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Production   /  Ryan Hodgson

The White Divers

In 1912, in the remote Australian town of Broome, they try a dangerous idea. They call it the White Experiment.


Impact areas



  • DIRECTOR Sally Aitken

  • PRODUCER Ryan Hodgson, Melissa Kelly



In 1907 Loch Striven in Scotland is being used to test new theories about the dangers of deep water diving. Data tables for Navy Sea Divers are formulated here to enable man to dive deeper and longer, to the very edge of human limits. In 1912 These tables will accompany twelve ex-navy men, divers and their tenders, to one of the most isolated places in the Empire, Broome. Their mission is to break the hold Asian divers have over the pearling industry and make it comply with the Australian Government’s newly enacted, White Australia Policy.

What unfolds is a tragic tale. A fatal collision of pride, greed, politics and power. Ironically, the story ends with Broome standing defiantly against The White Australia Policy, cemented in history as Australia’s first truly multicultural town. But this independence came at a terrible cost. All of the British divers are struck down by paralyses. Three of them die. THE WHITE DIVERS is their remarkable, untold story.

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0% funded
  • $250,000.00

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  • September 2019

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Issue Summary

A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing

In the current political climate – where Trump wants to build a wall, Europe struggles with a flood of North African immigrants, Australia debates how best to manage asylum seeker arrivals and many western democracies face the rise of ultra-nationalist movements, this is a story about who belongs where, how exactly that is determined and the consequences (intended or otherwise) of protectionism. It is also a film about Australia’s long, complicated and enormously important relationship with Asia. And given our geographical proximity and extremely close economic ties to the continent – 11 of Australia’s top 15 trading partners are Asian countries, the history of that relationship and how it has helped shape the present and may yet shape the future, is a story well worth telling.


What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?

We want to promote a better understanding of Australia’s long cultural and economic relationship with Asia, our rich multicultural past, and the economic and cultural diversity of our remote and isolated regions. Specifically Broome and the West Kimberley. An extraordinary place with a remarkable past.


What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?

To engage, entertain and enlighten a wide national and international audience with a little known, yet remarkable (and still relevant) chapter of Australia's history.

To provoke a discussion about who belongs where, how exactly that is determined and the consequences (intended or otherwise) of immigration restrictions.

To promote and celebrate the economic, cultural and ethnic diversity of Broome and the West Kimberley.

To promote a better understanding of Australia’s long, and enormously important cultural and economic relationship with Asia.


How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?

By securing the following:
A modest, but well promoted national theatrical release.
Screenings on national and international traditional broadcast, subscription or streaming platforms.
The use of the film (and an associated study guide and/or the underlying non-fiction novel) in secondary and tertiary curriculums.
Screenings promoted and/or hosted by Asian-Australian cultural or economic organisations.


How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?

The film overlaps the stories explored in the WA Museum’s exhibition “Lustre: Pearling & Australia”. Lustre toured to museums in Sydney, Melbourne, Townsville, Canberra and Adelaide. We have met with the WA Museum to discuss partnering with these museums to promote the film to their combined social media and newsletter followings. We have also opened discussions with Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) regarding how it can promote the release of the film to secondary and tertiary students and teachers. We also plan to engage ATOM to create a Study Guide for the film.

We have also spoken to the Kimberley Development Commission about partnering with it, the Shire of Broome, Tourism WA and Australia’s North West Tourism to target residents and holidaymakers in the West Kimberley. We hope by doing this and screening in Broome in advance of the rest of Australia, the film will enjoy both good local box office numbers and the spread of positive word of mouth as holiday makers return home.

Audience Engagement and Social Impact

What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?

We hope our audience leaves the film with the following:

An appreciation that history doesn’t need to be old or tired. That it can be dramatic, emotional, compelling and entertaining. And that because of this they seek out other historical stories that talk to them about who we are as Australians today.

An appreciation of the one-time considerable economic significance of the pearl shell industry to the Australian economy. And the enormous contributions made to that industry by indentured Asian and Indigenous labourers.

A desire to meaningfully discuss the idea of who belongs where and how exactly that should be determined. And to challenge any attempt to again use race or ethnicity as a reason to prevent people from immigrating to Australia.

A better understanding of the economic, cultural and ethnic diversity of regional Australia. Particularly Broome and the West Kimberley. And their long-standing (it pre-dates white settlement) and important relationship with Asia.

Measurement and Evaluation

What is the projects indicators for success?

We will measure the film's success by:

The size of the film's Australian box office and/or attendance figures at local festival and museum screenings.

Viewing numbers when the film is broadcast and/or streamed.

The number of territories the film sells to internationally.

The publicity for/and reviews of the film (principally in Australia, but also in any territory where the film is screened, broadcast or streamed).

Audience reviews and ratings (on IMDB and other audience rating platforms).

Download figures for the film's study guide and the incorporation of the film into secondary and/or tertiary curriculums.

Direct positive feedback from students, teachers, high schools and/or universities.

The number of screenings promoted and/or hosted by Asian-Australian cultural or economic organisations.