I recently finished Janette-Susan Bailey’s Dust Bowl: Depression America to World War Two Australia, which is a very interesting look at how intellectual and cultural responses to the Dust Bowl transferred to Australia a few years later as it dealt with many of the same challenges as the U.S. A lot of it is in film. Most of the Australian films she mentions aren’t available on YouTube. But an exception is the 1948 John Heyer film The Valley Is Ours. This builds on the classic New Deal docudramas by Pare Lorentz such as The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River. I am sure many of you have at least seen the former and I’m a little surprised that I haven’t covered it in this series, but I’m sure I will at some point.
But Heyer kind of switches the idea around a bit. This film is about the Murray River basin. He portrays it as a paradise for the first half of the film. It’s only in the second half where the potential for disaster takes place–forest fires, bad conservation practices, overgrazing, deforestation. Then he compares it to another valley that has turned into a Dust Bowl. But the Murray can be saved. And how? Through TVA like planning programs. So rather than the TVA pulling a region out of poverty like in the U.S., a Murray Valley Authority or something like it can maintain the paradise. Moreover, this is all the more important because so much land is being given to returning soldiers from World War II who fought for Australia and are now getting their just due.
Overall, it’s pretty interesting, though if you are familiar with this type of filmmaking from the 30s and 40s, it falls along lines you’ve seen before. I admit to knowing next to nothing about Australian history, but given the climate disaster of that nation, this is a useful document for context.