Australasian Cinema > films > Birth of White Australia, 1928
Birth of White Australia** (Phil K. Walsh, 1928) Dominion Films. wr. Phil K Walsh, dp Lacey Percival, Walter Sully, 6000 ft (?) Bert Trawley, Dot McConville, Rita Aslin, Alice Layton, Frank Hardingham, Pietro Sosso, Gamboola; investment for the film came from the country town of Young which also seems to have been its principal audience (O'Regan: 346) drama, thriller (Verhoeven)
This panoramic view of Australian racial history, like D W Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), was intended to portray the genesis of white nationhood. The crucial episode in the gaining of national identity was seen as the stemming of 'the on-rushing tide of Asiatics which threatened the submergence of the white race' in Australia.
The film, which survives today in the National Film and Sound Archive, ranges freely back and forth in time, including footage of military parades and views of the national capital and parliament. William Morris Hughes is among the dignitaries seen, making a statement (via intertitles) about the importance of Australia's close links with Britain. Other scenes go back to the origin of white Australia, with the landing of Captain Cook, the work of explorers, and the struggles of early settlers in the bush. The first major test of the young nation comes on the goldfields in the 1850s in Victoria, and above all in the clash between Australian and Chinese miners at Lambing Flat in central New South Wales in 1861. Several violent confrontations at Lambing Flat are depicted, including the attempted murder by Chinese of a white girl after she rebukes them for washing their clothes in the common drinking water. Such clashes persuade the government to introduce legislation to restrict Chinese immigration and the first great blow for white nationhood is struck.
The film was substantially shot on location at Lambing Flat (since renamed Young) and was financed entirely by the townspeople. The director, Phil K. Walsh, formed the production company in February 1927 and raised capital estimated at £3000. Shooting began in September, with a cast largely composed of local Young citizens. Whites were recruited to play Chinese, with stockings over their faces to suggest Mongoloid features, and their grotesque appearance was central to the film's caricature of the Chinese as uncouth barbarians sneaking furtively around their makeshift hovels.
The film was privately previewed in Sydney on 24 July 1928, and a public premiere was held at the Strand Theatre, Young, on 5 September 1928. No commercial screening in Sydney or other state capitals seems to have taken place, and the Young investors lost heavily. Walsh left the town and had no further known association with feature production. Pike & Cooper: 146.
Pike, Andrew & Ross Cooper 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, revised edition, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
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