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Australia in Colour (ATOM Study Guide)

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Australia in Colour (Lisa Matthews, Alec Morgan and Rose Hesp, 2019) is a series on the history of Australia from 1896 to 1970s using specially colourised film to create relevancy and immediacy.

When colour is applied to the black-and-white footage of Australia’s film archives, the footage comes to life in a way never seen before, inspiring a new look at Australian history.

This series carefully curates familiar footage, touching home movies and never-before-seen archival material to chart how Australia developed as a nation. From the oldest surviving footage captured in Australia in 1896 in Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park, to the beginning of colour television in the mid 1970s, each sequence is lovingly restored and colourised. The effect is remarkable, bringing to light history that is both iconic and deeply personal.

The landscape of our collective memories is revealed – from the foundation of modern Australia when six British colonies unite to the arrival of Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson, among the first heroes of the new nation. We relive a time when Ned Kelly was an early star of the silver screen. We see some of the quarter million men who fought in World War I made all the more vivid in colour. We take a look at the evolving role of women in the workforce and their struggle for equal rights, from the right to equal pay to the right to drink in public bars and the right to not wear pantaloons when swimming.

The series also reflects on uncomfortable moments in the treatment and characterisation of Indigenous people and non-whites. It charts the gradual changes in these attitudes through the 1960s and 1970s.

Through the decades, the series reveals how Australia finds its voice as a nation – from the White Australia Policy of 1901 to the ‘populate or perish’ slogan of the 1940s; from the spirited protests of the 1960s to the very first hints of modern multiculturalism in the 1970s.

The series has been meticulously researched, including the historical accuracy of the colours themselves. Every sequence has been carefully considered, and the technology that allows us to preserve, colourise and digitise archives now means much of this wonderful library will be more widely available. The result is a fresh vision of history that reconnects us with our past in a way that no other medium can.

Curriculum Applicability:

Australia in Colour is a classroom resource that can be used in Years 9 and 10 History, and Film Studies. It provides a way of introducing aspects of Australian history from 1896 to the 1970s in a way that can engage students and create interest in their further exploration of the curriculum.

The themes that can be explored include:

  • Australia at war
  • Immigration
  • Economic developments
  • The nature and growth of cities and towns
  • The significance of pastoralism and agriculture in Australian development
  • Ideas such as nationalism, colonialism, racism, environmentalism
  • Australian attitudes to non-European people
  • Ordinary people’s living and working conditions
  • Developments in Australian democracy
  • Multiculturalism
  • The development of Indigenous rights and freedoms
  • Australian popular culture in the twentieth century

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