Populate or Perish


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1995, 55 Minutes

Australia has long been seen as a land of potential, with plenty of room for everyone - provided they were white. This documentary recalls the fear and insularity that has shaped our population policy.

Europeans declared Australia terra nullius - an empty land. This lie enabled them to take possession of land occupied for thousands of years by Aboriginal people, yet the number of whites in Australia remained small until after the Second World War.

In the post-war years, government-sponsored immigration schemes brought many more Europeans to Australia. "Populate or perish" became the catch cry of those who sought to achieve their vision of a secure and booming Australia, a land which had plenty of room for everyone - provided they were white.
After nearly fifty years of continuous growth, this film recalls the fear and insularity which shaped Australian population policy. Today those fears remain, and additional contemporary anxieties find expression in movements opposed to further population increase. Population growth takes the blame for the destruction of both the environment and quality of life.

Yet there are those who celebrate a more crowded, bustling Australia, believing that growth is essential to a thriving and diverse society. They argue that the greatest threat to our natural, social and cultural landscapes is not the size or make up of our population, but the way we choose to live.

Populate or Perish explores Australia’s population debate, from Sydney and its suburbs to inland Tibooburra, from the populous Gold Coast to its near neighbour Byron Bay. What is revealed is not simply a question of numbers, but highly contested visions of Australia’s future

Part of Australian Experience, The series.
Land of the Long Weekend


A Film Australia National Interest Program. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.


Writer/Director/Producer: Susan Ardill

Narrator: Deborah-lee Furness

Year: 1995

Running Time: 55 Minutes

Classification: G. Consumer advice: Moderate themes.

Curriculum Links: SOSE, Environmental Studies, Australian History. Major themes and concepts include national identity, immigration, racism, politics, economic growth, urban development and ecological sustainability.


SKU 199202000
Brand Film Australia

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