Resource-extraction and the moving image in Broken Hill

Photograph by Melanie Ashe

Since the region began the industrial extraction of various minerals in the 1880s, the area surrounding Broken Hill has been profoundly entangled with moving image cultures and practices. Whether it is through the extraction and chemical processing of silver nitrate to produce celluloid, or via the use of cobalt within the batteries of most screen devices today, the physical environment in the region, and the raw materials excavated from it, informs and cultivates the moving image and its surrounding infrastructure.

Illuminating an under-examined commonality between the moving image in Australia and mining history, this PhD project investigates how the materiality and industrial-extraction of the Australian landscape is entangled in the moving image through practices of manufacture, representation, and the entanglement of other cultural industries, such as tourism. Due to the region’s relationship to both filmmaking and mining, this project expands on this inextricable interconnection through an examination of moving images connected to Broken Hill (NSW) and surrounds.

While the project aims to reveal an important material and cultural nexus between moving images and environmental histories from the region, this material relationship is not typically explicitly addressed in documentary film and more broadly, screen media from the region. Most often, neither is the settler-colonial violence and extractive relationship to the land that forms the backdrop of the resource industry in Australia.

The first stage of the project investigates historical documentary films produced about the mining and extraction process in Broken Hill. Predominantly produced by government film bodies such as the Australian Film Unit, the project interrogates the role these films have in historicising mining in relation to Australia’s narrative as a successful and modern nation. How the films frame the surrounding physical region as a means of extraction will also be scrutinised, particularly in terms of this settler-extractive relationship to the land and Indigenous peoples during and after European settlement.

The project also explores how popular film narratives and surrounding cultural tourism from the area shape the popular imaginary of the Australian Environment, particularly in relation to the mythologised ‘outback’ zones so commonly included in on-location shooting in the region.

Current questions framing this research include:

  • How has the resource industry shaped and impacted the spaces proximate to Broken Hill, and how has this been explicitly or implicitly documented through the moving image?
  • How have film cultures in Broken Hill and surrounds shaped the public imagination of the Australian environment, particularly in relation resource extraction and popularly represented geographic zones such as ‘the outback’?

Key Documentary Films:


A full list of feature films made in the area, compiled by the Broken Hill City Council

For an insight into some of the moving images documenting the region, go to the NFSA Broken Hill Time Capsule

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