Hawthorn (Vic.), Australia, 1906

Living Hawthorn
R / P: William Gibson and Millard Johnson. AUS 1906

“The film (…) is an important part of Australia’s early film history. William Gibson (1869-1929), a chemist, bought a projector and films from one of his clients in 1900 and, in partnership with his boss’s son Millard Johnson, began to screen films for the public, attracting huge crowds. One of these films was their own 14-min documentary, ‘Living Hawthorn’ (1906). It showed to appreciative audiences at the Hawthorn Town Hall for years.The makers of Living Hawthorn, (…) in partnership with the Tait brothers, produced Australia’s first feature film in the same year, The Story of the Kelly Gang. Gibson and Johnson were responsible for technical production. The film was shown nationwide and became a huge commercial success, returning £25,000 to its backers. In 1911 Gibson and Johnson teamed up with the Tait family to form Amalgamated Pictures.

The clip is notable for providing a rare glimpse of the life and bustling activity of ordinary people in a suburb of Melbourne at the beginning of the 20th century. This was early in the history of filmmaking in Australia and documentary film usually depicted formal events and notable people. The novelty of the sight of a camera on a suburban street at the time is indicated by the reactions of some of the people filmed. The Edwardian era, which started with Edward VII’s accession in 1901 and coincided with Australia’s Federation, was a time of great optimism and change in Australia, but in the clip the signs of change are not yet apparent. The blacksmith’s shop and horse-drawn vehicles would shortly be superseded. Melbourne’s first electric tram began operating in the year the film was made and motor cars, while still a novelty, had been introduced to Australia in the 1890s.

Australian fashions in the Edwardian era, seen in the clip, were determined in France and England with no acknowledgement of the Australian climate. Women wore tight corsets, long tight sleeves, long skirts, high collars, jackets, gloves and large hats. Children’s clothing imitated that of adults and featured hats, long sleeves and large cape collars, although hems were higher for girls. Several of the children wear clothes in the sailor style popular at the time. The clip shows shoppers, shopkeepers, shops and horse-drawn delivery vans in Hawthorn in 1906, when shopping was very different from today. Customers placed orders rather than carrying their purchases. Supermarkets did not exist and shopkeepers often lived above their premises. A horse-drawn grocery van that passes in front of the camera several times may reflect the personalised home-delivery service that shoppers expected in those days.”
Working conditions in Australia, c1900

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