Forty Years since First Contact: Revisiting the classic documentary by Bob Connolly and the late Robin Anderson, in conversation with Professor Martin Thomas

Bob Connolly filming in PNG with Ganiga leaders, 1986

First Contact (1983) is the Oscar-nominated documentary about the Leahy brothers, gold-hungry Queenslanders who explored New Guinea in the 1930s. Armed with guns and trade goods, they were typical colonials in search of El Dorado. But in one way they were different: they travelled with a movie camera.

Mick Leahy’s footage of first encounters with Highlanders who had never seen white people is gold of a different order. It formed the backbone for one of the great cinematic statements about the clash between tradition and modernity. The filmmakers were husband-and-wife duo Robin Anderson and Bob Connolly who arranged for Leahy’s historic footage to be stabilised and preserved in the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA). In making the documentary, they filmed extensively in PNG where two of the Leahy brothers and many Highlanders who remembered the first encounters were willing to be interviewed.

In this richly visual presentation, Bob Connolly will talk about history, politics and filmmaking, and discuss his creative partnership with Robin Anderson who died in 2002. Bob Connolly will be in conversation with Martin Thomas.

Excerpts from First Contact will be shown during the seminar. You are welcome to attend a full screening at 1 pm on 26 October at the Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archives, followed by a Q&A with Bob Connolly and Mark McKenna. Free entry but bookings essential:

Bob Connolly is widely regarded as Australia’s pre-eminent documentary filmmaker. He first trained as a journalist at the Australian Broadcast Corporation and spent a decade there as a foreign correspondent, current affairs reporter and documentary filmmaker. He and Robin Anderson received many awards, nationally and internationally, for First Contact and later productions including Joe Leahy’s Neighbours, Black Harvest, and Rats in the Ranks.

Martin Thomas is professor in the ANU School of History. He has written about First Contact in his forthcoming book, A Cultural History of Exploration in the Modern Era (Bloomsbury 2024).

Please note that the School of History seminars will run in-person only this semester.

Date & time

Wed 25 Oct 2023, 4.15–5.30pm


RSSS Auditorium, Ground Floor (Level 1), RSSS Building, ANU, 146 Ellery Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601


Bob Connolly


School of History


David Romney Smith


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