Kokoda: Pushing the Popular Image

Hank Nelson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    From the release of Damien Parer's Kokoda Frontline in 1942, there have been several high quality documentary films and many popular and scholarly histories on the battles on the Kokoda Track, but until Alister Grierson's Kokoda of 2006 there was no feature film. Initially well received by an Australian public, Kokoda raises several important questions for historians. Makers of films on historical events properly draw on contemporary images: they are evocative of a time and place, guides to all that detail of dress, manners and possessions that take a crew so long to get right and that the pedantic delight in criticising, and they provide templates for shot composition. But the images in films are not subjected to the same scrutiny that historians apply to written sources. In Grierson's Kokoda, images are drawn from somewhere on the Track and relocated and, in one case, taken from another battle and another place. Film critics were concerned with placing Kokoda within the history of war films and evaluating it against other war films. When film critics considered whether Kokoda was 'real' or 'convincing', they were judging whether the behaviour of soldiers in battle moved and engaged an audience. Almost no film critics considered the film's accuracy as history, and it does repeat many popular errors about the Kokoda battles. Finally, it is interesting to consider what has been omitted and whether this has been the inevitable consequence of reducing an event spread over 100 kilometres of Track and several months to 92 minutes of film time, and whether the choices have diminished the end product as film or as history. More historians need to make themselves familiar with film and engage more readily in the public evaluation of those films claimed to be based on 'true' stories and illuminating what have come to be accepted as determining events in national histories.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)89-104
    JournalJournal of Pacific History
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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