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Australia's Own

Australia's Own** (J.E. Ward, 1919) prod. wr. dp Jack Ward; Nellie Romer, Garry Gordon; romance

J E (Jack) Ward worked as a sketch artist on the staff of the Sydney Morning Herald for eleven years, and as a lithographer and vaudeville performer, before devoting his career in 1915 to travelling in Papua. He began to make film records of his travels, and shot many thousands of feet covering the life and customs of Papuan people. At the suggestion of the entrepreneur Dan Carroll, he decided to exploit his footage commercially by adding a dramatic narrative. In mid-1918, with an Australian actress, Nellie Romer, and an actor, Garry Gordon, he staged a simple romantic story in the Yule Island area near Port Moresby.
Unexpectedly, the footage was impounded by the territory administration after Catholic missionaries complained about Ward's activities. Appeals and investigations were made, and eventually, when officials were satisfied that the film would not prejudice relations with the native population, it was returned to Ward. The narrative scenes were subsequently interwoven with documentary footage under a title that referred to the New Guinea territory, formerly a German possession and now 'Australia's own'. Billed as an exotic adventure movie, with special hand-coloured wildlife segments, it opened at the Globe Theatre, Sydney, on 20 January 1919.


Subsequent screenings were rare and lacked publicity, and commercial results could hardly have been impressive. Undeterred, Ward persisted with production, recycling much of his earlier footage to make new documentaries, including The Quest for the Blue Bird of Paradise, a seven-reel film completed around 1923 and probably containing acted scenes from Australia's Own, and Death Devils in a Papuan Paradise, released in Sydney in October 1924. He departed briefly from his New Guinea subjects in 1925 to direct an urban comedy, Those Terrible Twins. Pike & Cooper: 88.

The Globe Theatre, Sydney, did manage to show Australia's Own before the influenza outbreak. Produced by J.E. Ward, and featuring Nellie Romer, it purported to portray an Australian girl's adventures in the wids of the hill jungles of what had been German New Guinea, before it was made 'Australia's Own'. Banned by the Government of Papua, it was advertised that 'the pictures were secured at considerable risk among the naked tribes of head hunters, cannibals, giants, and dwarfs of a trackless country'. The birds, beasts and people were shown in natural colour Reade: 85.

References and Links

Pike, Andrew & Ross Cooper 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, OUP, Melbourne: 88.

Reade, Eric 1975, The Australian Screen: A Pictorial History of Australian Film-making, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne: 8, 118.

Garry Gillard | New: 25 October, 2012 | Now: 25 November, 2019