Eras Journal – Allen, J,: Australian Visions. The films of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings

Australian Visions. The Films of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings

Jenny Allen

(Monash University)


Dahl and Geoffrey Collings
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Unattributed collage accompanying article by Richard Haughton James,
‘Dahl and Geoffrey Collings’, Art and Industry, Vol. 25, No. 146, August 1938, p. 38.

Raw Visions

Geoffrey Franklin Collings was described as a twenty-eight year old ‘Commercial Designer’ and Dulcie May Willmott as a twenty-three year old ‘Commercial Artist’ at the time of their marriage in 1933.[1] They were ambitious, optimistic, and successful. At the time Sydney’s art and design environment was dominated by the presence of Sydney Ure Smith (1887-1949). Smith commissioned illustrations from the pair for his magazine The Home (1920-1938), in which his concepts of good design were presented by Australia’s most progressive tastemakers, comprised of artists, designers, writers, photographers and illustrators. Dahl and Geoffrey were socially and professionally part of this stylish and sophisticated set when they decided to depart Australia for an artistic odyssey to London in 1935.


Impressions of Australia
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One of a series of six illustrations by Dahl Collings.
The Home, Vol. 15, No. 12, December 1934, p. 32.


Christmas in Australia
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Detail of double-page illustration by Geoffrey Collings.
The Home, Vol. 15, No. 12, December 1934, pp. 54-55.

On board the French steamer Ville de Strasbourg, Dahl and Geoffrey met Australian journalist Leicester Cotton, who was tinkering with photography and filmmaking. They were intrigued, but it was in London that they would become truly ‘bitten by the film bug,’[2] developing a vision and ethos that art, design and film represented potential agents of social change. This vision evolved from a first hand introduction to the Bauhaus philosophies, as well as those embraced by the leaders of the British documentary film movement.

While Geoffrey worked for the American advertising agency Erwin Wasey at its London office, Dahl worked with the ex-Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) on the total design of the department store Simpson of Piccadilly. The aim of the Bauhaus was to the reverse the split between art and production, and to create unity by developing exemplary designs that were to form part of a more humane future society. Moholy-Nagy’s holistic approach to design had resulted in him working on an exhaustive range of design projects that included the special effects for Alexander Korda’s film production of the H. G. Wells’s Things to Come (1936) and the making of the filmThe New Architecture at the London Zoo (1936).[3] Dahl and Geoffrey were also influenced by Gyorgy Kepes (1906-2001) who had previously given up painting to pursue photography, photomontage and film. It was at the suggestion of Kepes that Geoffrey sent a selection of their photographic work to the exhibition Foto 37 in Amsterdam. [4] They also included fifteen photographs in their 1938 exhibition Three Australians at the Lund Humphries Gallery in London with fellow Australian designer Alistair Morrison. [5] The front cover of the invitation displays a tree in a barren landscape with the blossoming photographic eyes of each designer representing the notion that while their roots were in Australia they were developing a new vision of the world and their place in it.


Front Cover of Exhibition Invitation:
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Three Australians: Alistair Morrison, Geoffrey Collings, Dahl Collings. 
Lund Humphries Gallery, London, 22 June – 9 July 1938.
Collection of author, Melbourne, Victoria.

Dahl and Geoffrey also met the charismatic leader of the British documentary movement John Grierson (1898-1972), when he was the Film Officer of the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit, after the Empire Marketing Board had been abolished. Geoffrey explained in an interview in the 1980s with Australian filmmaker Hugh McInnes that the influence was immediate:

The philosophy was to educate and to relate the community to itself […] for the first time in film history the ordinary common man was put on the screen as a useful and worthwhile citizen […] of course this appealed/suited me with my Fabian Socialist background […]. [6]

Inspired, Dahl and Geoffrey became influenced not only by Grierson but also his followers: the filmmakers Basil Wright (1907-1987) and Harry Watt (b.1906); the American filmmaker Robert Flaherty (1884-1951); and the surrealist artist and poet Humphrey Jennings (1907-1950), who had also discovered filmmaking. Dahl and Geoffrey attended workshops with the group and they were exposed to English documentary as well as the experimental films of the German and Russian Schools.[7] By this time Dahl and Geoffrey’s lives became consumed by film as they ‘…were looking, eating, drinking, sleeping, talking [and] reading films.’ [8] Their first filmmaking collaboration embraced the movement’s philosophy.

Whilst on holiday in Spain in 1936, just weeks before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, Dahl and Geoffrey filmed the silent, 16mm, black and white documentary Alquezar (1936), about Agrarian life in the Spanish Pyrenees. It depicts a day in the life of a timeless, medieval village of one hundred and fifty inhabitants who depended on the soil for their existence. Political overtones were added to the silent film in the form of a typographic introduction that states:

‘There is no Agrarian problem in Spain’ say the rebel generals. Here is a film, taken in 1936 before the outbreak of the civil war. It is to abolish conditions like these depicted here that the people of Spain are fighting now, breaking the chains that bound them to the past. They know that Fascism means an end to progress.[9]

The film soon gained political importance and was subsequently used as propaganda material by the anti-Franco group the International Brigade and widely distributed in England.[10] Margaret O’Sullivan, in her doctoral thesis The Interplay Between Context, Gender And Cultural Themes In The Work Of Professional And Amateur Australian Women Filmmakers And Photographers In The 1930s, makes the salient point that the Collingses’ Alquezar is a rare Australian film documenting the Spanish Civil War.[11] The only other film (which appears to no longer exist) seems to be John Coldicutt’s Fighters Return (1939) a silent newsreel that recorded the return to Sydney of the International Brigade and volunteer nurses. [12]

With the Second World War looming, Dahl and Geoffrey produced their second film Tiare Tahiti (1938) on their return journey to Australia via Tahiti. Named after the English poet Rupert Brooke’s (1887-1915) poem to Mamua, his Tahitian lover, the film was to chronicle Tahitian life before and after 1880, when the rulers of the Pomare dynasty permitted France to form a colony.[13] Dahl and Geoffrey had spent their entire savings on fares and they had also spent the extraordinary amount of £600 on equipment, including a 35 mm Newman-Sinclair Camera No. 135, a Viton tripod with a gyroscopic head, as well as 3000 feet of negative.[14] On departing England, Robert Flaherty gave them a copy of his book The Captain’s Chair-A Story of The North (1938) to deliver to the writers Charles Nordoff (1887-1947) and James Hall (1887-1951), who were living in Tahiti. The two had jointly written the Mutiny on the Bountytrilogy. Basil Wright had given Dahl and Geoffrey the prophetic advice not to make films with their own money, as they would never have enough.[15] Dahl and Geoffrey never finished Tiare Tahiti as they did run out of money and unfortunately the film no longer exists.

On their return from England, Dahl and Geoffrey immediately established the Design Centre with English designer Richard Haughton James (1906-1985). The Design Centre’s letterhead indicated the breadth of their expertise in a Bauhaus tradition: ‘Commercial Design – Exposition Architecture – Display – Industrial Styling – Fashion – Photo – Film’ all areas which the trio vigorously pursued.[16] Dahl and Geoffrey then had an exhibition Dahl and Geoffrey Collings: Exhibition of Modern Industrial Art and Documentary Photographs at the David Jones’ Art Gallery. On display were fifty-one examples of Dahl and Geoffrey’s designs and also fifteen examples of their documentary photographs. The catalogue provided the first opportunity for Dahl and Geoffrey to state their photographic philosophy:

Documentary photography merely means truthful photography. A film that is true to life is a documentary film. In this sense the press photograph is true and the ‘art’ photograph false. Every mental image is compounded of observed fact and emotion stimulated by the fact. There is no simple image in the mind. We cannot see a human child without feeling its humanity; that is why a photograph to be true must admit of more than merely photographic values. The images which the human eye receives are not necessarily sharply defined. Sharp definition alone will not make a truthful photograph. We are dealing with life, in which an exhaustive treatise carries less power of conviction than an epigram. A documentary photograph is an epigram in picture form. [17]


Front Cover of Exhibition Catalogue
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Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, An Exhibition of Modern Industrial Art and Documentary Photos.
David Jones’ Art Gallery, Sydney, 6-24 June 1939.
Collection of author, Melbourne, Victoria.

War Visions

The impact of the Second World War provided Geoffrey with the opportunity to fully change genre from design to filmmaking. Wartime had given the exponents of documentary the perfect opportunity to argue their case for government sponsored non-theatrical information films. John Grierson had visited Australia in 1940, reporting to Prime Minister Robert Menzies a series of recommendations that would eventually contribute to the Chifley government’s decision to form the Australian National Film Board (ANFB) in 1945. [18] Geoffrey had diligently lobbied the Australian government by sending copies of his booklet The Use of Film in Wartime to appropriate ministers.[19 ]

The booklet urged the establishment of a government-supported documentary film unit to serve the requirements of the Department of Information. The booklet, with the endorsement of the Documentary Films Committee of New South Wales [20], proposed the production of simple instructional films for civilians, technical training films for the three services, and training films for the Voluntary Defence Services.[21] It also proposed films to be produced for public relations and for the development of a national confidence. Geoffrey also circulated another booklet Young Man With a Camera. [22] Influenced by the documentary work of American Pare Lorentz (1905-1992), the dynamic producer of The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1937), Geoffrey self-funded the booklet, which reprinted an article on Lorentz by American screenwriter J. P. (Joseph Patrick) McEvoy (1897-1958). The article was originally published in the Reader’s Digest and Lorentz’s philosophy was summed up by his quote:

Dig out the facts, present them truthfully and graphically, then let people decide for themselves if they want to save the forests, conserve the soil, feed the hungry. [23]

Geoffrey’s filmmaking opportunity would not come until, while on leave from his camouflage unit, he was able to convince the head of the Allied Works Council (AWC), Frank Packer (1906-1974), that a film should be made about the construction of the airstrips by the Civil Constructional Corps. Geoffrey’s first sponsored film Air Strip (1944) utilized the talents of experienced cinematographer Tasman Higgins (1888-1953), who had filmed Charles Chauvel’s (1897-1959) In The Wake of The Bounty (1933).[24] With its pure propaganda and documentary style of Grierson, Air Strip created empathy with the workers. The ordinary Australians who were too old to fight were portrayed as heroic contributors to the war effort, arousing sympathy when they told the true stories of the tragic loss of their sons or younger brothers.

It was planned that Geoffrey would make another film for the AWC, but when he received the news that Harry Watt was coming to Australia to make a film for Britain’s Ealing Studios, he immediately cabled Watt to say that he was available. [25] According to Geoffrey, ‘…for nine years I had been waiting for an opportunity to make film.’[26] He dropped his further filmmaking commitments with the AWC to become Watt’s assistant director and Dahl, who had been working as a designer and illustrator for Associated Newspapers’ Woman magazine, also joined the crew as costume designer and wardrobe mistress.

Challenging Visions

Harry Watt’s search of an Australian wartime adventure story was the direct result of the influence of the British Ministry of Information, to whom the Australian government had complained that British propaganda was neglecting the Australian war effort.[27] Watt stumbled quite by chance upon the story of the extraordinary marathon movement of a mob of 85,000 cattle from an area near Darwin in 1942. As a part of the scorched-earth policy not to leave any food for the Japanese soldiers should they invade the North, the mob was moved to safety in the South. Watt’s wartime adventure brief changed to a real-life story that would become Watt’s classic feature film The Overlanders(1946).

The Overlanders was shot on location with a documentary aesthetic and the documentary social duty of education. As well as unifying a nation, this popular film provided many people the world over with their first glimpse of Australia. The film contributed to the creation of an idealised Australian character portrayed by actor Chips Rafferty (1909-1971), even though the star’s script displayed Watt’s socialist leanings in the condemnation of the exploitation of the Aborigines and the disinheritance of their land.

During the 1940s, working in the film industry of Australia required either an imaginative naiveté or a passionate determination. According to Watt, ‘You Start From Scratch in Australia.’[28] Watt’s search for experienced technicians was hampered by the war and by Charles Chauvel’s concurrent filming of The Rats of Tobruk (1944). Watt recalled that:

The unit finally consisted of artists, scientists, young documentary workers, an ex-impresario, circus hands, writers, cattlemen and a waiter. […] of the whole unit of thirty-five, including cast, only six had ever worked on a feature film before.[29]

Geoffrey’s outback knowledge, gained from jackarooing for three years in Queensland and the Northern Territory in the 1920s, would provide Watt with the means to find appropriate locations for the films cinematic theme of ‘Man against Nature.’[30] Leaving researcher Dora Birtles (1904-1996)[31] in Sydney to seek extensive information on Australian cattle treks, Watt and Geoffrey travelled to Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland to survey the two thousand-mile outback route. Watt recalled that they had once spent ‘four days in the saddle with a travelling mob of cattle, and returned drunk with exhaustion.’[32] Geoffrey as ‘picture hunter and collector’ shot hundreds and hundreds of stills of what to him was a familiar land, with regular inhabitants and known experiences. The immaculate research performed by the team enabled Watt to successfully incorporate factual information with the impact of action sequences, the suspense and drama of music and the creative treatment of characters and relationships.


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Drawings by Dahl Collings.
Reproduced from: Australia: National Journal, Vol. 6, No. 11, October 1945, p. 55.

After The Overlanders Dahl worked as the designer of eight hundred costumes required for Watt’s follow-up, Eureka Stockade(1948). Plagued by incredible runs of bad luck, Eureka Stockade never realized its aim of presenting the universal story of man’s fight for freedom. Instead, Watt’s attempt at documenting historical truth was portrayed by an unconvincing Chips Rafferty as Peter Lalor, resulting in a grey central character that compromised the political statement of national independence.

Dahl had worked closely with the wardrobe assistant Jennie Boddington (b. 1922)[33] who would later in 1985, as the curator of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), acquire forty-four of Geoffrey’s photographs of The Overlanders and twenty others taken whilst in London in the 1930s. According to Isobel Crombie, who succeeded Bonnington at the NGV, these photographs show Geoffrey to be a talented documentary photographer with a distinctive and original approach to his subjects. [34]

In 1946, Geoffrey began work for the Film Unit of the Department of Information (DOI), which was under the auspices of the Australian National Film Board (ANFB). [35] English-born Stanley Hawes (1905-1991) had been appointed the first Producer-in-Chief in 1946. As someone who had worked with John Grierson, Hawes would provide his group of inexperienced and passionate filmmakers, all of whom were motivated by the social and creative possibilities of documentary film, with a direct link to the theories of the British documentary film movement. Asked in 1988 by researcher, writer and director of documentaries Graham Shirley, to define his understanding of documentary Hawes replied:

Documentary seeks the dramatic pattern in actuality. A documentary film has a theme which it dramatises not necessarily by actors and a story but by appropriate camera and sound techniques. It should be interesting, be able to hold the attention of the audience for which it is intended. It must have integrity and not distort reality and desirably it should make some social comment. Basically a documentary film is made in the service of the community in the belief [that] the responsible spread of information between people of different countries and between people of the same country cannot but improve the human condition.[36]

Geoffrey was responsible for the direction and production of five ANFB films: Australia at School (1947), Watch Over Japan(1947), Whither Japan (1947), Public Enemies (1948) and By Design (1950).[37] He also made a considerable contribution as writer and director to the group’s Parer Lorentz homage Hold the Land (1949).[38] Geoffrey and Bern Gandy were joint directors of Invisible Link (1951).[39] All the films embraced the group’s spirit of creating a better Australia within a better world.


Geoffrey Collings and Stanley Hawes.
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Unidentified photographer.

Part of inscription on reverse reads:
‘CU.136/4. Australian Department of Information film-producer-in-chief, Stanley Hawes,
right, in conference with producer G. Collings in Sydney. Australian Official Photo.’
Stamped 6 April 1948.
Collection of Donna Rath, Mount Rankin, New South Wales.

Watch Over Japan and Whither Japan deal with Australia’s role in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in rebuilding Japan after the social and economic plight of defeat. Geoffrey, emotionally shocked by the devastation of Hiroshima, also had a physical battle to make the films because of the Film Division’s chronic lack of equipment. The American filmmakers were also there and Geoffrey believed the American films were too slick and had lost the documentary rawness and edge. ‘Our film had the reality of the people, close to the people, the American filmmakers allow the equipment to get between them and the subject.’ [40]

According to Michael Bogle, a respected historian specializing in the history of Australian design, By Design is one of the nation’s first films on design. [41] As director and producer Geoffrey was able to exert his design philosophies relating to the blossoming post war industrial production. The film investigates the age of machine craftsmanship and the role of the industrial designer in the application of new materials. The theories of form and function are exemplified in the domestic environment that has become a machine for living where ‘[…] in these new shapes we find a new kind of beauty. A designed beauty of order and efficiency.’[42]

Dahl and Geoffrey were members of Sydney’s politically inclined creative societies: they were foundation members of the Sydney branch of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) established in 1939, members of the Studio of Realist Art (SORA) established in 1945, and members of the Sydney Film Society established in 1947. In May 1949, Geoffrey presented to the CAS a talk proposing that film was an art form:

Artists tend to feel that painting and sculpture is the first and only visual art, whereas, the industrial revolution and the advances of science has made possible, through the medium of film, an absolutely new art form, a continuous flow of moving design and pattern, heightened, if necessary, by music or voice. [43]

Geoffrey also presented a talk on film editing There Are No Alibis On The Screen to the Sydney University Film Group. The Sydney Film Festival developed out of this in the 1950s.[44] Political pressure came to bear on these organizations and its members from the re-elected Menzies government, which was fearful of global communism. The Film Unit of the DIO was an obvious target. Hawes fought for the unit’s survival but the majority of group was now technically experienced and creatively confident: often feeling stifled by Hawes’s strict supervision they began to disband. Geoffrey claims that in his case he left because it was the lack of challenge caused by ‘this business of security in the public service. Security is a dead hand, [you] stop adventuring.’[45]

Independent Visions

Collings Productions Pty Ltd came into existence following Dahl and Geoffrey’s return from New York from 1950-1953. Geoffrey had been appointed the picture editor for the United Nations (UN) Films and Visual Information Division, Department of Public Information.[46] He was responsible for chronicling all UN operations world-wide which meant he designed a considerable body of work including posters, catalogues and booklets for the United Nation, as well directing and producing the humanitarian films, The Grand Design (1951), The Philippines: Social Progress (1952) and The Philippines: Economic Progress(1952).[47] These films all dealt with documenting and promoting the UN charter, mission and vision of a possible better world. Dahl was employed by the Australian Trade Commission, located at Rockefeller Centre in New York as a design consultant to promote Australia, its products and lifestyle. They became friends with journalist and author Jon Cleary (b. 1917), who was working at the Australian News and Information Bureau. Cleary and Geoffrey exchanged a few film ideas. A concept for a film of the Australian surf never graduated from a two-paged concept, and Cleary positively thought Geoffrey ‘a dreamer’ when he proposed to film Cleary’s classic novel The Sundowners (1952). [48] As it happened, in 1960 Hollywood director Fred Zinnemann (1907-1997) would interpret the book as a feature film.

Dahl and Geoffrey’s independent film production company was registered as the Film and Television Centre in January 1954, and would later become Collings Productions Pty Ltd. [49] Geoffrey worked freelance for the United Nations, which contracted three films: The Long Journey (1954), on the work of the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKA); Miracle in Java(1956), on the Rehabilitation Centre in Solo, Central Java for the United Nations and the World Veterans Federation; and Australia Builds (1957), a story of the World Bank loans to Australia.[50] In 1958 Geoffrey made his last film for the ANFB, Roof of Australia (1958), that gave an impression of the lives of the people who lived in the snowfields of the Australian Alps.[51]


Geoffrey Collings in Korea.
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Photographer unknown.
[c. 1953]
Collection of Donna Rath, Mount Rankin, New South Wales.

Dahl became fully immersed in filmmaking around 1960, with her first credit for the script of Flight 773 (1960) for Shell Australia.[52] The Shell Company was one of the principal private companies sponsoring documentary films in the 1950s and the Australian branch of its Shell Film Unit was under the energetic influence of filmmaker John Heyer. Heyer was appointed the unit’s production head in 1948 and his most acclaimed film for Shell was the politically subversive The Back of Beyond (1954). [53] He and Geoffrey had previously worked together when Heyer was also an assistant director on The Overlanders. Geoffrey directed at least eight films for the Shell Film Unit between 1955 and 1961, some directly related to the Shell laboratory research or advertising its products. Others like the forty-five minute long Captain James Cook (1959) expanded Shell public relations image. This film traces the voyage of Cook in 1770 along the east coast of Australia and contrasts Cook’s comments from his journal with the modern scenes of development that have since taken place. [54]


Advertisement for Collings Productions Pty Ltd.
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Full-page advertisement placed on inside front cover of
Business Review, May 1960.

Collings Productions was located in a modest office behind a shop at 50 Walker Street, just off the Northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.[55] The trim office operated with only one permanent employee, film editor Judith Campbell, and when in production Dahl and Geoffrey would hire studios, cameramen and equipment.[56]During the life of Collings Productions, Dahl and Geoffrey would produce at least forty films for a wide variety of clients and sponsors, including Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR), Commonwealth Development Bank, Lend Lease Corporation, Ove Arup and Partners the engineers of the Sydney Opera House, [57] Overseas Telecommunication Commission (OTC) and Qantas Airways Empire Airways Ltd.[58] Unrealised proposals includedDad and Dave, The Runaways, Lifeline, Just Let Me Be, Sydney Urban, Sydney Summer and many others. In 1955, Dahl and Geoffrey visited Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) at his home in Springwood, with the idea of making a film of Lindsay’s classic children’s book The Magic Pudding (1918). [59]

Qantas Visions

From 1960 Qantas became an important international patron of Australian art and had done much to extend knowledge and information of the subject within Australia and overseas. The Qantas galleries in Sydney, London and New York were made available for comprehensive travelling exhibitions and the Qantas films had multiple showings to large audiences in Australian and overseas cities.[60]

In the late 1950s John Ulm, Qantas public relations chief, sought out Geoffrey for a position in the advertising section. Geoffrey declined the offer explaining that his focus was now entirely on filmmaking. A year or two passed before Ulm contacted Geoffrey with the news that the time was ripe, Qantas was having an anniversary, ‘Let’s make a film.’ [61] Dahl and Geoffrey shared the credit for production of Collings Production’s first film for Qantas. The Big Boomerang (1961) is the story of Australia’s conquest of the tyranny of distance and of a nation winging its influence around the world.[62]

Ulm who was a fighter pilot in the war and the son of Charles Ulm of ‘Smithy and Ulm’ [63] fame was a confident risk taker. Geoffrey proposed to Ulm that by putting the recent retrospective exhibition of Russell Drysdale’s work on to film it would provide not only a record of Drysdale’s paintings but an example of Qantas’s philosophy of promoting a proud Australia. Ulm was immediately convinced and as Geoffrey would explain, ‘[…] we found in the somewhat more than enlightened Qantas management team a rare and happy working relationship.’[64]

Naturally, the first Qantas art film Russell Drysdale(1961) would extend to include William Dobell (1962) and Sidney Nolan (1962), completing a neat set of films on Australia’s three big international artists of the time. [65] All three films were produced by Geoffrey and directed by Dahl and the pair shared the credit for the script of each film. Dahl recalled that:

At the time of making the Qantas film on William Dobell, there had not been a fully representative retrospective exhibition of his work […] The Film attempted to show what thirty years of his painting, thinking, and working had given to Australia.[66]

It was Hal Missingham (b. 1906) Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales who had struggled not only to select but also to gather from around the world the scattered paintings for the exhibition Russell Drysdale: a Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings from 1937 to 1960 that inspired the film. Following the success of Dahl and Geoffrey’s further films on Nolan and Dobell, Missingham decided to honour Dobell in 1964 and Nolan in 1967 also with full retrospective exhibitions.[67]


Sidney Nolan in studio with film crew. Director Dahl Collings in background. 
(Click on the image to view a larger version)

Photographer unknown.
[c. 1961-1965]
Collection of Donna Rath, Mount Rankin, New South Wales.

The trilogy Russell Drysdale, William Dobell and Sidney Nolan won Dahl and Geoffrey Collings international critical acclaim when in 1963 the films were screened at the Venice Film Festival. [68] Screenings at international festivals not only confirms a filmmaker’s artistic reputation but also provides prestige value for the sponsoring body. Collings Productions and Qantas continued their relationship and their combined aim to bring Australian art to a wider audience was extended to embrace Aboriginal art.

Visions of Understanding

In the 1960s when Australians were just beginning to understand the intrinsic sacré of Aboriginal art and the Aborigines were beginning to become more politically involved in the protection of their culture and its artifacts, Dahl and Geoffrey collaborated on two significant films about Aboriginal culture The Dreaming (1963) and Pattern of Life(1964).[69] These films aimed to reconcile some of the artistic plundering of aboriginal art that had occurred during the previous decade.


Front Cover of Brochure: Qantas Films, Australian Aboriginal Art.
(Click on the image to view a larger version)

[c. 1964]
Collection of author, Melbourne, Victoria.

Geoffrey believed that it was his work as a jackeroo on properties in Queensland and the Northern Territory from 1924-1927 which nurtured his respect for the Aboriginal people and a love of the Australian environment. With the years of experience and the drama of a filmmaker, in 1989 Geoffrey wrote a compelling memory of this time:

Here under a burning sun, space, time, isolation and loneliness were seared into the mind, the heart and the blood. This was nineteen twenty-four. Bush aborigines, with spear and boomerang were still roaming silently across their tribal lands. On a day at sunrise a station aborigine with strange and infinite knowledge of his world would murmer [sic],’mailman bin come-up’. At two hours to sunset, white-man eyes hungry for the tenuous threads of news that bridged isolation and loneliness, would catch a tiny speck dancing above the plains in a dazzle of heat. In the waiting the earth slowed down. The sun hanging in its brassy sky, the hushed and haunted land itself were enmeshed in this black-man miracle of communication. Only when the aboriginal mailman arrived in the flesh, driving his pack-horse into the yard, would the sun slip below the world into night.[70]

Through Arnhem Land rock paintings, The Dreaming creates reverence and awe for the supernatural powers and works of the spirit ancestors who lived in the Dreamtime. In Pattern of Life bark paintings are recognized as being inseparable from all aspects of life. Both films directed and scripted by Dahl and Geoffrey display intelligent sensitivity and were screened locally and internationally at many film festivals, [71] resulting in The Dreaming winning one of five equal first special diplomas (the Grand Prix was not awarded that year) at the 1964 Venice Biennale Festival of Films on Art. [72]

Films on Australian art had only commenced in 1945 when the Australian National Film Board filmed a documentaryTjurunga (1946) on the Mountford expedition to Arnhem Land. The ANFB also produced Namatjira, the Painter, Introduction to Australian Art, Aboriginal Culture, Art in Australia (1946) and Wirritt Wirritt (1958) on aboriginal cave paintings. In the 1960s Melbourne based Eltham Films would produce an impressive range of films.[73] The films encompassed the contemporary internationally recognised artists, the artists of the Melbourne set, Australian historical figures, aboriginal bark paintings and the treasures of the National Gallery of Victoria. Together Eltham Films and Collings Productions would be the main contributors of a film record of Australian art in the 1960s.

Visions of Gallipoli

During 1963-1965, Dahl and Geoffrey’s youngest daughter, sculptor Silver (b. 1940) was living on Hydra, a Greek island, in the Aegean Sea. On the small claustrophobic island she soon shared dinners with the Australian expatriate writers George Johnston (1912-1970) and Charmian Clift (1923-1970). In December 1964 Johnston wrote to the Dahl and Geoffrey offering Clift’s book Walk to the Paradise Gardens (1960) as a possible idea for a film:

The book, if you are interested, is a donation to the cause of getting Australia where it ought to be creatively in international good cinema.[74]

Although this generous idea for a film did not eventuate, it was the beginning of a close friendship and professional collaboration between the Collingses and Johnston. The three would work on two documentary films Toehold in History (1965) and The Australians -The Second Assault(1966).

Photographer unknown.
Collection of Donna Rath, Mount Rankin, New South Wales.

Qantas wished to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915 of Anzac troops in The Great War. Dahl and Geoffrey were already aware of Sidney Nolan’s extensive body of work on the subject, having seen glimpses of it when they were in London filming Sidney Nolan. Dahl knew that it was an important subject for Nolan, being a natural extension of his interest in Australian myths and heroes and that he had been working on it for ten years. [75] Gallipoli was Australia’s first major action in warfare and, although a military failure, it was a triumph for the spirit of man and, like Nolan, Dahl and Geoffrey wished to capture this essence in their filmToehold in History (1965). [76]

It was entirely appropriate that Dahl and Geoffrey called upon George Johnston to write the script as he was partly responsible for Nolan’s obsession with Gallipoli. While they were both on Hydra, Johnston had given Nolan the article on the Anzacs ‘Return to a Legend’ by Australian writer Alan Moorehead (1910-1983). Johnston remembered that ‘It affected me and I gave it to Nolan to read. It was like unlocking a door.’ [77] Geoffrey recalled that the making of the film was also emotionally draining:

During the shooting of the film I experienced a great personal involvement. Dahl and I were emotionally affected, so that by the time shooting had finished we found ourselves wondering whether we had done the right thing. But when we saw it run for the first time our doubts disappeared. We found it to be strong and incredibly moving.[78]

Nolan commented that, ‘When I saw the film I had an accelerated view of my own mind and I saw the logical finish to the Anzac paintings.’ [79]

Unusually, Toehold in History had a theatrical release by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Australia and New Zealand being shown before The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), a British film of frivolous entertainment. [80] Toehold in History may have had emotional dignity but it was also considered rather too serious for cinema audiences more accustomed to lightweight travelogues before the feature. In Sydney, cinema audience comments were very diverse: they either loved or hated it but the managers of the cinemas were very supportive and many of the art lovers wished to be able to view the paintings.[81] Dahl and Geoffrey’s manifesto of ‘Let’s Make Films Work For Australia’ [82] was obviously evident and the film was appreciated at Edinburgh’s Nineteenth International Film Festival in 1965, when it won a Diploma of Merit.[83] The following year Hal Missingham selected one hundred and forty-five of the paintings for an exhibition at the Qantas Gallery in Sydney in 1966, [84] and eventually Nolan would donate the entire Gallipoli series of paintings and drawings to the nation through the Australian War Memorial in 1977.

Visions of Harold Mertz

Dahl and Geoffrey’s final art film for Qantas was Australian Painters, 1964-1966, The Harold Mertz Collection (1966),[85] with story by journalist John Pringle (b.1912).[86] The Harold Mertz Collection of Australian Contemporary Art (1964-1966) was complied by gallery owner Kym Bonython (b.1920) for New York businessman Harold Mertz. [87]The collection, comprised of two hundred pictures by eighty-four Australian painters, aimed to show a representation of contemporary Australian art to the United States. The collection was dispersed at auction in 2000, so, importantly, the Collingses’ film remains a time capsule of not only Mertz’s vision but of also an important three-year slice in the development of Australian art.

Visions of An Australian

As native-born Australians were looking inwards trying to seek or create identifiers of what it was to be an ‘Australian’, George Johnston’s semi-autobiographical book My Brother Jack (1964) struck a chord. Once again Dahl and Geoffrey called upon his considerable skills for another collaboration The Australians -The Second Assault (1966) that was jointly sponsored by Qantas and the Commonwealth Development Bank.[88] It proved to be an opportunity for the Collingses to source Johnston’s fresh reactions to Australia after his fourteen-year absence and he would prepare the script while Dahl and Geoffrey were producers, directors and editors.

The theme of European settlement in adapting to the Australian environment sent the three on an eight-week research trip to Cape York, the Kimberleys, Esperance and Canberra to research in collaboration. In a way the writer and the filmmakers search was to define the contemporary Australian character:

It is not the frontier that is new, for it has beaten and repelled us many times in the past. But our methods of attack are new, and this makes our Australian both a collective being and a completely new kind of frontiersman. [89]

This montaged Aussie became a composite of the men on the land, with the city dwellers not even mentioned. This ‘frontiersman’ was a reflection of the Collingses and Johnston’s deep personal commitment to Australia and to a quote that the three had seen at the entrance to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s (CSIRO) phytotron in Canberra, ‘Cherish the Earth for Man Will Live by it Forever.’ [90]

Future Visions

Often overlooked because of the range of their oeuvre, it is hoped that through this paper the revelation of the filmmaking activities of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings and the snapshots of some of their films may lay a foundation for future critical analyses of their films. The unravelling of the collage of Dahl and Geoffrey’s art, design and film activities reveals a professional and creative couple often at the forefront of a developing nation’s creative endeavours. In November 2002 the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) honoured Dahl and Geoffrey when they were awarded the Hall of Fame Award posthumously for their influential contribution to Australian graphic design. There remains a need to investigate fully the Collingses contribution to Australian documentary filmmaking history and this paper represents but a starting point of that exploration.

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[1] Certificate of Marriage, Design Archive of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, (Reg. No. 8733). Back

[2] Hugh McInnes, Taped interview with Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Killcare Heights, Undated, [c1980-1988], ScreenSound Australia, (Title No. 227855). Back

[3] See: Krisztina Passuth, Moholy-Nagy, Thames and Hudson, London, 1985, for a detailed account of Moholy-Nagy’s design activities in London. Back

[4] Isobel Crombie, ‘A Documentary Impulse: Australian Photographer Geoffrey Collings’, Art Bulletin of Victoria, No. 29, 1989, p. 45. Back

[5] Exhibition Catalogue, Three Australians: Alistair Morrison, Geoffrey Collings, Dahl Collings, Lund Humphries Gallery, London, 22 June – 9 July 1938. Back

[6] Hugh McInnes, Taped interview with Dahl and Geoffrey Collings. Back

[7] Dahl’s biographical details reproduced in the Exhibition Catalogue, Dahl Collings, Bonython Gallery, Sydney, 30 July – 21 August 1976. Back

[8] Hugh McInnes, Taped interview with Dahl and Geoffrey Collings. Back

[9] Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Alquezar, 16mm, 1936, ScreenSound Australia, (Title No. 311836). Back

[10] Isobel Crombie, ‘A Documentary Impulse: Australian Photographer Geoffrey Collings’, p. 43, and Danny Keenan, ‘Man of Movies’, Daily News, Warick, New South Wales, 8 October 1992, p. 6.Back

[11] Margaret O’Sullivan, The Interplay Between Context, Gender And Cultural Themes In The Work Of Professional And Amateur Australian Women Filmmakers And Photographers In The 1930s, PhD Thesis, University of Sydney, 2001, p. 333. Back

[12] Margaret O’Sullivan, The Interplay Between Context, Gender And Cultural Themes In The Work Of Professional And Amateur Australian Women Filmmakers And Photographers In The 1930sBack

[13] ‘Sydney Man Made Documentary Film in Tahiti’,Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 1938, p. 35. Back

[14] The film Kokoda Front Line (1942) by Damian Parer (1912-1944) was shot on this Newman-Sinclair camera. Later, when the Second World War broke out, Parer, who had previously hired or borrowed the camera to shoot two freelance films, persuaded the government’s Department of Information to buy the camera. The camera is now located at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Back

[15] Geoffrey Caban, Transcript of interview with Alistair Morrison, Sydney, [c. 1981], Research Files of Professor Geoffrey Caban, University of Technology, Sydney. Back

[16] Design Centre Letterhead, [c1939], Dahl and Geoffrey Collings Papers, Photographs and Artwork Collection of Donna Rath, Mount Rankin, New South Wales. Back

[17] Exhibition Catalogue, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings: Exhibition of Modern Industrial Art and Documentary Photographs, David Jones’ Art Gallery, Sydney, 6-24 June 1939.Back

[18] John Grierson, ‘Memorandum to The Right Honourable, the Prime Minister’, An Australian Film Reader, Albert Moran and Tom O’Regan (eds), Currency Press, Sydney, 1985, pp. 72-78. Back

[19]Geoffrey Collings, The Use of Film in Wartime, Self Published, Sydney, 1941. Back

[20] The Documentary Films Committee (DFC) of NSW was established in June 1940 under the aegis of the Department of Education with the aim to form and maintain a free lending library of documentary films for non-theatrical exhibition, to arrange and encourage exhibition of the films, and to stimulate the production of documentary film in New South Wales. In 1944 its headquarters were in the Public Library where it had a projection room and a library of some 140 films. It also loaned films and equipment to interested organisations and country schools throughout the state. See: A. K. Stout, ‘Our Future in Films, Comparison With Rest of Empire Unfavourable, Permanent Production Unit Needed’,Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1944, p. 2.Back

[21] Geoffrey Collings, The Use of Film in WartimeBack

[22] Geoffrey Collings,Young Man With a Camera, Self Published, Sydney, [c. 1941]. Back

[23] Geoffrey Collings,Young Man With a CameraBack

[24] Airstrip (1944), 35 mm , 10 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: Tasman Higgins, Musical Director: Dai Kong Lee, Commentary: Bernard Greer & Hugh Atkinson, Narrators: Wilfred Thomas & Allan Toohey. Back

[25]Harry Watt had worked in the 1930s with the Empire Marketing Board and the General Post Office (GPO) film units under the tutelage of master documentary maker John Grierson. Watt directed several of their most celebrated films including his first film Night Mail (1936) with Basil Wright,North Sea (1938) and the wartime documentary Target for Tonight(1941). Between these films Watt had worked with Alfred Hitchcock and he eventually moved to Ealing Studios as director. Watt briefly experienced television in the 1950s but later returned to documentary. See: Harry Watt,Don’t Look at the Camera, Elek, London, 1974. Back

[26] Hugh McInnes, Taped interview with Dahl and Geoffrey Collings. Back

[27] Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australian Cinema. The First Eighty Years, Currrency Press, Paddington, 1989, pp. 168-169. Back

[28]Harry Watt, ‘You Start From Scratch in Australia’, Albert Moran and Tom O’Regan (eds), An Australian Film Reader, Currency Press, Sydney, 1985, pp. 88-92. Back

[29] Harry Watt, ‘You Start From Scratch in Australia’, p. 89. Back

[30] In 1924, following the death of his mother Grace Ley Collings (née Chalk), a devastated Geoffrey had to escape the hustle and bustle of the city life of Brisbane. For next three years he worked as a jackeroo on properties in Queensland and the Northern Territory, namely ‘Colwell’ sheep station and ‘Alroy Downs’ cattle station respectively. See: Geoffrey Gollings, Curriculum Vitae, two pages, undated [c. 1980-2000] draft with hand written annotations, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings Research Files, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Back

[31]Journalist and author Dora Birtles’ close involvement in the making of the film would inspire her 1946 novel The Overlanders. The Book of the Film, World Film Publications, London. Like the film, Birtles’ book was a great success with ten editions published prior to the Virago Modern Classics edition of 1987, which includes an afterward describing her memories of the making of the film. Back

[32] Harry Watt, ‘You Start From Scratch in Australia’, p. 89. Back

[33]After Eureka Stockade Boddington went to work at Film Australia and in 1950 worked for the GPO Film Unit. With the introduction of television she went to work at the ABC as an editor. She and her second husband cameraman Adrian Boddington would then set up their own company Zanthus Films. After his death she became the curator of photography at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1971. See: Joan Long, ‘Part Two of a Historical Survey of Women in Australian Film Production’, Cinema Papers, September 1976, p. 139. Back

[34] Isobel Crombie, ‘A Documentary Impulse: Australian Photographer Geoffrey Collings’, p. 51.Back

[35]Inspired by the success of the Canadian National Film Board, the sympathetic Chifley Government established the Australian National Film Board (ANFB) in 1945, which was Australia’s first institutional base for the production of documentary film. The board was an advisory body which used the Film Division of the Department of Information (DOI) as its production arm that would later become the Commonwealth Film Unit (1956), and finally Film Australia (1973). In 1945 Canadian Ralph Foster was appointed the first Film Commissioner of the ANFB. Back

[36] Graham Shirley, Filmed Interview, Australian Filmmaker: Stanley Hawes – Father of Film Australia, Australia Film, Television and Radio School, Sydney, 1988. Back

[37] Australia at School (1947), 35 mm, 20 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: Frank Bagnall, Editor: Hugh Alexander, Music: Clive Douglas, Supervision: Stanley Hawes. Watch Over Japan (1947), 35mm, 10 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Script: Jules Feldman, Photographer: Reg Pearse, Music: Charles Mackerras, Supervision: Stanley Hawes. Whither Japan (1947), 35 mm , 10 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Script: Jules Feldman, Photographer: Reg Pearse, Music: Clive Douglas, Supervisor: Stanley Hawes.Public Enemies (1948), 35 mm, 10 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Script: Jules Feldman, Photographer: Reg Pearse, Music: Joseph Post, Supervisor: Stanley Hawes. By Design (1950), 35 mm, 10 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: George Lowe, Music: Clive Douglas, Supervisor: Stanley Hawes, Sound: Alan Anderson. Back

[38] Hold the Land (1949), 35 mm, 10 mins, B/W, Producer: Geoffrey Bell, Writer & Director: Geoffrey Collings, Photographers: Frank Bagnall & George Lowe, Music: Clive Douglas, Sound: Alan Anderson & Don Kennedy. Back

[39]Invisible Link (1951), 35 mm, 11 mins, B/W, Producer: Stanley Hawes, Directors: Geoffrey Collings & Bern Gandy, Script: Ric Aspinall, Photographer: Frank Bagnall. Back

[40] Hugh McInnes, Taped interview with Dahl and Geoffrey Collings. Back

[41] Michael Bogle, Design In Australia, 1880-1970, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, p. 133. Back

[42] Australian National Film Board, By Design, 16mm, 1950, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, (Accession No. 001604). Back

[43] Contemporary Art Society Broadsheet, Vol. 2, No. 7, May 1949, p. 2. Back

[44] Geoffrey Collings, There Are No Alibis On The Screen, Summary of a Talk on Film Editing, 3 April 195[7], Geoffrey Collings Research Files, National Gallery of Victoria. Back

[45]Hugh McInnes, Taped interview with Dahl and Geoffrey Collings. Back

[46]Periodic Report: Geoffrey Collings, United Nations, 27 August 1953, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings Papers of Donna Rath, Mount Rankin, New South Wales. Back

[47]Danny Keenan, ‘Man of Movies’. Examples of Geoffrey’s United Nations design and photographic work are in the Design Archive of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, (Reg. No. 92/191-14). The Grand Design (1951), 35 mm, 9 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Scriptwriter: Norman Corwin. The Philippines: Social Progress(1952), 35 mm, 10 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: Buddy Manuel, Commentary: Geoffrey Collings. The Philippines: Economic Progress (1952), 35 mm, 10 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: Buddy Manuel, Commentary: Geoffrey Collings.Back

[48] Jon Cleary, Telephone conversation with author, 17 May 2002. Back

[49]Business Names Act, Certificate of Registration, 12 January 1954, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings Papers of Donna Rath, Mount Rankin, New South Wales. Back

[50]Reference letter from W. Gibson Parker, Director, Radio and Visual Services Division, Office of Public Information, United Nations, New York, 24 July 1959, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings Papers of Donna Rath, Mount Rankin, New South Wales. The Long Journey (1954), 35 mm , 30 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: Gerald Gregoire & Michael O’Hallowman, Commentary: Geoffrey Collings, Music recordings: Ted Conaut, Narrator: David Netheim. Miracle in Java (1956), 35 mm, 30 mins, B/W, Director & Script: Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: Ron Horner, Editing: Alexander Hamid, Narrator: Edward R Murrow. Australia Builds(1957), 35 mm, 10 mins, B/W, Director & Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Photographers: George Lowe & Frank Bagnall. Back

[51]Roof of Australia (1958), 35 mm Cinemascope, 10 mins, Eastmancolour, Director & Script: Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: J. W. Trerise, Composer: Lindley Evans. Narrator: James Dibble. Back

[52]Flight 773 (1960), Film details not available, Producer: Bern Gandy, Director: Geoffrey Collings, Production Assistant: Roland Beckett, Photographer: John Leake ACS, Editor: Heil Howe, Script: Dahl Collings, Sound: Allan Allen, Music: Traditional Hawaiian & Fijian.Back

[53]Heyer was an inspirational filmmaker and his The Back of Beyond a feature length documentary was both popular and highly regarded critically. It was one of the first Australian films to make an impact at international film festivals and in 1954 it won the Grand Prix Assoluto at the Venice Film Festival. Back

[54]Captain James Cook (1959), 16 mm, 45 mins, Kodachrome, Producer: Bern Gandy, Director, Writer & Photographer: Geoffrey Collings, Assistant Director: Douglas White, Production Assistants: Ray Webster & George Bryce, Narrator: Brian Henderson, Cook’s Voice: Robert Stuart, Aboriginal Legend: Lou Vernon, Music: Raymond Hanson, Sound Recording: John Heath, Recorded at: Supreme Sound Studios. Captain James Cook was the third in the Shell series, ‘In the Steps of the Explorers’. The first shows the path of Hume and Hovell in 1824, and the second was an account of John Ayre’s journey from Adelaide to Perth. Another was planned to deal with the exploits of Dr Ludwig Leichardt. ‘Film of Captain Cook’s Voyage. Unit Now In Cairns’,The Cairns Post , 30 September 1957, p. 5.Back

[55]From November 1970 Collings Productions moved to 11 Young Street, Paddington. Change of Address Announcement, Design Archive of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, (Reg, No. 92/191-24/7). Back

[56]William Olson, ‘Nolan’s Gallipoli’, The Australian, 13 March 1963, p. 9. Back

[57]The film Job. No.1112 (1967) won a Silver Award for the Royal Australian Institute of Architects at the 1975 International Congress of Architects. A clinical and technical film made for engineers and engineering students, it avoids any controversy but rather inspires with its transformation of architect Jorn Utzon’s (b. 1918) vision into a masterpiece.Back

[58]In 1962 Qantas Empire Airways Ltd would drop the ‘Empire’ and become Qantas Airways Ltd. Having reached iconic status in the eyes of many Australians, it is still commonly referred to simply as Qantas. Back

[59] Betty Collings, interview with the author, Port Fairy, Victoria, 4 May 2002. Back

[60]Alan McCulloch, Encyclopaedia of Australian Art, Hutchinson Group, Melbourne, 1968, p. 450. Back

[61]Hugh McInnes, Taped interview with Dahl and Geoffrey Collings. Back

[62]The Big Boomerang (1961), 35 mm, 40 mins, Eastmancolour, Producers: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Director: Shan Benson, Camera: Mick Borneman, Overseas Unit: Neil Howe & Mark McDonald, Asian Unit: Bern Gandy, Pipat Marlakorn & Arthur Symons, Additional Camera: John Leake, Keith Loone, Arthur Brown, Bill Heffernon, Harry Malcolm & Richard Pike, Editor: Neil Howe, Music: Herbert Marks, Sound: Peter Fenton, Recorded at: Supreme Sound Studios, Colour Laboratory: Filmcraft-Australia. Back

[63]Charles Ulm (1898-1934) was an aviator who, with (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935), undertook the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States of America to Australia in 1927. Both were acclaimed Australian heroes.Back

[64]Valerie Etienne, Out of Curiosity (Working Title), Proposal for a one hour television documentary, Mise en Scene Productions, Neutral Bay, 1993, p. 7, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings Papers of Donna Rath and also the Dahl and Geoffrey Research Files of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.Back

[65] Russell Drysdale (1961), 35 mm, 15 mins, Eastmancolour, Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Director: Dahl Collings, Photographer: Ron Horner, Narrator: Nigel Lovell. Music: Herbert Marks, Script: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Story: Laurie Thomas, Narrator: Laurie Thomas, Editor: Neil Howe, Colour Laboratory: Filmcraft-Australia. William Dobell(1962), 35 mm, 20 mins, Eastmancolour, Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Director: Dahl Collings, Photographer: Ron Horner, Script: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Art Direction: Dahl Collings, Story: Laurie Thomas, Music: Herbert Marks, Editor: Judy Campbell, Narrator: Stewart Ginn, Sound: Cliff Curll, Recorded at: Supreme Sound Studios, Eastmancolour: Filmcraft-Australia. Sidney Nolan (1962), 35 mm, 21 mins, Eastmancolour, Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Director: Dahl Collings, Script & Design: Geoffrey & Dahl Collings, Commentary: Laurie Thomas, Photographer: Mark McDonald & Andrew Fraser, Story: Laurie Thomas, Music: Herbert Marks, Editor: Judith Campbell, Narrator: Rodney Milgate, Sound: Supreme Sound Studios, Eastmancolour: Colourfilm Pty. Ltd. Back

[66] Dahl Collings,’William Dobell – A Tribute’, Art and Australia, Vol. 2, No. 2, August 1964, p. 129. Back

[67] It was not until 1964 that Hal Missingham would arrange an exhibition of Dobell’s works at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The exhibition covered the years 1926 to 1964 and showed two hundred and twenty-three paintings. The exhibition was one of Australia’s first ‘blockbusters’ with 168,362 adults attending during the first month. Dahl and Geoffrey’s film showed three times a day. In 1967 the Sydney Nolan retrospective honoured his fiftieth birthday showing over one hundred and forty works from 1937 to 1967. Hal Missingham, They Kill You in the End, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1973, pp. 59-60. Back

[68]Brochure, 24a Mostra Internazionale D’Arte Cinematografica Di Venezia, Australian Film Institute Research and Information Library.Back

[69]The Dreaming (1963), 35 mm, 21 mins, Eastmancolour, Directors & Producers: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Story: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: John Leake, Music: Herbert Marks, Editor: Judith Campbell, Narrator: Ben Gabriel, Sound: Supreme Sound Studios, Eastmancolour: Filmcraft Pty. Ltd. Pattern of Life (1964), 35 mm, 26 mins, Eastmancolour, Directors & Producers: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: John Leake, Story: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Editor: Judith Campbell, Narrator: Alistair Duncan, Music: Aboriginal chants & songs, Played by: Aborigines of Arnhem Land and Melville Island, Cast: A group of Tiwi men from Melville Island and a group of Murngin men from North Eastern Arnhem Land, Sound: Supreme Sound Studios, Eastmancolour: Filmcraft-Australia.Back

[70]Around 1989 Anne Engdahl a close friend had commenced a biography of Geoffrey. Engdahl requested him to document the influences that prompted him to choose film subjects with a social message. In response, Geoffrey produced a fifteen-page document outlining his childhood and teenage years. Geoffrey Collings, Untitled Document, Unsigned to Anne Engdahl, 22 July 1989, Papers of Anne Engdahl, Balmain, New South Wales. Back

[71] At the 1964 Australian Film Institute Awards, The Dreaming received an Honourable Mention, and Pattern of Lifereceived a Silver Award and both were screened at the Film Festivals of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin and Auckland. At the Bergamot Festival, Pattern of Life was the only Australian film selected for screening from the two hundred films of the pre-selection. In the San Francisco Festival both films were screened with The Dreamingreceiving one of the two Honourable Mentions awarded. At the International American-Spanish-Philippine Festival in Bilbo, Pattern of Life was requested to be screened. Back

[72]Document Folder of the Film Activities of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Papers of Anne Engdahl, Balmain, New South Wales. Back

[73] According to Alan McCulloch this group was comprised of Tim Burstall, Patrick Ryan, Gerard Vanceburg and Allan Harness.Back

[74] Letter from George Johnston to Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Hydra, 15 December 1964, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, (MLMSS 6498). Back

[75] B. S., ‘Couple Make Films Work for Australia’, New Zealand Herald, 22 January 1966, p. 6.Back

[76]Toehold in History (1965), 35 mm, 21 mins, Eastmancolour, Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Director: Dahl Collings, Script: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Story: George Johnston, Narrator: Ron Roberts, Music: Herbert Marks, Editor: Judith Campbell, Photographer: Andrew Fraser, Sound: Supreme Sound Studios, Eastmancolour: Filmcraft-Australia. Back

[77]George Johnston, ‘Gallipolis Paintings’, Art and Australia, Vol. 5, No. 2, September 1967, p. 466.Back

[78]William Olson, ‘Nolan’s Gallipoli’. Back

[79]William Olson, ‘Nolan’s Gallipoli’. Back

[80] Unidentified Press Clipping, ‘MGM Announces Release of Anzac Feat rette in Colour’, Notation reads: The Film Weekly , 18 February 1945, Document Folder of the Film Activities of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Papers of Anne Engdahl, Balmain, New South Wales. Back

[81] Six pages of audience responses from screenings at suburban cinemas in Sydney, 18-23 March 1965, Document Folder of the Film Activities of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Papers of Anne Engdahl, Balmain, New South Wales. Back

[82]B. S., ‘Couple Make Films Work For Australia’. Back

[83]Diplomas of Merits were awarded to only nineteen of the 146 films screened at the festival. See: Document Folder of the Film Activities of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Papers of Anne Engdahl, Balmain, New South Wales, for the list of screenings and awards of this film and other Collings films.Back

[84]Gavin Fry, Nolan’s Gallipoli, Rigby, Adelaide, 1983, p. 12. Back

[85] Australian Painters, 1964-1966, The Harold Mertz Collection (1966), 35 mm , 27 mins, Eastmancolour, Producer: Geoffrey Collings, Director: Dahl Collings, Script: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Photographer: John Leake ACS, Editor: Neil Howe, Story: John Pringle, Music: Herbert Marks, Sound: Lyle Hughes, Supreme Sound Studios, Narrator/Commentators: Harold Mertz and Ron Hedrick. Back

[86]Distinguished journalist John Douglas Pringle (1912-1999), born in Scotland, was a former special writer for the London Times (1948-1952) and deputy editor of the Observer (1957-1962). After coming to Australia in 1952, Pringle was twice editor of the Sydney Morning Herald (1952-1957), (1965-70) and managing editor of the Canberra Times(1964-1965). His books include Australian Accent (1958),Australian Painting Today (1963) and On Second Thoughts(1971).Back

[87]In 1971, the collection was donated to the University of Texas, which was the only American University offering a course in Australian studies at the time. In 2000 the collection, a time capsule of now ‘famous’ artists, was dispersed when auctioned at Christie’s Australia. Auction Catalogue, The Harold E. Mertz Collection of Australian Art, Christie’s Australia Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 28 June 2000. Back

[88]The Australians – The Second Assault (1966), 35 mm, 47 mins, Executive Producers: Wall Argal & John Elm, Producers: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Director: Geoffrey Collings, Script: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings and George Johnston, Editors: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, Photography: Andrew Fraser, Script: George H. Johnston, Special Consultant: Arthur Lowness, Music: Herbert Marks, Commentary: George Johnston, Narrator: Ron Roberts, Sound: Ally Barnes, Larraine Woodley-Page, Supreme Sound Studios, Eastmancolour: Filmcraft-Australia. Back

[89] George Johnston, Document titled: The Australians: A Theme for a Documentary Film, undated, [c1966], p. 2, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, (MLMSS 6498/1). Back

[90]Press Clipping, Gloria Newton, ‘Film Shows Australia’s New Pioneers’, The Australian Woman’s Weekly, 12 October 1966, Document Folder of the Film Activities of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Papers of Anne Engdahl, Balmain, New South Wales. Back

Write a response to this paper

(the email you send to will be read by the Eras editorial committee and published on the “Discussion” page)