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state library of queensland
John Oxley Library

Bennett Family Films 1956 – 1988: Treasure collection of the John Oxley Library

By Reuben Hillier, State Library of Queensland | 23 November 2021

Sir Arnold Lucas Bennett was born in Toowoomba in 1908 and educated at Toowoomba and Brisbane Grammar schools. He graduated from the University of Queensland in 1931, completed his Barrister’s Board examinations in 1932 and was admitted to the bar soon after. He had a distinguished career as a barrister and was President of the Bar Association of Queensland from 1957-1959.

In 1956, Sir Arnold purchased a Bolex 16mm movie camera and for the next two decades he avidly recorded his family’s home life and experiences. Due to a health condition, he mostly used a tripod when filming, and had a good eye for a scene, resulting in footage of considerable quality. Collectively, the Bennett Family films provide a fascinating view of mid-century family life in a well-to-do household in Brisbane.

Typical backyard antics captured on film at Fairthorpe, Auchenflower, Brisbane

Several of the films take the form of humorous episodes and short adventure stories starring the Bennett children. Sir Arnold experimented with every trick the camera had to offer, employing the use of stop motion stunts, reversed footage, disappearing tricks, ghostly apparitions, and psychedelic scenes. The family home ‘Fairthorpe’, situated on Coronation Drive at Auchenflower featured heavily in the films.

At other times the footage recorded family enjoying recreational activities, road trips, and interstate and overseas travel.

Photo on left depicts 3 children in the water at the beach;Right depicts 3 children sitting on a rise facing a mountain range

Stills of the family on a road trip and the family on holidays at the beach. 

Sir Arnold was also passionate about the world around him, recording segments of everyday Brisbane street scenes, prominent buildings, and sporting events. His film footage included people at work - firemen, traffic police, dock workers, whalers at Tangalooma, employees at a brickworks, and the iconic Golden Circle Cannery at Northgate. Scenes of the Ekka, the 1974 floods, street parades and the Queen Mother’s visit to Brisbane in 1958 are poignant reminders of a ‘youthful’ Brisbane and memories of the past.

The Bolex camera was central to the Bennett household, and was present at most family occasions, for more than twenty years. The Bennett children grow up in front of the camera. In the early footage they are keen to show off for the camera, having water fights in the back yard, spinning hula-hoops, swimming in creeks, climbing trees and running wild at the family property at Tamborine Mountain. Gradually through a succession of birthdays and Christmases the children become adults, eventually marrying and presenting their own children to the camera.


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