Discovering the silent era

I have always been drawn to film as a medium for storytelling.

Growing up, this was not least due to the influence of my Uncle, John. John (as he refused to be known as Uncle) was what you would call a film aficionado. I used to spend hours poring over his magnificent Sight and Sound collection in his flat in Chippendale, Sydney.

Needless to say, by an early age, I was immersed in film, documentary and television series although mostly from overseas. Having chosen to study Australian history at university in the early 1990s, I discovered something almost unimaginable today. There were no subjects at all about film criticism or film history. And, at that time, there were no academics at the Australian National University who were expert in the history of film in Australia.

It fell to my sympathetic Honours supervisor to suggest what was a radical course at the time. I would be allowed to study through a partnership with the National Film and Sound Archive. My next piece of luck was meeting Marilyn Dooley, a powerhouse of knowledge about film history in Australia.

With this encouragement, I embarked on a history of films of the silent era still preserved and able to be viewed today. It was not just a history, but a feminist history that focused on the portrayal of women in three feature films: The Woman Suffers (1918); A Girl of the Bush (1921); Possum Paddock (1921).

The hard-copy thesis sits in the NFSA’s library. I hope that by sharing the content online more people will have access to the research and can enjoy one of many stories of Australian silent film.


Image: Crowd at Cook’s Pictures Palace, Brisbane c.1910 (NFSA: 720684)

About Sara Cousins

I am a Melbourne-based creative producer and writer interested in storytelling across all media. I have worked in digital education for many years. I am particularly interested in helping people to create and share their own stories.