From 1926 until 1928, a federal Royal Commission, led by Walter Moffitt Marks, deliberated over the effect and dominance of the American film industry in Australia. Considerations included the possibility of a film quota or tariff system to boost the Australian film industry. American dominance of markets around film and their superior film products made it difficult for British and Australian productions to compete. In 1924, two years after the establishment of the Motion Picture Producers’ and Distributors’ Association (MPPDA) in America, the Australian Motion Picture Distributors’ Association (MPDA) had begun to represent the interests of predominantly Australian-based subsidiaries of distribution companies from the U.S. Australian MPDA President Victor Wilson appeared before the Commission to answer questions regarding the existence of an American “combine” suppressing Australian local productions, a claim he denied (NAA: A11636, 4/1, p7). Circumstances seemed unfavourable to local productions due to a system called “block-booking”, where exhibitors entered into a 12 month contract with distributors to ensure a regular and varied programme for their patrons, sometimes at the expense of local productions being screened. The Commonwealth Board of Censors, consisting of chief censor in Melbourne and another censor in Sydney, hoped that increased production and screening of films from the British Empire would counteract the influence of U.S. films on young Australians (a particular concern after the advent of the “talkies” in 1928 [CFCB, 1930, p6; Damousi, 2007]), although British films were often criticised by the censorship authority as in need of improvement “from the point of view of entertainment, technical excellence and censorship standards” (Annual Report, 1929, p5).
The Commission recommended the introduction of a system whereby films were identified as either “for universal exhibition” or “for Adults only”, to be determined by the censorship authority as part of film registration for importation. They also recommended the establishment of a Commonwealth Film Censorship Board (CFCB), to consist of three members, one of which should be a woman. The CFCB would be accompanied by an Appeal Board consisting of five members, to also include one woman. Another recommendation was for uniform censorship laws throughout Australia (RCMPI final report, p28-30). The Commission concluded in 1928, the same year Walter Cresswell O’Reilly commenced in the position of Commonwealth Chief Censor and Board moved to permanently reside in Sydney. O’Reilly was joined by Lionel Hurley and Eleanor Glencross in the positions of deputy censor and he would become an influential figure in the maintenance of Australian censorship, described by the Royal Commission as one of the strictest in the world. In addition to giving testimony in the Royal Commission, women had been vocal on the issue of film censorship, organising around it since early in film’s inception. Mary Tomsic (2014) describes this presence as “maternal citizenship”, a form of citizenship inscribed with the guardianship of children that also represented early examples of women’s leadership. The classifications of G, for general exhibition, and A, suitable only for Adults, were in use in states that had adopted Commonwealth censorship from 1929. – Rachel Cole
Image of newspaper article from The Age (Melbourne), 25 April 1928, p10 accessed through Trove database.
Annual Report. Commonwealth Film Censorship Board (1929) “Report of the Chief Censor 1928”, Sydney.
Annual Report. Commonwealth Film Censorship Board (1930) “Report of the Chief Censor 1929”, Sydney.
Australian Government Report. (1928) “Report of the Royal Commission into the Moving Picture Industry”, Canberra. Trove database.
Chapter in edited collection. Tomsic, M. (2014), “Entertaining children: The 1927 Royal Commission on the Motion Picture Industry as a site of women’s leadership” in Damousi, J., Rubenstein, K. & Tomsic, M., Diversity in Leadership: Australian Women Past and Present. ANU E Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13wwvj5
Journal article. Damousi, J. (2007) “‘The Filthy American Twang’: Elocution, the Advent of American ‘Talkies’, and Australian Cultural Identity”. American Historical Review. 112 (2), 394–416.
National Archives of Australia file. NAA: A11636, 4/1, Title: “Bound printed copy of Minutes of Evidence of the Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia (one of two copies)”.