An early influence

In 1952, I had somehow scored a job as a research assistant in economic history at the NSW Institute of Technology, soon to become the University of New South Wales. My honours degree had masked my questionable grasp of economic theory and ignorance of economic history. Rather, I had been stumbling headlong into intoxication with the Sydney University Film Group.

There was no library at the Institute campsite in the grounds of the Museum of Applied Arts and Technology at gritty Ultimo, nor much assignment of tasks. My study became film, much of it into the night at the several film societies, or at the vintage double-bills playing at minor suburban cinemas.

One mid-morning, the telephone dragged me from the shower. A gravelly voice was insisting about some film, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), and director, Gordon Douglas, both then obscure. For me till then, the canon had been established by Paul Rotha and Roger Manvell. Sequence magazine was yet to make an Australian dent. Sight and Sound was the main resource in those times.

There were insistently shower-dragging calls on quite a few mornings. Through my numbing ear, John Flaus was waking me into film inquiry. The process continued during encounters at screenings through that decade. I was an organiser, grateful (if at times bemused) that John was a thinker.


In 1961, Ian Klava and others in Sydney took over the moribund remains at the Workers Education Association of a stodgy documentary film group. Bingo: the WEA Film Study Group had projection gear and premises in the city and at the Newport Beach conference centre. John Flaus and John Baxter had a platform. Names like Sam Fuller were heard. As recounted by Barrett Hodsdon (1), auteurism and then genre were emerging into film society thinking.


1. Barrett Hodsdon, Straight Roads and Crossed Lines: The Quest for Film Culture in Australia?, Bernt Porridge Group, Shenton Park, Western Australia, 2001, pp. 73-76.

About The Author

David Donaldson was director of the Sydney Film Festival for its first four years, and then opened a non-theatrical distribution firm, Filmart. A career in adult education began in Armidale, NSW in 1961. These days, in Adelaide, he continues to find films for audiences and, happily, audiences for films.

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