Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walter Franklyn Barrett (1873–1964)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Walter Franklyn Barrett (1873-1964), by unknown photographer, 1917

Walter Franklyn Barrett (1873-1964), by unknown photographer, 1917

State Library of New South Wales, Microfilm : MAV/FM4/10676

Walter Franklyn Barrett (1873-1964), film cameraman and director, was born at Loughborough, Leicestershire, England, son of William Brown, hatter, and his wife Matilda, née Hopwell. Brought up by an aunt, he played the violin in the Theatre of Varieties, Bath, for 30s. a week and devoted his spare time to photography. About 1895 he probably joined his father and brother John Henry in Wellington, New Zealand, working as a clerk for his father.

While touring with theatre orchestras from about 1900 he experimented with moving pictures: early films included a 'fake' boxing match with 'Dummy Mace' (1901), the royal tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, and a science fiction movie, A Message from Mars, from the play (1903). In 1901 he had sent some photographs to London and in December won the Thornton Pickford prize of £15. Barrett sold his scenic films to the Charles Urban Trading Co. Ltd, visited England and worked for eight months with that firm. Back in Australia in 1904, he was the first person to film the Melbourne Cup from start to finish, and then shot more scenic films for the New Zealand and New South Wales railways. Although he signed the register as Brown, he was already known as Barrett when, as a widower, he married Mabel Muriel Pile in Perth on 10 December 1906.

Barrett joined the Melbourne office of Pathé Frères in 1908 and filmed The Sea Coasts of New Zealand and in 1909-10 South Sea Island Films. He often showed great physical courage to get rare pictures: he crossed Cook Strait on a special platform built over the side of the ship to film the famous pilot dolphin 'Pelorous Jack', and hired a small launch to photograph the erupting volcano on Savaii Island.

West's Pictures took over Pathé in 1911, and Barrett remained as cameraman, supervising production; he also made several feature films. In 1913 West's merged with Australasian Films Ltd, and he joined the Fraser Film Release & Photographic Co. as film maker and buyer, and next year visited New York. His reputation as a director grew: in 1918 he photographed The Lure of the Bush for E. J. Carroll, featuring the exploits of 'Snowy' (R. L.) Baker, and in 1919 directed Struck Oil starring Maggie Moore. Although the plot of The Breaking of the Drought (1920) was old-fashioned, Barrett's realistic photography of the drought scenes was praised by the critics and led indirectly to the tightening of Commonwealth censorship laws. In 1920 he formed his own film company with Barry Kenwood, a solicitor, and in 1921-22 made three features, A Girl of the Bush, which 'had a distinctive spirit of “documentary realism”', Know thy Child and A Rough Passage. They all revealed 'his sensitive eye as a photographer of Australian landscapes'.

In mid-1922 Barrett's company failed, partly because of Australasian Films' monopoly over cinemas. In 1925 he became manager of the Capitol Theatre, Canberra. He joined Hoyts' Theatres Ltd in 1927 and managed its cinemas at Neutral Bay, Mosman, Arncliffe, Clovelly and Woollahra. Predeceased by his wife, he died at Randwick on 16 July 1964, aged 91, and was cremated after an Anglican service. He was survived by a married daughter Harrie Marrett, known on the stage as Miss Todd Barrett.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia, Report, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1926-28, 4, 1371
  • Theatre Magazine (Sydney), 1 Jan 1917
  • Picture Show (Sydney), 1 Aug 1920, trade supplement
  • Everyone's (Sydney), 11 Dec 1920
  • Australasian Picture Magazine, 1 June 1921
  • Showman (Sydney), Aug, Sept, Oct 1950
  • Cinema Papers (Melbourne), Apr 1974
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 July 1964
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Barrett, Walter Franklyn (1873–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Walter Franklyn Barrett (1873-1964), by unknown photographer, 1917

Walter Franklyn Barrett (1873-1964), by unknown photographer, 1917

State Library of New South Wales, Microfilm : MAV/FM4/10676

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Brown, Walter Franklyn

Loughborough, Leicestershire, England


16 July, 1964 (aged ~ 91)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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