As the conversation about Australia Day’s inclusivity continues into 2021, the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) is taking you back to Bicentennial celebrations on 26 January 1988 with a screening of the restored and digitised documentary, Australia Daze (PG).
The observational documentary used a dozen crews to record a cross-section of Australian life in the 24 hours from midnight to midnight, as the country marked 200 years of European settlement.
Australia Daze was the brainchild of director Pat Fiske and a group of her filmmaker friends, after their 1987 dinner party conversation at a Japanese restaurant in Kings Cross inspired the concept.
Pat said as the alcoholic drinks flowed, so too did the rage about the upcoming Bicentennial celebrations.
“We were disturbed about all the razzamatazz,” Pat said.
“There appeared to be no soul searching or reflection of where we were at as a nation.
“We felt it was a lost opportunity.”
The anger continued as the friends discussed the recently defunded Curtis Levy film which was intended to be a satire of Australia’s relationship with the royal family.
Pat said the defunding was due to politics and fear of controversy, which was a shame because it would have been very funny.
By 3am the anger had turned to action and ideas were flowing from the filmmakers. Before the restaurant closed, they had formed a plan.
“We just had a list of ideas and possibilities,” she said.
“We wanted to follow stockmen, miners, the homeless, Indigenous Australians, and we wanted to ask them all the same pertinent questions about being Australian: Was it good or bad? Was it changing?”
The night ended with the group deciding to call each other at 9am the next day and check their drunken ideas were actually viable.
Even though it was only a few hours later, Pat made the phone call, and Australia Daze was born.
During pre-production they took the idea to the ABC who “loved it and just jumped at it” and gained support and pre-sales from Screen Australia.
Pat said she continued raising money for the film like “a dog with a bone”.
After the 24 hours of shooting by a dozen film crews captured the historic day, there was eight months of gruelling editing.
Pat said as she worked with the editors to cull the masses of footage, she “felt all the feelings”.
“Some of it was depressing and some of it was really funny.”
Her favourite characters were the “shy and beautiful” Queensland cowboys she called the “talking hats”.
The American-born Aussie said she was “well and truly” into politics before left the States, having participated in anti-Vietnam war rallies, but that passion intensified during her life in Australia.
Pat became a filmmaker after failing to find work in her field as a speech pathologist, a brief stint as a builder’s labourer and an inspirational trip to New Zealand where she met ophthalmologist Fred Hollows who became a life-long friend.
Pat is thrilled Australia Daze is part of the NFSA Restores program which digitises, restores and preserves significant Australian films to the highest archival standards and said it will give the film a new life.
“These films are such an important part of our history,” Pat said.
“The NFSA needs more money so they can scan and digitise more films.”
NFSA chief curator Gayle Lake said part of the NFSA role is to ensure their collection was shared with audiences so they may be empowered to interpret the past, form their own opinions about Australia’s history and culture, and make decisions regarding our present and future.
“In preserving and sharing Australia Daze, we ensure audiences can revisit the conversation that was had in 1988, engage with it in the context of today and ensure it remains accessible for years to come.”
In today’s context, Pat said she hopes the film challenges the viewer.
“It’s Invasion Day,” she said. “Maybe we should think about changing the date and maybe this film will persuade people that we should.
“So much has changed and not enough has changed.”
Pat hopes the film brings up issues for discussion and makes people think.
“It’s enjoyable to watch. You’ll cringe, cry and laugh all at once.”
NFSA Restores ambassador Margaret Pomeranz said that Australia Daze was a “glorious kaleidoscope” of Australia and its multicultural society.
“Australia Daze looks at what it means to be an Australian on this one day of the year,” Ms Pomeranz said. “It’s heart-warming and insightful and bloody fabulous.”
Pat said when she thinks about 26 January 1988, she is still angry.
“The Bicentennial could have been used to make things better.”
The Canberra screening will also be followed by a Q&A with segment director Erika Addis.
When: Tuesday 26 January 6pm
Where: Arc Cinema, NFSA, McCoy Circuit, Acton
For more what’s on and entertainment:
- Story time with Canberra’s newest children’s author Amelia McInerney
- What’s on: Australia Day 2021 in Canberra
- Book talk: 3 reads for the new year