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This article is about the Australian movie. For the plant genus, see Jedda (plant). For the Saudi Arabian city, see Jeddah.
Directed by Charles Chauvel
Produced by Charles Chauvel
Written by Charles Chauvel
Elsa Chauvel
Starring Robert Tudawali
Ngarla Kunoth
Music by Isador Goodman
Cinematography Carl Kayser
Edited by Alex Ezard
Jack Gardiner
Pam Bosworth
Charles Chauvel Productions Ltd
Distributed by Columbia Pictures (Aust)
British Lion (UK)
Distributors Corporation of America (US)
Release dates
3 January 1955 (premiere)
5 May 1955 (Aust)
1956 (UK)
1957 (USA)
Running time
101 mins (Aust)
61 mins (UK)
Country Australia
Language English
Budget £90,823[1]

Jedda is a 1955 film by the Australian filmmaker Charles Chauvel. His last film, it is most notable for being the first to star two Aboriginal actors (Robert Tudawali and Ngarla Kunoth) in the leading roles, and also to be the first Australian feature film shot in colour. Jedda is seen by some as an influential film in early Australian cinema, as it set a standard for future Australian films. It won more international attention than previous Australian films, during a time when Hollywood films were dominating the Australian cinema. The director, Charles Chauvel, was nominated for the Golden Palm Award in the 1955 Cannes Film Festival,[2] but lost to the American Delbert Mann for Marty.


Jedda is an Aboriginal girl born on a cattle station in the Northern Territory of Australia. After her mother dies giving birth to her, the child is brought to Sarah McMann, the wife of the station boss. Sarah has recently lost her own newborn to illness. She at first intends to give the baby to one of the Aboriginal women who work on the station, but then raises Jedda as her own, teaching her European ways and separating her from other Aborigines.

Jedda wants to learn about her own culture, but is forbidden by Sarah. When Jedda grows into a young woman, she becomes curious about an Aboriginal man from the bush named Marbuck. This tall stranger arouses strong feelings in her. She is lured to his camp one night by a song. Marbuck abducts her and sets off back to his tribal land, through crocodile-infested swamps.

Joe, a half-caste stockman in love with Jedda, tracks the two for several days. They travel across high, rocky country, and down a river until Marbuck reaches his tribe. The tribal council declares that Marbuck has committed a serious crime by bringing Jedda to them, because she is not of the right 'skin' group. They sing his death song as punishment. Marbuck defies the elders and takes Jedda into an area of steep cliffs and canyons, taboo lands. Driven insane by the death song, he pulls Jedda with him over a tall cliff, and both perish. Joe, the narrator, says her spirit has joined "the great mother of the world, in the dreaming time of tomorrow."


  • Ngarla Kunoth as Jedda
  • Robert Tudawali as Marbuck
  • Betty Suttor as Sarah McMann[3]
  • Paul Reynall as Joe
  • George Simpson-Lyttle as Douglas McMann
  • Tas Fitzer as Peter Wallis
  • Wason Byers as Felix Romeo
  • Willie Farrar as Little Joe
  • Margaret Dingle as Little Jedda


Charles Chauvel says the original inspiration for the film came from a meeting he had in Hollywood in early 1950 with Merian C. Cooper. Cooper encouraged the director to make a film exploiting Australian locations. Chauvel was further encouraged along these lines by Bess Meredyth who had made a number of films in Australia in the 1920s.[4]

Chauvel decided to make the project in the Northern Territory. With his wife Elsa he made an extensive survey of the Territory later that year with the assistance of the Commonwealth government. He undertook colour tests, intending to make Australia's first colour [5][6] The Chauvels then wrote a screenplay, originally entitled The Northern Territory Story.

In 1951 Chauvel formed Chauvel Productions Ltd to make the film, with a notional capital of £500,000.[7][8] It went public in August 1951, offering 240,000 shares.[9]

Chauvel later claimed he turned down an American offer of $100,000 (£44,000) to finance the film because it was conditional upon Linda Darnell being cast in the lead.[10] Chauvel's regular backers Universal Pictures did not want to invest in the movie but Chauvel managed to secure finance from various businessmen, including Mainguard Australia Ltd.[11] It took the Chauvels 18 months to find a suitable filming location.


Filming started in May 1952, when the unit left Sydney for Darwin. By this stage the lead role of Jedda had still yet to be cast, but filming acting sequences did not begin until July.[12] Robert Tudawali was a full-blooded aboriginal from Melville Island.[13] Ngarla Kunoth was an Arunta woman from an inland mission station; she was selected over seven other actors screen tested and was cast by July.[14][15]

The shoot took five months to complete, plus post-production work done in Sydney. Most of the scenes were shot on the Coolibah Station in the Northern Territory, as well as at Stanley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge and Mary River in the north.

The Chauvels celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary during filming.[16] Wason Byers, who had a small role, was arrested for stealing over £1,000 worth of cattle.[17]

The production process was as laborious as the colour technique used, Gevacolor, could only be processed overseas in England. The film was fragile and heat-sensitive, which was a problem as the Northern Territory had a typically hot climate; during production, the film was stored in cool caves to protect it from deteriorating. By mid 1952 the film had incurred expenses of £24,673.[18]

The last roll of negative was destroyed in a plane crash on its way for developing in England. Chauvel re-shot these lost scenes at Kanangra Walls in the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves west of Sydney Cave Scenes were Filmed in the River Cave, Diamond Cave, Imperial Cave, and Mud Tunnels at Jenolan.[19] Editing and sound recorded were completed in London.

The music was written by Isador Goodman. Elsa Chauvel, the director's wife, replaced large parts of Goodman's score with old-fashioned commercial ‘mood’ music.


The film has its world premiere on 3 January 1955 but did not open in Sydney until May. Its commercial reception was solid rather than sensational: Charles Chauvel Productions Ltd received £17,915 from the film in May and June 1955. The company's name was changed to Jedda Ltd to help exploit the film.[20] In December 1956 Jedda Ltd reported a profit of £50,454 for the year to 30 June, reducing the debit balance in the production account to £69,697. The film had been successful in Australia but performed disappointingly overseas.[21]

The film was released in the UK as Jedda the Uncivilised.[22]

Some time after the film was completed and released in locations around the world, the film in Gevacolor was found to have faded from aging. In 1972 the film was reproduced from original tri-separations found in London.

This was Charles Chauvel's last feature film. He intended to adapt Kay Glasson Taylor's novel The Wars of the Outer March[23] but was hired by the BBC to make the TV series Walkabout. Before he could resume work on his feature projects he died on 11 November 1959.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chauval film cost £90,823.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 3 December 1954. p. 9. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Jedda". Retrieved 1 February 2009. 
  3. ^ "A Little Black Girl Who Would Not Cry.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 23 July 1953. p. 5 Section: Women's Section. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  4. ^ "Our Outback Is A Rich Field fur Film Makerss.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 31 August 1950. p. 2. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  5. ^ ""Herald" Saturday Magazine". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 9 September 1950. p. 11. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  6. ^ "Stark color film to be 'shot' in N.T.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 19 June 1951. p. 3. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  7. ^ "MOTION PICTURE FIRM IN SYDNEY.". The Canberra Times (ACT: National Library of Australia). 31 March 1951. p. 6. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  8. ^ "Chauvel To Make Film In N.T.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 19 June 1951. p. 5. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "CAPITAL FOR FILMS.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 15 August 1951. p. 7. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Forever Amber—but never Jedda role.". The Courier-Mail (Brisbane: National Library of Australia). 13 September 1952. p. 1. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  11. ^ "MAINGUARD'S INTERESTS.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 11 October 1955. p. 11. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  12. ^ "N. TERRITORY AS SCENE OF FIRST COLOUR FILM.". The Canberra Times (ACT: National Library of Australia). 19 May 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  13. ^ "MALE LEAD GOES HOME.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 13 April 1954. p. 12. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  14. ^ ""Jedda" and her foster family.". The Australian Women's Weekly (National Library of Australia). 9 June 1971. p. 2. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  15. ^ "Arunta Tribe Girl Star.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 30 July 1953. p. 6. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  16. ^ "Had Silver Wedding In Outback.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 5 June 1952. p. 9. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  17. ^ "N.T. Cattleman To Stand Trial.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 27 August 1953. p. 5. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 
  18. ^ "Progress cost of flim". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 10 December 1952. p. 9. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  19. ^ "He's out to prove the". The Courier-Mail (Brisbane: National Library of Australia). 25 July 1953. p. 2. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  20. ^ "Jedda a big success.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 23 November 1955. p. 13. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  21. ^ "Jedda's £50,454.". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 8 December 1956. p. 25. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  22. ^ "JEDDA will get new title for U.K.". The Sunday Times (Perth: National Library of Australia). 13 February 1955. p. 50. Retrieved 12 August 2012. 
  23. ^ "Mrs. Chauvel In Hollywood.". The Sydney Morning Herald (National Library of Australia). 9 December 1949. p. 9. Retrieved 25 August 2012. 

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