Production company: Supreme Sound System
Budget: n/a, very low
Locations: reportedly shot around Tamworth and Campbelltown, N.S.W.
Filmed: The Oxford Australian Film dates the film as 1945 but almost all references to the film suggest 1946, and it was certainly first released in 1946, but it might have been shot towards the end of 1945 to take advantage of the spring wheat harvest season.
Australian distributor: Caltex
Australian release: 1946, with one of the first references to the production being a private screening in Sydney in the week before Christmas in Sydney in December 1946. More extensive screenings in rural communities followed in 1947.
Rating: For General exhibition
35mm - 16mm used for many screenings farming and community hall style bookings.
Running time: 55 mins (Oxford Australian Film); other contemporary sources give a timing closer to an hour.
Box office: minimal. Most screenings were private, using non-commercial outlets, often via the local Caltex agent using community facilities - Masonic Halls, Mechanics' Institutes and such like. While ostensibly about promoting modern farming methods, the message that really mattered was that these were best done using Caltex.
Not known outside the archive
1. Sponsored docs:
It is a measure of the decline of the Australian feature industry that Harvest Gold was the only "feature film" (clocking in at an un-feature length under an hour) reported by film historians for 1945, and then only as a sponsored dramadoc designed to promote Caltex products.
Harvest Gold is notable for nudging dramadocs - sponsored by government or the private sector to promote a message - further down the track. In due course, the federal government would set up its own production arm, the Commonwealth Film Unit, later Film Australia, to make hundreds of government friendly "message" films.
Sponsored documentaries were to thus destined to become a staple for struggling cast and crew in the film industry in the nineteen fifties, with perhaps the peak of private sector contributions coming with Shell's sponsoring of The Back of Beyond in 1954 (Shell even boasted its own in-house production unit in the 1950s).
In the case of Harvest Gold, it provided work for veterans of feature films in the nineteen thirties, such as actor Joe Valli, recycling one more time his 'Scotty' routine (first seen in Frank Thring's Pat Hanna vehicle Diggers in 1931), and director/actor Tal Ordell, who first attracted attention with the silent feature The Kid Stakes.
The show also kept things ticking over for sound expert Mervyn Murphy's Supreme Sound System company, which would turn into Supreme Sound, a long time supplier of facilities and sound services to all areas of the industry.
In later times, a sponsored documentary of this kind would not make a history of feature-film making, as it did in the Oxford Australia and other works on the industry, but during the second world war and the rest of the 1940s, no more than ten feature films would be made.
While fighting raged, the government had deemed the industry a non-essential service, restricting its ability to raise capital, coincidentally turning the industry in the direction of providing useful propaganda - it was left to newsreels and government documentaries to serve the propaganda side of the war (a distinct difference to the United States market which poured out conventional feature film dramas).
Ken G. Hall, for example, saw his and Cinesound's feature film career came to a halt while he produced Damien Parer's Academy Award winning Kokoda Front Line!, the three reel recruiting film 100,000 Cobbers, and similar exercises.
Even 35mm raw stock was in limited supply at war's end, and Murphy's production only obtained a sufficient supply thanks to the support of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture.
2. Booklet spin-off:
The point of sponsored drama documentaries was to get or keep the client on the hook, and it was important to supply a follow-up publication that would hang around the house, being useful and reminding the client of Caltex's helpfulness.
So Caltex provided a booklet running over 176 pages with photographs, drawings and charts to assist in making farm machinery last longer, with information on disc ploughs, Howard DH22&Five, seeders, fertilizer broadcasters, binders, harvesters, mowers, chaff cutters, windmills etc. It also contained farming calendars for 1946-49, and naturally highlighted the importance of lubrication. (Sydney W. T. Baker for Caltex Ltd, no date, c.1946).
In the way that some now collect tractors, this booklet has a cult following and collector value as a useful guide to the state of the art of farm mechanisation in the late 1940s in Australia.
3. Mervyn Ross Murphy:
Murphy was one of the pioneers of sound recording in Australia, and in this - his only short drama feature - he combined the job of directing with sound recording.
In 1935 he established Supreme Sound System, making sound equipment, and servicing local productions. With cameraman Arthur Higgins in the late nineteen thirties he developed a two colour system "Solarchrome", but then split with Higgins to establish a rival, identical but for the name system "Panachrome". He used this bi-pack technology on many commercials.
After the second world war, Supreme became a full supplier of technical and laboratory services operating out of Young street in Paddington, Sydney, with Murphy at its head.
It became one of the go to places in the nineteen sixties and seventies for domestic and international features, including The Back of Beyond (1954), On the Beach (1959), The Sundowners (1960), and the unfortunate local drama Journey out of Darkness (1967) in which Murphy invested heavily by way of services and facilities. He died suddenly in March 1971, and through the early seventies Supreme quickly lost ground in the industry, overtaken by other suppliers.