Trove Detective: Craig Baynes’ 1950 film ‘Undertow’

Have you visited the National Film & Sound Archive either online, or at their offices in Canberra or elsewhere? While investigating further research on the ballet dancer Queenie Royal, I came across an interesting article on her husband Craig Baynes, who was a film producer. This film review was intriguing and meant I had to visit the Sydney Office of of the National Film & Sound Archive, at Pyrmont. If you are interested in surf life saving or surfing history you might like to visit & view it at the NFSA in Canberra or elsewhere. It’s not digitised or online yet but there is some great vintage footage.


The review said: Craig Baynes, who produced the film, claims it is in the screen-dream class and is a new sort of documentary with an emotional instead of an intellectual appeal. His approach to the documentary film is as unorthodox as, say, a contemporary artist’s attitude to painting compared with that of a disciple of the old masters.

After viewing the film, I wondered about these comments as it seemed fairly typical of modern documentaries. However, the article also mentioned that Baynes had originally been a news reel camera man. As this was soon after World War Two this may explain the changes that we take for granted today.

Undertow focussed on Baynes’ impressions of Surf Life Saving Clubs in Sydney and Australia. The article said he had arrived here from England about 1948. The film was both informative, even technical, as well as descriptive and picturesque, and entertaining.

  1. What is an ‘undertow’ & why we need surf life savers & clubs.
  2. Detailed explanation of how life savers rescue ‘bathers’ in trouble with a tow rope followed by resuscitation. The life savers are skilled volunteers who have to train & even pay membership to save lives. The drilling is very militaristic but the reasons why are explained. It’s simply that marching is the easiest way to cross the sand, although you can’t help but be aware of the recent shadow of war. This footage is excellent from a historical perspective as it shows exactly what was done & how.
  3. An interlude which highlights the power and majesty of the sea, especially if people hadn’t swum before or visited the sea. There is both a narrator and a soundtrack which reflects the pace and mood of the images. Craig Baynes actually introduces the film himself and describes the surf and man as the principal characters in this film. The narration includes wonderful language such as ‘wind & wave combine in wild majestic fury’ or ‘when the irresistible force of the surf meets the immoveable mass of this rocky coastline, the sea has almost met its match’.
  4. Surf boats are described and their use is demonstrated both on land and in heavy seas which is an interesting comparison to modern day power boats. Here the viewer is drawn into both the drama of the surf lifesaver’s rescuing bather’s and even the battle against sharks which are supposedly chased away with harpoons! Defending the nation against sharks has strong military overtones as it talks about casualties, the front line of defence and the need for keeping a constant lookout & patrols. Once again, excellent historical footage.
  5. Even surf boards are featured to show the athleticism & lighter side of being a lifesaver. Another historical delight!
  6.  The competitive side of Surf Life Saving culture & the camaraderie between men (no women here). Their carnivals are competitive and tough but at the same time are likened to ‘all the fun of the fair’. Their motto of ‘Vigilence & Service’ is considered worthy of these noble life savers.
  7. Here are the credits:
    Cinematographer/Director of photography: Peter Dimond
    Director: Craig Baynes
    Music director: Leo White and His Orchestra (The Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra)
    Narrator: Bill Eldridge
    Producer: Craig Baynes
    Production company: Commonwealth Film Laboratories
  8. Sorry, no pictures from ‘Undertow’ as yet but I am checking out the copyright. I wonder what Baynes’ brief was from the Commonwealth Film Commission. If the film was shown at the Savoy Theatre in Sydney, has a poster survived somewhere?

Apparently, there was a ‘film making boom in Australia’ during 1950 and although, Craig Baynes also worked on a 1950 full length feature film about two boys with a prize bull at Sydney Show called “Bonza the Bull”, he is not yet listed on the NFSA’s heritage listing of people or titles at ASO-Australian Screen.  Perhaps, this may change in the future. The NFSA also have the script for Bonza but that’s all. Baynes also has a short film that I’m sure car enthusiasts will love to hear about in the future. Please let me know if you have any other information about Craig Baynes or any of his other films, as only a few seem to have survived.



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