Australia’s Black History



As to massacres, I was learning about it in 1987 at the latest. Both local and National.


Outstanding taste in music. Well done CB.


At the very young age is perfect but teach dreaming stories along with megafauna, bush foods and language.

One of the Schools I work with has a loud speaker message that says ‘wominjenka students’ in the morning to welcome them.

It’s a small step but familiarity with language like that does wonders for curiosity


Agreed, generally, but it’s a long slow process. Only one song, but I think Solid Rock opened a few eyes and ears mid 80s, followed by Oils.

(still love that Goanna clip with the drummer in his Bombers jumper)


Australia in Colour review – Hugo Weaving narrates a thrilling revitalisation of history

At the core of SBS’s new documentary series is the idea that Australia is only just beginning to come to terms with its past
Black and white image from Australian history that has been made partially colourised for the 2019 SBS documentary series, Australia in Colour.

SBS’s new four-part series Australia in Colour is a rare example of a TV show befitting of that overused accolade, “landmark”. This engrossing production reaches far back into the past but has an air of timeliness if not urgency about it, pairing technical innovation with historical revisionism – marking a thrilling unity of themes and aesthetic. The series’ writer/directors (Lisa Matthews, Alec Morgan and Rose Hesp) spruce up the moth-eaten archive documentary look by deploying a similar technique used by the director Peter Jackson in his recent first world war doco They Shall Not Grow Old, transforming timeworn monochrome footage into colour images that sparkle with newfound vividness.

Where Jackson’s film reiterated the historical biases of old, focusing solely on servicemen and omitting the stories of other groups who contributed to the wartime effort such as nurses, the creators of Australia in Colour go the other way – viewing the series, which was made in partnership with the National Film and Sound Archive, as an opportunity to correct the record. And so this retracing of the story of modern Australia is about two kinds of colour: the literal variety that we observe with our eyes, and the symbolic sort that arises from the telling of narratives in full-bodied detail.

Colour (and its absence) is used symbolically, like in the 1998 American movie Pleasantville, with monochrome images representing ignorance and close-mindedness, and colour marking progress. There are many shots in which colour washes over the frame in a left to right direction, which has an almost magical quality. Narrator Hugo Weaving reminds us of the implicit double meaning by announcing that “Australia’s history, once only black and white, can now be seen for the first time in glorious colour”.

Lifesavers marching in formation on Bondi Beach


It is through a documentarian’s omissions as much as their inclusions that we understand their objectives.

We are informed of “a hidden story” about “a fledgling nation whitewashing its past”. The White Australia policy, the foundation of Canberra and the Stolen Generations are early talking points. The directors make a point of emphasising people who have been neglected in the past, as well as those whose careers are well documented – such as the amazing Annette Kellerman and American boxer Jack Johnson, who after winning a 1908 heavyweight championship in Rushcutters Bay gave “Indigenous Australians a modern black hero”.

Adding another dimension is the observation, again directly articulated in Weaving’s narration, that the history of modern Australia runs parallel to the history of motion pictures, the forming of Federation occurring around the same time as the emergence of cinematic spectacle. The first bits of footage include a clip from 1896 of a cigar-smoking man on roller skates in Sydney – the earliest surviving footage recorded in Australia – and AC Haddon’s film depicting Torres Strait Islanders dancing, which the series claims marks the first time anywhere in the word that Indigenous people are captured on motion picture.

It is through a documentarian’s omissions as much as their inclusions that we understand their objectives. I waited for a mention of Ken G Hall, one of the most popular and influential film directors in Australian history, thus a relevant person to acknowledge given the show’s remit. It never came. The second episode explores Roy Rene, the famous vaudevillian and star of Hall’s 1934 comedy Strike Me Lucky, with no mention of the filmmaker.

Activists marching for Aboriginal rights


Much has been written about Hall over the years, compared to a lack of attention given to many non-white and/or non-male people, so it’s thrilling to see the scales realigned and lesser known figures given just acknowledgement. This process also inadvertently makes a point about the nature of history: that there is no full, complete or entirely accurate view of it, only accounts that are more accurate than others. The past remains forever unchanged but the ways we remember it, and the points storytellers emphasise, keep evolving.

More inspiring than any individual stories, though, are the broader points the series makes about national pride. If one truly loves their country one is capable of acknowledging good and bad aspects of it, celebrating achievements and learning from mistakes, in line with that old dictum about the importance of remembering the sins of the past lest we are doomed to repeat them. To see a view of Australian history such as this – deeply credible, detailed, well-researched and visually innovative – so ambitiously connected to the task of correcting fallacies is a rare, intellectually stimulating treat, though many moments are shocking.

We see Indigenous Australians in chains; we see Indigenous Australians excluded, sidelined or given token involvement in key events; we see irrefutable evidence of our own apartheid. Like the recent series You Are Here, there is, at the core of Australia in Colour, the idea that Australia as a nation is only just beginning to come to terms with its past, the truth having been obscured by many things over the years including the dominance of the Judeo-Christian perspective.

This engrossing production will get people talking, thinking and feeling. Underneath it all is that wonderful dual symbolism: ignorance as monochrome, enlightenment as colour.

• Australia in Colour premieres Wednesday 6 March at 8.30pm on SBS


I remember reading the novel “Night” around the mid years of secondary school. Pretty sure teens are equipped to deal these kind of history lessons.


Watched the first episode tonight, and it is compelling stuff. I am looking forward to seeing more.


Really good book by Professor Henry Reynolds called “Why weren’t we told.”

We weren’t and the lies continue, this with-hold of the true nature of our history needs to be told and rectified in the history books. Until such time as it is, things will remain as they are.

For part of our history is a lie and its time ALL Australians knew the truth, the bits left out and seldom mentioned. Its no wonder the powers that be want to keep the truth hidden however it continues to smoulder while buried alive.

I can remember going to Kangaroo Flat State School in Brisbane in mid 1950’s. If we were with my Dad the bus would drive straight past us and would not stop. If my Mum and I were there together the bus would stop. At that time they had buses for whites and buses for others. There were also segregated pubs, clubs and cafes. Australia also has a hidden apartheid history. I may not have been able to verbalise what I was experiencing but I knew how it felt and I didn’t like that feeling.


Nice work Accor, good management you have.

Management at a popular hotel run by Australia’s largest hotel group has been directing staff to segregate Aboriginal people into inferior rooms while charging them the same price as other guests, an investigation by ABC’s Background Briefing has revealed.


Seriously? What year is that article from? 1950?


Thank you, last time I will use IBIS. A damn disgrace.

I lived in N.T. and out back Q while working in my younger days sounds like nothing much has changed.

Australia is very much still black and white country. Funny how everything changes on the surface and still basically stays the same.


New paper by CSIRO with evidence pushing back human habitation of Victoria to 120000 years ago…


The 2nd episode is up now too. It’s a great series, I’m really enjoying it.


Lol. And yet after all that time you still have no idea how to do a sausage in a bun.


Oh we know how to do it bun boy. We just found it to be a second rate option, and gladly left it to places where the people are not quite as well developed and don’t have the hand skills required to keep a grip on something a bit smaller and more appropriate.


Too late, too late.


Fair enough. We are used to gripping things that are bigger over here.


And if not then certainly more regularly.


Well, … they don’t call ‘em Wankin’ Australians for nothing.


Who’s “they”?