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‘Limelight’ film company takes center stage

The original key players in the Limelight Department story. Photos courtesy of The Salvation Army’s Heritage Centre

The original key players in the Limelight Department story. Photos courtesy of The Salvation Army’s Heritage Centre

 

A new publication gives The Salvation Army’s “Limelight Department” long overdue recognition.

By Buffy Lincoln

The Salvation Army’s Heritage Centre in Sydney, Australia, recently sent delegates to the launch of “Picture Shows in the Marrickville and Newtown Districts 1898-2012,” a book written by Robert Parkinson.

The first chapter of the book includes information and photographs of The Salvation Army’s Limelight Department film company, known for its trailblazing work in promoting the struggling motion picture industry in Australia over 100 years ago.

Captain Joseph Perry used media to illustrate his sermons and lectures.

Captain Joseph Perry used media to illustrate his sermons and lectures.

When Captain Joseph Perry set up his own photographic studio and darkroom and used his own glass lantern slides to make visuals for his sermons in 1901, he did not realize the media domino effect he would set into motion. So impressive was his work, he received a request from Major Frank Barritt, from The Salvation Army’s Melbourne Headquarters, to come to Melbourne to create an advertisement for an upcoming visit by William Booth. The presentation went well, and out of it came Barritt and Perry’s creation of The Salvation Army “Limelight Department.”

When Commandant Herbert Booth became territorial commander in 1897, he authorized the purchase of additional equipment, including three gramophones and a cinematographe machine. These purchases led to the establishment of Australia’s first film production unit.

From 1892 to 1909, Limelight completed many firsts, including “Social Salvation,” first narrative film on social work; “Soldiers of the Cross,” first presentation involving a mix of moving film, glass slides, oratory and music; “Inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth,” first feature length documentary; first registered film production company; “Under Southern Skies,” first Australian history documentary; and “Bushranging in North Queensland,” first bushranging drama.

The Heritage Centre’s invitation to the book launch came in recognition of the support and assistance it gave Parkinson in his search for material on the Limelight Department. Major Reta Brown, coordinator, and Jan Pack, administrative assistant, represented The Salvation Army Heritage Centre.

The book can be purchased at shop.nationaltrust.com.au.

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