About Australians at War Film Archive
The Australians at War Film Archive is an Australian Government initiative, commissioned through the Department of Veterans' Affairs in 2000, and designed to film and record the stories of over two thousand war veterans as a permanent public archive for posterity. It is an unmatched historical collection, a resource for all Australians interested in our wartime heritage.
In 1999-2000 nearly 100 interviews with war veterans were recorded as part of production on the Australian at War ABC television series. From that beginning grew a desire to establish a national collection of wide-ranging, filmed interviews with veterans to comprehensively record Australian involvement in wars, conflicts and peace-keeping missions from World War One to Afghanistan. Between 2002-2004 nearly 2000 additional interviews were conducted to create the oral history collection which became the Australians at War Film Archive.
In 2014 UNSW Canberra digitised and made widely accessible this valuable research asset, in keeping with the original project intent to create a public archive for the nation. Users of the site could comprehensively search the interview database which incorporated photographs of interviewees, the transcriptions of their interviews and historical summaries relating to the Archive.
In 2021 further enhancements were undertaken by UNSW Canberra enabling a self-service Archive. The refreshed site offers direct download of digital transcripts, photographs and interview videos that provide an unparalleled resource for historians, students, teachers, researchers, writers, film makers and all Australians interested in our wartime heritage.
1999-2000 Australians at War Centenary Federation Project
Mullion Creek Films.
ABC Screening. 98 interviewees.
2002 AAWFA Pilot Project
Mullion Creek 11 interviewees
2003-2004 AAWFA Film Project
Mullion Creek Films
AAWFA Project Team 1. 1,900 interviewees
2005-2011 AAWFA Archive Project
AAWFA Project Team 2
2011-2018 AAWFA Handover and Digitisation Project
AAWFA Project Team 3
2019-2021 AAWFA Refresh Project
AAWFA Project Team 4
|1999-2021||23 years||2,000 interviewees
500 project staff
In the year 2000, a landmark ABC television series was broadcast in Australia. Commissioned by the Department of Veterans' Affairs on behalf of the Australian Government, it achieved huge audiences, a Logie award for best documentary of the year and a permanent place as a teaching resource in virtually every high school and university in the country. It was called Australians at War.
Mullion Creek Productions (the producers of Australians at War) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs put together a consulting group of some of Australia's most eminent military historians - Professor Joan Beaumont, Professor David Horner, Dr Peter Stanley, Dr Richard Reid, Dr Michael Mckernan, Dr Alan Stephens and Dr John Reeve - to devise a pilot program and workshops that would establish the methodology, practice and content of an additional much larger project. After a year's work and preparation, production commenced on a unique undertaking - the largest oral history project of its kind in the world.
From the beginning, diversity and comprehensiveness were the main goals of the collection. Researchers conducted initial interviews with over 6,500 potential interviewees before the final choices were made. Included were individuals from every kind of civilian and military service experienced during wartime as well as service personnel and civilians who were in some way involved in Australia's conflicts and peacekeeping missions.
The Archive encompasses the battlefront, the home front, media and entertainment, children, teachers, partners, workers and clerics. From signaller to Spitfire pilot, from SAS soldier to stoker, even those who fought for or against Australian interests; as long as they were Australian, then their service was represented.
Interviewers spoke with veterans for whom World War I ended over 86 years before, and those who came home from their war 14 days before their interview. Among the interviewees on the first day were a Lancaster pilot in Bomber Command who was shot down over France and spent the remainder of the war committing acts of sabotage alongside the French Resistance, a Pow from the Thai-Burma railway who, upon his liberation, lay on a beach in Singapore, looked up at the stars and realized it was his 19th birthday; and a rifleman from the 6th Division, who enlisted in 1939 and finally returned home to Balmain, six long years later, never to be the same again.
The interviews were conducted across the landscape of each person's life and so are of significant length - most ran for six hours, many others for eight or nine. A major principle of the methodology was that the relating of an individual's war experience is most valuable when viewed in the context of their entire life; so the brief for the interviewers was simple start with their early life, follow through in logical order to their wartime experience and then post war life with - detail, always detail..
That meant not only details of training and battles, but details of home life, of meals, of social behaviour and relationships. It was the Archive's view that the particulars of, for example, farm life in Gippsland in the 1930s were as important as a country boy's first impressions of jungle warfare. That how soldiers dealt with death on a battlefield was as important as how they died.
The Australians at War Film Archive is not only a diverse and exhaustive collection of personal, military histories but a remarkable, historical resource of information about Australian social and cultural life.
For example an historian, a film maker, a researcher or a student wants to examine El Alamein. They would find valuable source material in the 98 interviews the Archive holds with veterans who were involved in that battle, but they would also discover significant holdings across a wider canvas, including how those interviewees were educated, what their parents were like, what characterised the relationships between men and women in Australia at that time and what all that meant to each of the 98 individuals interviewed. From the interviews the changes in the social fabric of Australia can be traced over the last 100 years.
The interviews include individuals representing every conflict in which Australia has been involved from World War I in 1914 up to conflicts in 2004. The Archive encompasses the battlefront, the home front, media and entertainment, children, teachers, wives, workers and clerics. From signaller to Spitfire pilot, from SAS soldier to stoker, friends and foes; as long as they were Australian, then their service was represented. All the interviews were undertaken without rehearsal.
All interviews were filmed against chroma-key green screens, meaning that future filmmakers and archive users could place any background they choose behind the interviewee. In addition, the interview teams filmed still photographs of each person on their interview day as well as all the still photographs and memorabilia that they owned. In this way, users of the Archive can examine a collection of words and pictures unique to each individual interviewee.
Each interview was manually transcribed and then edited. The interview and its transcript are available on this website. The transcript was the principal way (prior to digitisation and full text searching) of making the archive publicly available, and so a large investment of time and expertise was given to this activity. The process of transcript creation was:
50+ professional transcribers were trained on military terminology and given a gazetteer of place names. They manually produced 40 transcripts each, on average of 70 pages per interview.
Then 41 editors who were historians, professional editors and journalists double checked the use of military terms, acronyms, place name spellings, weaponry descriptions and correct punctuation in the transcripts. They also inserted explanatory information regarding military terms, slang, and identities of prominent individuals. This information is contained in each transcript inside square brackets [ ] at the appropriate point. For example, the acronym Nco would, the first time it appears in a transcript carry the explanation [Non Commissioned Officer] after the acronym. The emphasis here was on correcting peoples and place names, dates, weaponry and military acronyms only. Despite the extensive work of the Archive's editor's errors may still exist in some transcripts.
The interviewees generally did not check their transcripts for spelling or typing mistakes. Errors in grammar, syntax and repetition were not addressed. However after listening back to their own interviews they were able to add textual corrections/reflections to the end of the manually created transcripts, for example if they had got confused with dates or placenames.
The interviews were manually indexed into over 200 themes and sub-themes from 1999-2004 by the editing team. The World War Two theme, for example, contains over 90 sub-themes. The indexing was very important since the first public version of the Australians at War Film Archive (created by the DVA) was a static website that contained non-searchable transcripts along with the theme index, but not the actual interviews themselves. The original intent was to manually index 10 representative interviews to each theme. The themes were not consistent or exhaustive. A theme did not have all the interviews on that topic indexed against it, but did give a useful starting point for exploration.
The second version of the Australians at War Film Archive website was created and launched in 2014 by UNSW Canberra. It provided full text searching across and within the transcripts. UNSW Canberra also digitised the interviews which could be viewed as video, or listened to as audio on the website. The interviews and the transcripts were synced with each other and time stamped, enabling a keyword search to jump to the specific point in the video/audio.
In 2021 the third version of the Australians at War Film Archive website was launched. UNSW Canberra further enhanced the user experience by refreshing the data files into the latest digital format and updating the archive digital infrastructure. This enables users to choose whether to stream or download the files themselves, which are now of smaller size, though of the same quality as the 2014 versions. The refreshed Archive enables searching on or offline and easier access and re-use of the content. A user can create a clip themselves or link directly to a specific point in the interview. This facilitates expanded use of the archive across social media, in school classrooms, and by broadcasters, as well as meeting the digital expectations of university researchers. The content remains the same and the original themes were retained. Powerful keyword searching enables precise and systematic research to be undertaken across the archive content as was originally intended by the original project team.
Some of the interviews may be distressing to users and family or friends of the persons interviewed. Some content may contain offensive language, depictions of sexual matters or negative stereotypes. There is footage, images, voices and names of people who have died.
The content comprises the memories and reflections of the interviewee. It reflects the culture, language, and individual experience of a place or period of time, including the date of the interview and the date that the events being recalled took place.
The Archive is a repository of memories and experiences, and as such, does not claim to be an accurate historical record. Rather, it is the stories of particular lived experiences, told by the people who were there. We are indebted to each and every veteran who has so generously shared their memories.
The content is presented in good faith. It does not reflect the views of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Australians at War Film Archive or the University of New South Wales.
Dr Michael Mckernan
Dr John Reeve
Dr Richard Reid
Dr Peter Stanley
Dr Alan Stephens
Elizabeth Halloran Richards
Senior Supervising Editors
Dr Wayne Geerling
Leonard Harry Wise
Kirsty De Garis
Dr Judith Jeffery
Leonard Harry Wise
Camera Training Consultants
Additional Transcription Services
The Last Draft Pty Ltd
The Archive interviews were conducted by two person teams in every state and territory of Australia. Each team interviewed in 'tours' of eight weeks, filming three hundred hours of material per team, per tour. The number next to each name is the number of tours each interviewer completed.
Julian Argus - 3.5
Martin Ball - 1
Rebecca Barry - 2
Michael Bennett - 3
Denise Blazek - 3.5
Colin Cairnes - 4
Ellen Carpenter - 2
Louise Charman - 1
Kirsty De Garis - 1
Sergei De Silva-Ranasinghe - 5
Simon Dikkenberg - 2
Catherine Dyson - 4
Christopher Eley - 5
Keirnan Fitzpatrick - 4
Isabel Fox - 2
Rosemary Francis - 1
Kylie Grey - 1.5
Zelda Grimshaw - 1
Matthew Hardy - 2
Naomi Homel - 3
Christopher Houghton - 3.5
Ianto Kelly - 2
Sean Kennedy - 1.5
Stella Kinsella - 2
Annie Letch - 1
David Levell - 1
Dene Mason - 1
Claire Mccarthy - 1
Nicole Mccuaig - 2
Myles Mcmullen - 2
Colin Mowbray - 2
Kristen Murray - 1
Patrick Nolan - 1
Karen Nobes - 1
Robert Nugent - 2.5
Louise Pascale - 2
Heather Phillips - 2.5
Cathy Pryor - 2
Sophie Relf - 1
Sue Roberts - 1
Christopher Salisbury - 1
Graham Shirley - 2
Kathy Sport - 5
Vanessa Stuart - 2
Michelle Warner - 2
Kylie Washington-Brook - 1.5
John Weldon - 1
Peter Welman - 3
Rob Hamon, Director, Community Awareness, E-History and Education
Courtney Page-Allen, Senior Editor, Commemorations
Professor Michael Frater, Rector
Professor Harvi Sidhu, Acting Rector, Deputy Rector
Professor Michael O'Donnell, Acting Deputy Rector
Professor Nicole Moore, Associate Dean Special Collections
Professor Peter Stanley, Research Professor
Kath Kulhanek, Deputy Faculty Executive Director
Kus Pandey (2018)
Rose Holley (2020-2021)
Kent Fitch, Project Computing (2019-Current)
Susan Thomas, Assistant Curator
Rose Holley, Curator