Extraction and the moving image in Broken Hill

Extraction and the moving image in Broken Hill

Abandoned mining infrastructure near Broken Hill, NSW. Photo credit to Melanie Ashe

Broken Hill and far western New South Wales (NSW) is one of Australia’s premiere screen locations, with over 70 films and television series produced there since the 1970s. With its red and dusty arid plains and striking blue skies, the location space has appeared frequently on local and international screens since this time, shaping popular imaginaries of the “Australian outback”. The region also plays a crucial role in Australia’s development as a mining economy in the early 20th century, being host to one the largest deposits globally of zinc, silver and lead. This PhD project focuses on the nexus of these two industrial contexts within the region and asks how the location and its surrounding legacies of resource extraction, environmental transformation, and post-industrial development, shape (and are shaped by) Australian moving images.

The project aims to reveal an important material and cultural nexus between moving images and environmental histories from far west NSW. However, this material relationship is not always explicitly addressed in screen media from the region. Rather, these relations are found in histories tracked through archival research, interviews with cultural workers and site visits.

The first stage of the project investigates historical documentary films from the 1930s – 1950s produced about the resource-extraction industry in Broken Hill. Commissioned by government bodies such as the Australian Film Unit or sponsored by mining interests such as The Zinc Corporation, 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 is scrutinised, particularly in terms of what geophysical factors and human perspectives are rendered visible or invisible through representation.

A Nation is Built (1938) – from National Film and Sound Archive Australia

A Nation is Built (1938) – from National Film and Sound Archive Australia

The project also explores how popular film narratives and surrounding film induced tourism from the area also shape the popular imaginary of the Australian Environment, particularly in relation to the mythologised “outback” zones ubiquitously included in on-location shooting in the region.

Current Questions Framing This Research

  • How and why is ‘extraction’, both as a literal industry and as an expanded economic politic, productive for thinking through far western NSW’s film production cultures and histories?
  • How has the geophysical environment shaped and been shaped by moving image production in far western NSW?
  • How has mining in far western NSW and its subsequent impacts on the geophysical environment remade understandings of the Australian environment and film culture?

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