22 Australian writers were interviewed.

Joan Ambrose, Geoffrey Atherden, Sonja Borg, Ann Brooksbank, Bob Ellis, Cliff Green, Tom Hegarty, Alan Hopgood, Ian Jones, Margaret Kelly, Richard Lane, Tony Morphett, Ted Roberts, Garry Reilly, Tony Sattler, Roger Simpson, Hugh Stuckey, David Williamson, Eleanor Witcombe, Wood, Brian and Mary Wright and Peter Yeldham.

All interviews were lodged with the NFSA, (which shows some highlights here), the Australian Writers’ Guild and AFTRS. They are there to be used by students and researchers in the future who may want to learn about and/or make programs about the history of Australian writing for the screen and as a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the craft of screenwriting. Susan Lever, who researched and conducted the interviews has recently published a book Creating Australian Television Drama  based, in part,  on many of the interviews

As a spin off,  students at AFTRS edited the oral history interviews and produced five videos about screenwriting  –  Australian Identity, Comedy, Drama, Structure and Success.

These five short films are accessible via the AFTRS YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/AFTRSShowcase).

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Foxtel/NFSA – The Reflections Project

Foxtel worked closely with the NFSA from 2007 to ensure that the history and development of subscription television in Australia was preserved in the national interest.

The Reflections Project aimed to:

  • protect the heritage of subscription television in Australia
  • determine and enable operational practices to ensure the preservation of unique Australian content and associated promotional collateral produced by subscription television.

NFSA considers such material invaluable as it provides an understanding for historians and audiences of Foxtel’s history in Australia.

Over 20 videos interviews were made with key Subscription TV players.

These included Mike Lilley, Trevor Eastment, Michael Fitzhardinge, Justin Rowley, Peter Smart, Tony Iffland, Peter Campbell, Don Brooks, Carole Cogdon, Kim Vecera, Bill Collins, Lynette Ireland, Jeffrey Smith, Ross Crowley, Patrick Delany, Debra Richards, Kim Williams, Brian Walsh, Mark Furness, Angelos Frangopolous, Nell Payne, Peter Campbell (Sport focus), Kym Niblock, Peter Tonagh, Deane Weir, Jacqui Feeney, Peter Rose and Patrick Delany.

Foxtel also delivered to the NFSA more than 260 program titles, together with supporting documentation, detailing the history and development of subscription television in Australia.

***

More recently, in 2015, as a member of AMOHG, I initiated the New Media Oral History Project. This looks at the development of the sector in Australia from the mid-1980s. This period has seen enormous change to the media landscape driven by revolutionary digital technological development.

This project has been an ambitious, complex, inspiring initiative capturing over twenty interviews with key practitioners and using eleven different interviewers over three years that has been both innovative and produced to a high standard of professionalism by volunteers from the media industry.

In order to build a priority list of potential interviewees, advice was sought from thirteen practitioners with a deep and extensive involvement in the development of New Media.

They were asked to suggest key players who would be able to provide, via interview:

  • A history of how Australia’s New Media and Convergence sector has                       developed;
  • The technical, political, regulatory and commercial issues at play; and.
  • What role the interviewee played in this history.

I then led a working party comprising Sandra Davey, Graham Shirley and (the late) Chris Winter, to further finesse the list of potential interviewees. In order to achieve a comprehensive coverage of the industry we considered the diverse spread of New Media categories that the practitioners had contributed to.

Entrepreneurial Government Arts/culture Academic Technical
Commercial Regulatory GLAM Thought Leaders Engineers
Political National Broadcasters Reporting / Technologies
Industry Peak Bodies Commissioning Bodies Criticism Data Services
Comms Tertiary Institutions CD-ROM

Chief Entertainment supported the Project by providing ‘in kind’ free support, by way of facilities and personnel.

Neil Peplow at AFTRS also supported the Project with student volunteers acting as researcher/interviewer under AMOHG supervision as well as facilities when needed.

A total of 21 interviews, with significant New Media practitioners, has been supported by and delivered to the NFSA. The majority have been video interviews, mostly running for 3 to 4 hours.

Those interviewed included Brendan Harkin, Megan Elliott, Chris Winter, Guy Gadney, Jennifer Wilson, John Butterworth, Gary Hayes, Tom Kennedy, Rachel Dixon, Louise van Rooyen, Sandra Davey, Zina Kaye, Jason Romney, Colin Griffith, Chris Fitz-Gibbon, Kate Richards, Malcolm Long, Gabby Shaw, Seb Chan, Stuart Cunningham and Molly Reynolds.

Malcolm Smith
July 2020

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3 thoughts on “Oral histories and me (by Malcolm Smith)

  1. It is an impressive list Malcom. Also exhaustive I would imagine. Congrats !. Australia needs such dedication to all its arts, Thank you for sharing love Jan

    Like

  2. What a wonderful compilation of life stories and insights from some of the greatest visionaries that steered Australian film and media to great heights. Absolutely amazing – well done, Malcolm!
    With best wishes, Kallistene

    Like

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