“Wheels Across Australia” is an expedition documentary by Belgian-born filmmaker Armand Denis about a trip across Australia in Dodge trucks in the late 1940s. The color film, presented by the Dodge Dealers of America, opens with Denis and his wife, Michaela, in Australia as they map out a journey from Adelaide, South Australia north through the central deserts to Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. “The equipment? Dodge, of course,” we’re told at mark 01:22 as the camera pans vehicles loaded with tents, camping gear, and film equipment. We view the pleasant suburbs of South Australia’s capital city (mark 01:49) as well as the surrounding flora and fauna. Flocks of exotic birds take to sky starting at mark 05:00, as a film crew stops to photograph a blue mountain parrot and rescue a baby bird starting at mark 07:00 before unearthing an echidna (spiny anteater) at mark 08:07. (Echidna are are the only surviving members of the order Monotremata and are the only living mammals that lay eggs). There are scenes of baby kangaroos (mark 08:52) as well as adults. Driving through the Australian desert the camera pans across gaunt animal carcasses, the victims of thirst (mark 11:10) and survivors of the environment such as the skink lizard (mark 11:25) and a frilled lizard. Mark 13:35 takes us to Ayers Rock, a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of the Northern Territory, and we spend more than 10 minutes with Aborigines starting at mark 14:08 before cutting through a mangrove swamp (mark 28:23) to photograph bats before finally reaching the northern coast (mark 30:20).

Armand Georges Denis (2 December 1896 – 15 April 1971) was a Belgian-born documentary filmmaker. After several decades of pioneering work in filming and presenting the ethnology and wildlife of remote parts of Africa and Asia, he became best known in Britain as the director and co-presenter of natural history programmes on television in the 1950s and 1960s, with his second wife Michaela.

After moving to Hollywood he worked as a cameraman, and began film-making with André Roosevelt, a first cousin once-removed of Theodore Roosevelt. In 1928, Denis and Roosevelt traveled to Bali to make Goona Goona (also known as The Kriss), a compilation of authentic expedition footage with a dramatic plotline involving a romance between a Balinese prince and a servant girl. The movie was first released in 1930 and in a version called Love Powder, edited to conform to American censorship restrictions, in 1932. It started a craze for all things Balinese, and “Goona-goona”, originally a Javanese term for love magic, became a slang expression for “sexually exciting”. The film’s success brought Denis to the attention of the cinema industry, and in 1934 he directed Wild Cargo, starring adventurer and animal collector Frank Buck.

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