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Sydney Harbour Bridge on Opening Night / Photo by Harold Cazneau, AGNSW, Gift of Rainbow Johnson, Robert Johnson and Sally Garrett

The Attack on Sydney Harbour in Newsreels

I have been doing research for a pilot podcast that partly recounts the Japanese attack on Sydney during WW2.

This is something I had heard of, but never knew much about — and I was quite surprised to hear the story.

Part of the research has been watching archival newsreels, training and documentary films of the day, and I thought that it might be worth sharing a few of the interesting ones with you. This is also a way for me to bind them together in the one place (rather than as favourites in a folder that I’ll never look at again!)

This first one was part of an exhibition at the Australian War Memorial Exhibition, Of Love and War, and this is what they had to say about it:

“An extract from ‘Australia Is Like This’, an Australian propaganda film, produced circa 1944. It uses the narrative device of an American soldier writing a letter home, to illustrate the Australian way of life for American audiences. The film introduces the viewer to sights of Sydney and Melbourne, surfing and skiing, an Australian pub, a Red Cross kitchen and a suburban home, including a comic scene of the American soldier attempting to eat peas with his fork.”

Besides building a picture of what Sydney was like during this time period, I am also trying to find what the different sounds are connected with the battle that took place in the harbour. This was quite a significant attack, where a Japanese torpedo sank the HMAS Kuttabul, a converted steamship used as sleeping quarters, killing twenty-one enlisted men.

Here is an American newsreel covering the attack. They get a few of the facts wrong, like reporting that four mini-subs were destroyed; when really only two were recovered at the time, and then the wreckage of a third one was discovered in 2006 off the Northern beaches.

The reason I think that I haven’t been able to find any homegrown newsreels was that the Australian media was censored from reporting on these incidents during the War years.

However, part of what I am also trying to achieve by watching these is to learn about the actual communications technology.

This next film is from New Zealand, not related to the war, but still made in 1939, and is an interesting insight into the bygone era of shortwave radio communication, which was used for international communication, a way to communicate with ships at sea from land.

Morse code was used in conjunction with shortwave radio for sending telegraphic messages, a vital form of communication when the war broke out.

This last film is a training film for the US Navy demonstrating the hand techniques and machinery involved in sending out morse code messages. Signal Communications is not the first thing people think of when it comes to war, but this would have been mentally arduous work, to have to sustain your attention for such long periods of time!

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted about the podcast project; I am quite excited about it — I might have even learnt a thing or two about morse code!

*Header image: Opening Night on Sydney Harbour Bridge by Harold Cazneau / AGNSW, Gift of Rainbow Johnson, Robert Johnson and Sally Garrett


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