Preserving Waikerie’s cinematic past

Community stories: 26 February 2021

Small towns need dedicated people to preserve their history, and with technology moving the way it is, a certain degree of upkeep is required or stories may be lost forever.

In the small South Australian Riverland town of Waikerie, a number of 8mm films made by residents, predominantly in the 50s and 60s, were at risk of deteriorating. People said they are “too scared to run them through the projector” for fear of losing these priceless recordings of local life, and almost all of the residents who made these films had passed away.

The Waikerie District Historical Society and Open Space Contemporary Arts (OCSA) came together to collaborate on a project that would not only digitise and save these films as a cultural asset for the community, but also accompany them with a 48 page booklet that created a “legacy of intergenerational knowledge” through the interplay of images, information and local stories.

Artistic Director OCSA Mr Paul Gazzola wrote “These films form an integral part in recording the town’s cultural/social history and poetically frame the relationship to the river and local environment as well as highlighting a period of time (1950 — 1960) when the Waikerie Filmo club was actively making short artistic films.”

This time imperative project, titled ‘Collectors/Collections: Waikerie Films’ (CCWF) received funding in 2017 through Small Grants for Rural Communities (Round 32).

From January to May 2018, the groups and 50 local residents met, searched, collected, digitised, drafted, photographed, liaised and consulted. Through interviews, they uncovered details about the locations, and who’s who of each film, revealing interconnections between people and place, their livelihood and the diversity of cultural activities that make up Waikerie’s past.

They uncovered more films than anticipated, with an influx of 20 new films in March, and what was originally to be a 3 DVD set turned into a 4 DVD set. This was launched, along with the booklet, during a three-day exhibition celebrating the community’s cinematic past at the Waikerie Institute during the 2018 SA History month, with ongoing access available through the Waikerie District Historical Society archives.  

There was a great community response, with 300 attendees to the exhibition, 150 people attending outdoor projections on the Friday night and 170 attending the screening of the films at the Waikerie Institute.

The group are proud of this project and rightly so, noting that it brought together a wide range of people who share similar treasured histories, adding “value and visibility to the often under represented individuals that define regional communities”.

The group also saw the project as a viable way to stimulate the creation of new films about Waikerie, and we look forward to funding a similar project in 2080!