Mapping the settler-colonial travelogue: the Shell film unit in Australia 1939 - 1954
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 00:04 by Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd
In the late 1920s, the multinational petroleum company Shell began sponsoring filmmaking in Australia. This was the first attempt by a local industry to systematically engage the moving image in its corporate practice. The company instituted a national exhibition network which used mobile screening vans to canvas the far-reaches of rural Australia and screened films back to the Indigenous communities they depicted. From filming the desert landscape, to mapping its mileage and turning outback petrol station driveways into impromptu drive-ins; Shell’s film operations represented space, sought opportunities to make it productive and fostered social spaces pitched to align the company’s interests with those of the state. This thesis interrogates how Shell’s ethnographic travelogues produced settler colonial space in mid-century Australia. The spatial regimes of settler colonialism are created through processes of (symbolic, practical and contested) dispossession. Structuring logics of erasure must be traced as contingent historical phenomena so as to eschew naturalizing and confirming them. The vertical integration of Shell’s film practice - encompassing production,distribution and exhibition - bears witness to governing spatial ideas and practices as well as never entirely settled sites of local reception. By studying Shell’s ethnographic travelogues across these three modes we glimpse how settler colonial space coheres and strains against its own productions.