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Memento : Issue 29
In early 2003, the National Archives approached the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) to talk about preserving television programs from the past. The ABC had several possible choices but there was one standout candidate – Seven Little Australians. Rebroadcast several times since its premiere in 1973, the tale of Captain Woolcot’s unruly seven is dear to the hearts of generations of Australian viewers. Technical staff at the ABC had been forced to stop broadcasting the series because it had deteriorated over time to show little more than a soupy, greenish haze. To all intents and purposes, the seven urchins were forever lost to the viewing public. A lengthy examination by the Archives’ audiovisual preservation team established that the series had many problems – green and grainy film stocks, colour fade, torn film frames and even a small bug embedded in the negative of the heart- wrenching final episode. Fortunately, however, the ABC many years ago had transferred all of the original film elements into the Archives’ custody, including the all-important negatives. These had been preserved in our film vault and were in near pristine condition. Our preservation goal was to extend the life of the film components. As we had the original negatives, we were able to use them to make new, high-quality film components. This was an expensive exercise, but in the constantly shifting world of digital imaging standards, it is the only solid preservation backstop. Hand in hand with extending the physical life of the series, we also had to think about its possible future use. Although we had successfully created new high-quality film components, the green-tinged master tapes necessary to broadcast the series remained unusable. Under the Archives Act, it would have been sufficient for us to have a simple videotape copy of the series available for viewing in the Archives’ reading rooms. This would not, however, be much help to the wider viewing public. The Archives’ audiovisual preservation team decided to go a step further. Taking advantage of the pristine new film components, they created a new set of master tapes. Once the ABC saw the quality of the new masters, they went ahead with a re-release of Seven Little Australians. ABC shops are now able to sell VHS and DVD copies of the series that the ABC had previously rejected for broadcast. As well as having an excellent preservation outcome for the National Archives, the project also proved a successful experiment for the ABC which initially had concerns about the small size of the market for Australian television re-releases. And so it is that the unruly seven live on – preserved and held in the Archives’ collection, for sale to the general public, and rebroadcast on ABC and cable television. Magnificent seven back on screen Seven Little Australians, episode 8, ‘Yarrahappini’: (left to right) Noel Campbell as Jacky, Mark Shields-Brown as Bunty, Tania Falla as Baby. NAA: C612, ‘Seven Little Australians’ Autumn–Winter 2005 MEMENTO 3