Following the 2017/18 series, which sought to position filmic visions of Australia within a transnational context, the 2018/19 Menzies Screening series focused on cinema’s role in perpetuating and solidifying settler colonial regimes, not only in Australia, but also in the fellow ‘White Dominions’ of Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand.
Over the course of the series, three British features from the 1950s – one depicting each nation – was paired with a trio of ‘local’ films produced against the backdrop of burgeoning cultural nationalism. Aiming to place these ‘imperial’ and ‘national’ productions in direct dialogue, the 2018/19 series explored some of the contrasting manifestations of these ‘new nations’, from their shared heritage to their divergent histories of expansion, engagement, and exploitation.
Hosted at King’s College London’s Menzies Australia Institute, I introduced each session with a particular critical and contextual focus, with a relaxed, salon-style discussion following the film.
The six screenings in the 2018/19 Menzies Screenings series were as follows:
Menzies Screening #1:
Australia 1: Bitter Springs (Ralph Smart / Ealing, 1950)
13 November 2018
The series began with our first session on Australia, and a consideration of British cinema’s approach to settler colonial spaces in the post-war period, with a screening of Ealing Studios’ third Australian production, Bitter Springs (1950).
Directed by Ralph Smart, and starring Chips Rafferty as Wally King – a sheep farmer leading his family (and an associated bunch of chancers) to pastures new – this film lays bare the central conceit of settler colonialism in Australia: the question of ‘terra nullius’. Discovering that their government-issued land is already occupied by a local Indigenous group, King and his family must come to terms with the realities of their settler existence.
Menzies Screening #2:
Australia 2: Sunday Too Far Away (Ken Hannam / SAFC, 1975)
4 December 2018
In our second session, we returned to Australia twenty-five years after Bitter Springs to see how a new climate of cultural nationalism had begun to (re)shape considerations of settler colonial existence.
An early cornerstone of the Australian New Wave, and one of the first to achieve international acclaim, Sunday Too Far Away (1975) is a realist tale of hard-working (and hard-drinking) sheep shearers in 1950s Australia, and their struggle against the imposition of non-union labour. Long understood as a portrait of latent frontier masculinity, it also helped to shore up the settler colonial ethos and aesthetic more broadly, cementing a particular vision of the land – ‘terra nullius’ anew – that would be shared by numerous other Australian films of this period.
Menzies Screening #3:
Canada 1: Campbell’s Kingdom (Ralph Thomas / Rank, 1957)
5 February 2019
In the third session of 2018/19, we continued our consideration of British cinema’s approach to settler colonial spaces in the post-war period with a screening of Canadian-set adventure film Campbell’s Kingdom (1957).
Dirk Bogarde stars as Bruce Campbell, a gravely ill Englishman who unexpectedly inherits a property in the Canadian Rockies. Under threat by the construction of a hyrdro-electric dam, Campbell becomes convinced by his grandfather’s insistence upon the property’s oil-rich prospects, as a struggle over land and resources ensues. Shot in the Italian Dolomites and at Pinewood Studios, the film nevertheless strives to create a cohesive vision of a changing Canada, where struggles over land and resources frame a narrative of national ‘progress’.
Menzies Screening #4:
Canada 2: Drylanders (Don Haldane / NFB, 1957)
5 March 2019
In our fourth session, we returned to Canada for one of the first fiction features produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Drylanders (1963). Made just five years after Campbell’s Kingdom, this film eschews a contemporary setting or a vision of modern Canada, in favour of a docudrama about new settlers on the colonial frontiers of Saskatchewan at the turn of the twentieth century.
Menzies Screening #5:
Aotearoa New Zealand 1: The Seekers (Ken Annakin / Rank, 1954)
2 April 2019
Our fifth session shifted the focus on post-war British cinema’s representation of settler colonial spaces to Aotearoa New Zealand, with a screening of colonial adventure drama The Seekers (1954). Shot around the Bay of Plenty and set in the 1820s, the film explores tensions between a British settler family and the local Māori population, but is weighed down by exotic fantasies about Polynesian cultures.
Menzies Screening #6:
Aotearoa New Zealand 2: Utu Redux (Geoff Murphy / NZFC, 1983/2013)
7 May 2019
For our sixth and final session, we returned to Aotearoa New Zealand for a home-grown tale of colonial conflict and resistance, with a screening of Utu (1983). Offering a rather more rounded view of colonial-era conflict, this film – directed by noted Pākehā (European) filmmaker Geoff Murphy – is a genre-tinged, Māori revenge tale set at the height of the New Zealand Wars. Loosely based on the exploits of legendary resistance leader Te Kooti, it features a Māori scout for the colonial army who switches allegiance and devotes himself to the fight for land and freedom.
The 2018/19 Menzies Screening Series was curated and presented by Dr Stephen Morgan for the Menzies Australia Institute at King’s College London, 13 November 2018 – 7 May 2019.