Dialog Box

Arts | Community | Education | History | Human Rights | Indigenous


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Frank Cutler left behind a rare photographic record of the Bismark Archipelago but had never shown them to his family. One hundred years later Anne and Chris, two of his grandchildren, chance upon his photographs, leading them on a journey to Rabaul. There they share the photos with the descendants of the indigenous people he had shot, discovering Frank's 25 years on the islands until his escape from the invading Japanese Army and the impact this had had on him.

FRANK OAKLEY CUTLER was a surveyor and amateur photographer who worked across the Bismark Archipelago from 1917 to 1919. Frank was a member of Australia’s expeditionary forces to the former German colony of New Guinea. He recorded his early life there, processing photographs where they were taken, leaving an intimate portrait of his interactions with forest dwellers and coastal villagers. Ninety-eight years later CHRIS DAVEY and his cousin ANNE MUSGROVE discovered Frank's photo albums. They had never seen these photographs and knew very little about Frank's life in New Guinea after his war service ended. 

With their surviving parents advanced in years, Anne, a retired English teacher, began to piece together Frank's earlier life. She interviewed members of her family and rigorously investigated the vast store of information available from the Australian War Memorial and the National Library of Australia's Trove internet archive. What she discovered about Frank would lead her to VICTOR PRATT, an enterprising former plantation owner, with whom Frank developed a little-known relationship. More questions arose as Anne made contact with Victor's grandson, VAUGHAN PRATT, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University. In 1920 Frank formed a business partnership with Victor, taking up a plantation together. They named it “Cutarp”. When the Japanese occupied New Guinea they imprisoned hundreds of Australians. Victor led a small resistance group hiding out near Tobera Plantation. He was eventually captured and executed. Frank managed to escape early in the occupation arriving in Cairns in February 1942. 

FINDING FRANK begins as a forensic analysis of his photographs and ends with his visual diary returned to the islands where his photography flourished. Returning to these islands Anne shares Frank’s photographs to villagers at open-air screenings, their reactions captured as they are re-acquainted with their ancestors preserved in film 100 years ago.


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

Social well-being

On 10 May 2013, Prime Minister's Julia Gillard and Peter O'Neill signed the Joint Declaration for a New Papua New Guinea – Australia Partnership. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) describes the Declaration as affirming both countries' commitment to deepening ties and to working together in the region (DFAT country brief). The filmmakers recognise the value and importance of Australia's ongoing relationship with Papua New Guinea, particularly through storytelling that connects our historical relationships. 

FINDING FRANK delves into these relationships through the more intimate of Frank Cutler's photographs; the telling of stories that emerge from them both through family research and with the descendants of villagers he photographed. Not only does this further Australia's national interest objectives we believe that the social worth of these stories and the connections made through them sits comfortably within philanthropists social well-being aspirations. 

An enriched society 

We are also committed to elaborating on creative and cultural relationships between individuals and communities, as exemplified in the exhibition NO.1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966 - 2016 (Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland). 

By returning to the source of Frank's photographic inspirations and sharing his photos at community screenings, it not only serves to honour his own family's wishes, it seeks to enrich our knowledge of each other as both different in custom and tradition and as members of a global family. 

Supporting creative risk towards social change 

Andrew Garton's films take the maxim to not instruct, but to reveal to an exacting degree. Garton's films have become ethnographic illuminations over time; stories emerge through meditation and introspection. 

According to Film Victoria Garton's films do not meet the criteria set out by increasingly risk-averse broadcasters and funding agencies in Australia. Fewer risks are being taken in Australia. It is here, where experimentation and cinematic rigour meet, that empathy is at play, where cinematic magic may emerge, where revelations in the heart reach beyond the techniques of the risk-averse, into the ferment of social change. We believe philanthropists have the capacity to support and nurture risk taking in the production of visual storytelling.

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

Impact on women and families 

We also aim to understand the impact on families left behind during wartime, particularly the impact on women. Frank’s adult daughters and son joined the various forces; photographs and memoirs of these experiences including The Australian Women’s Land Army add a counterpoint to Frank's own photographic record from The Great War. 

Islander audiences 

One of our primary aims is to reunite Frank's 1917-1919 photographs with the descendants of his PNG subjects through a series of open air on-location screening events on Manus Island, New Ireland and New Britain. When interviewing photographer and essayist Werner Hammerstingl, Werner described how ethnographic expeditions were “photographing natives and then cycling back with lantern slides, showing the images to the native population that the photographer had captured.” Villagers would also be invited to make comments, assisting with attribution by pointing out people they recognised. 

By returning Frank’s photos to the communities where they had been taken, at which time we may further our knowledge of Frank's relationships with his subjects, we aim for a deeper understanding of Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea and how the loyalty of New Guinea nationals to Australia, has been rewarded. 

Valuing the still image, the public domain and forthcoming generations 

By the time the First World War broke out photography was already considered a mass medium. Spurred on by George Eastman's 1888 Kodak innovations millions of professionals and amateurs are said to have taken up the camera. 

However, according to the Freie Universität Berlin's International Encyclopaedia of the First World War, photographs were still “regarded as corroborative illustrations of the written word rather than influential artefacts in their own right.” It may have been a mass medium, but not yet regarded as valid as the written word. 

The First World War is said to have changed that. Frank, in spite of not seeing active combat, was part of that zeitgeist. As such we aim to share Frank's photographs to a new generation of image makers. Where once his photos may have been considered of interest as a form of a memoir, they now reach out to us through the second by second publishing streams of perfect cappuccinos and ‘selfies’. 

The Real Time Statistics Project tells us that up to 2.5 billion smartphones have been sold between November 2015 and 2016. During that time 20.7 billion photos from smartphones have been published to Instagram, that's about 750 stills every second. 

Our aim is to make Frank's photos accessible within the public domain, by way of hard-copy publication, public and web archives, so that present and forthcoming generations may continue to study the photographic record of this young surveyor who was drawn to the Papua New Guinea islands where he would spend a great portion of his life.


What is your education and outreach strategy?

Our education and outreach strategy for Finding Frank is to first and foremost incorporate historical and cultural records of Papua New Guinea (PNG) through photographic stills and supporting documents into a visual form, as a documentary. 

This film will be supported by diverse interviews; with family descendants of Frank Cutler, New Guinea artists and experts on photographic skills. We hope to involve descendants of Victor Pratt, (Frank’s business partner and planter in New Britain at Tobera Plantation and Cutarp also), either in interviews, conversations or as a source of background information. 

 Research has involved access to websites including The National Archives of Australia, The Australian War Memorial, mapping our anzacs, Trove and Wikipedia. Family memoirs have been sourced as well as a range of non-fiction references related to Australian engagement in New Guinea spanning the two wars. We are already known to Melbourne based archivist specialists and biographers. 

Various avenues have been followed to learn more about the plantations and the outbreak of war in PNG, including accessing PNGAA and conferring with family members to elicit memories and anecdotes of Frank’s life in PNG and his escape in 1942. 

Our outreach consists of working with communities to match photos with places and people to ascertain whether descendants can be recognised. Photo reel slide shows will be screened in community organised events where photos were originally taken.

Through screening, awareness of first impressions will be created. Reactions to this initial material would be shared online to further our understanding of Frank Cutler’s photographic legacy, but also to further our reach into both PNG and Australian communities. 

We hope to connect particularly to those who have an interest in Australia’s role in WW1 in PNG, family members who share a fascination for Frank Cutler’s connection with PNG, the descendants of Victor Pratt, the people of PNG who can relate to these images and those of us who can relate to the trauma of war and its legacy for families, communities and countries. 

We are building outreach networks via regional organisations that are already known to Andrew Garton through his work within the Asia Pacific region over some thirty years. These include the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, EngageMedia, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, PNG arts and cultural institutions.

Andrew Garton
Andrew Garton
Total budget
90 Minutes