The Coolbaroo Club

Director Roger Scholes / 1996 / Australia

This powerhouse documentary, gloriously restored by the National Film and Sound Archive, chronicles how a haven of Indigenous dance and activism arose from segregated postwar Perth.

Nat “King” Cole, the Harlem Globetrotters and Harold Blair all walked through the venue’s doors, so why don’t we know the name ‘The Coolbaroo Club’? Running from 1946 to 1960, this Perth establishment was the brainchild of returned Indigenous WWII soldiers who, facing segregation and violence, turned an unassuming community hall into the only Aboriginal-run club in the entire city. While it was a site for socialising and partying without the threat of harassment or discrimination, it also became a cradle for political activity: it was there that the newspaper The Westralian Aborigine was born, and it was also the meeting point for many local activists organising for Indigenous rights.

In 1996, Tasmanian director Roger Scholes (The Tale of Ruby Rose; The Valley, MIFF 1992), working with Miriwoong Marda Marda writer and producer Steve Kinnane, sought to change the historical fate of the trailblazing but largely forgotten institution through this trenchant but tender documentary. Diving into the venue’s 14-year history, Scholes (who passed away last year) brings a dramatic and elegant touch to this story, seamlessly melding archival images and interviews with colourful, kinetic recreations of jazz performances and dance-floor euphoria – all without ever losing sight of the injustices occurring just outside the club’s walls.

“Dignified and scathing … Lifts the lid on postwar relations in this country.” – Robert Drewe, Sydney Morning Herald (1996)


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Producers Steve Kinnane and Penny Robins will be in attendance for the screening on Saturday 19 August.

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