Mystery Townsville filmmaker identified

Among State Library of Queensland’s extensive collections of old photographs, slides, diaries, letters and films, there are many items where the original creator of the work is unknown. However, occasionally these items provide subtle clues, which through investigation, leads to the discovery of its creator and provides context.

This was the case with a small collection of 16mm home movies recently digitised by State Library, where the creator of the films was unknown. The majority of the footage was shot in North Queensland during the 1950s or 1960s and included views of Townsville, Charters Towers, Mackay, Atherton Tablelands, Hayman Island, Orpheus Island, Mt Isa and Herberton. One highlight is Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Townsville in 1954 with building adorned with flags and banners.

Townsville Customs House decorated for the Queen's visit in 1954. Still from 29500/1 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Townsville Customs House decorated for the Queen’s visit in 1954. Still from 29500/1 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Queen in Townsville, 1954. Still from 29500/1 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Queen in Townsville, 1954. Still from 29500/1 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Castle Hill, Townsville, 1954. Still from 29500/1 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Castle Hill, Townsville, 1954. Still from 29500/1 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

View of Townsville, 1954. Still from 29500/1 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

View of Townsville, 1954. Still from 29500/1 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Hayman Island, 1950s. Still from 29500/2 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Hayman Island, 1950s. Still from 29500/2 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Anzac Day at Charters Towers, 1957. Still from 29500/14 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Anzac Day at Charters Towers, 1957. Still from 29500/14 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

A clue to the provenence of the collection was a title card at the beginning of one of the films. This card listed an address “9 Cleveland Trce, Townsville. Nth. Q’land” and what appeared to be a name, which though it had been cropped looked like ‘Mrs M. North’.

After searching the Queensland electoral rolls, a possible match was discovered with a Margaret Eleanor North who lived at the Cleveland Terrace address between 1954 and 1968. Further research soon uncovered that Margaret’s husband was Francis Roger North, a solicitor and career soldier. This information would prove vital in identifying the collection.

Colonel Francis Roger North, 1938. Still from 29500/12 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Colonel Francis Roger North, 1938. Still from 29500/12 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

One of the films in the collection was taken in Townsville in 1938 and shows the 31st Battalion marching through Townsville streets and participating in military activities. According to newspaper reports the commanding officer of the 31st Battalion (Kennedy Regiment) at that time was Colonel F.R. North. This particular film may have been screened to an audience of over 300 people on 13 December 1939 as part of an event hosted by the Townsville Amateur Camera and Movie Club. According to the Townsville Bulletin (16/12/1939), among the members’ films screened that evening was “The 31st Battalion (photography by Lieutenant-Colonel F.R.North)”.

31st Battalion parade through a Townsville street, 1938. Still from 29500/12 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

31st Battalion parade through a Townsville street, 1938. Still from 29500/12 North family films of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

You can read about Francis Roger North’s extensive and distinguished military career on the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

A selection of North family films have been digitised and can be viewed online.

Myles Sinnamon – Engagement Officer, State Library of Queensland