New Cinema History and Mapping

Flinders University academics Richard Maltby, Mike Walsh and postgraduate student Dylan Walker are members of a group applying what they call the New Cinema History to Australian cinema. Their interest is not so much in films, but in the circulation and consumption of films in specific locations. Along with researchers from the University of Wollongong, RMIT University, Deakin University and the Australian National University, they have been recipients of two ARC Discovery grants (Regional Markets and Local Audiences: Case Studies in Australian Cinema Consumption, 1928–1980 and Mapping the Movies: the changing nature of Australia’s cinema circuits and their audiences, 1956-1984.


Both projects are contributions to an emerging international trend in research into cinema history, that has shifted its focus away from the content of films to consider their circulation and consumption, and to examine the cinema as a site of social and cultural exchange. These ARC funding rounds have led the group to establish the Australian Cinemas Map as a resource for studying Australian cinema history and to undertake the research project Only at the Movies? Mapping the Contemporary Australian Cinema Market.

Mapping the Movies


Chief Investigators
Professor Richard Maltby (Flinders University)

Dr Michael Walsh (Flinders University)

Dr Kate Bowles (University of Wollongong)

Dr Colin Arrowsmith (RMIT)

Professor Deb Verhoeven (Deakin)

Professor Jill Matthews (ANU)


Mapping the Movies investigates the significance of Australian cinemas as sites of social and economic activity, focusing on the thirty-year period after the introduction of television. The project entails a related series of studies of cinema audiences and institutions in Australia over a period from the introduction of sound in the late 1920s to the 1970s. The studies consider Australian cinema as a social institution, investigating its social role in a series of communities and sub-cultures and also as a business involving the interactions of distribution, exhibition and audiences. The aim of the research is to study a series of moments in Australian cinema which is understood not to simply describe a production industry industry but rather the distribution and exhibition sectors.


This work seeks to understand how films moved through Australia, and found local audiences in a variety of locations and under a variety of conditions. These studies entail different historical moments, different regional areas, and different methodologies. The University of Wollongong's project involves oral history-based studies of cinemas and film-going in rural and regional New South Wales; Flinders University is examining the changes in the relation between distribution and exhibition during the period following the coming of sound; RMIT and Deakin Universities are studying the growth of Greek and Italian diasporic cinema circuits in the post-war period.


The Australian Cinemas Map



Flinders University Chief Investigators
Professor Richard Maltby

Dr Michael Walsh


Research Associate
Mr Dylan Walker


Project Website


The Australian Cinemas Map has been developed as an extension of the ARC project Mapping the Movies: the changing nature of Australia’s cinema circuits and their audiences, 1956-1984, a geodatabase of Australian cinemas, covering the period from 1948 to 1971 and based on a consistent dataset found in the trade journal Film Weekly, providing basic information on the ownership, location and capacity of approximately 4,000 venues.


A principal purpose of the Australian Cinemas Map is to provide an opportunity for crowdsourcing information about the venues, incorporating material available on the Web and from the interested public. The long-term aim is to combine archival, social and spatial data with oral histories to construct a GIS database of cinema venues and their neighbourhoods and to create maps of distribution practices and audience movements in order to analyse the responsiveness of cinemas and their audiences to social and cultural change.


A broader aim of the project is to develop a generic open source geodatabase for use by digital humanities researchers who want to map relatively small scale datasets. The system is focused around a database structure that supports the definition of objects with metadata, allowing additional objects to be added to the system without the need to significantly change the underlying database structure.


Only at the Movies? Mapping the Contemporary Australian Cinema Market


Chief Investigators

Professor Deb Verhoeven (Deakin University)

Professor Richard Maltby (Flinders University)

Dr Kate Bowles (University of Wollongong)

Dr Colin Arrowsmith (RMIT)

Dr Bronwyn Coate (RMIT)


Only at the Movies? is a three-year project that asks: ‘What is the enduring appeal of cinema-going and how is it changing?’ The project investigates the combination of business practices and social behaviours that together sustain cinema attendance in contemporary Australia, where cinemas remain the most popular cultural venue. The research uses a unique combination of economic, cultural and geospatial analysis to identify the factors connecting film distribution and exhibition to everyday practices of cinema attendance at local, regional and national levels. It will provide improved understanding about the impact of cinemas on community amenity and public participation in social spaces.


This is the first major research project to combine economic, business and demographic mapping of contemporary media consumption in Australia with qualitative studies of audience practice. Its contemporary focus constitutes an extension of the research team’s historical analysis of the circulation of cinema in Australia, and develops our research methodology to exploit the opportunities provided by automated data collection. One of its outputs will be a digital atlas of cinema practice, which will improve understanding of precisely when, where and why audiences attend the cinema, from metropolitan arthouses to country town community centres.


This research will be the first opportunity for observing and analysing comprehensive patterns of cinema distribution, exhibition and attendance yet undertaken anywhere in the world. The findings will assist the Australian film industry’s strategic planning, allowing researchers to better understand patterns of demand, and industry to better manage the supply of Australian-produced films, which often fail commercially because of poorly informed distribution strategies.