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Cinema industry trends
Historical data sources

‘Entertainment taxes’ as a source of admissions data

Direct taxes, generally referred to as ‘entertainment taxes’, were imposed by the Commonwealth Government on cinema tickets under various schemes from 1919 to 1953. Taxed cinema admissions were reported in the Entertainment Tax Reports to the Commonwealth Parliament and later in the annual reports of the Australian Commission for Taxation. Both sources have been used by various authors to obtain attendance figures for selected years over the period.

However, these figures understate total attendances as they don’t include admissions not subject to entertainment tax – generally the cheaper cinema seats were exempt. It is difficult to make any reasonable estimate for the number of additional non-taxed admissions between 1919 and 1953 as the application of the tax as well as ticket prices and attendance patterns varied considerably over the period.

The omission of the non-taxable admissions from quoted figures may have been particularly significant in some years, such as during the Depression. In 1932, taxable admissions fell by 46 per cent, although the decrease in total admissions is thought to have been only 23 per cent, with economic hardship driving more people to purchase cheaper (non-taxed) seats.

Between 1943 and 1953, entertainment tax was levied on cinema admission prices of one shilling and over. In the early years a considerable number of admissions (including most of those by children) were exempt from the tax. The magnitude of the exempt admissions is not known, but some attempts at estimates have been made (Smyth 1976, 20). The ticket price rose substantially over the period, and from 1950/51 children were generally charged more than one shilling. Hence the taxable admissions figures for 1951 to 1953 are likely to be closer to the total cinema admissions for these years.

Sources: Collins 1987, 16-17; 271-272; Smyth 1976, 10-12, 211-212.

Sources and acknowledgements

For this history and background of the cinema industry and admissions, Screen Australia would like to acknowledge the contribution of all the scholars and commentators whose work is listed here in addition to those listed in the source and notes at the end of each table.

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics 1997. Australian Demographic Trends 1997, Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.
  • Baxter, John 1970. The Australian Cinema, Angus & Robertson.
  • Beilby, Peter and Ross Lansell 1982, Australian Motion Picture Yearbook 1983, Thomas Nelson Australia and Roscope Publishers.
  • Betrand, Ina (ed.) 1989. Cinema in Australia: A Documentary History, Kensington, NSW: New South Wales University Press.
  • Cinema Papers, March–April 1975.
  • Collins, Diane 1987. Hollywood Downunder: Australians at the Movies 1896 to the Present Day, North Ryde, NSW: Angus & Robertson.
  • Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), Culture and Recreational portal, www.acn.net.au; accessed May 2002.
  • King, Barrie and Bruce Hodson, undated. Travelling Exhibitors: The Corricks, National Library of Australia, Guides to the Film Studies Collection; published online; accessed February 2002.
  • Long, Chris 1993a. ‘Australia’s First Films: Fact and Fables – Part 1’, Cinema Papers no. 91: January.
  • Long, Chris 1993b. ‘Australia’s First Films: Fact and Fables – Part 2’, Cinema Papers no. 92: April.
  • Long, Chris 1996. ‘Australian Cinema 1894–1904’, Cinema Papers no. 110: June.
  • Murray, Scott (ed.) 1991. Le Cinéma Australien, translation under the direction of Claudine Thoridnet, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou.
  • Murray, Scott (ed.) 1994. Australian Cinema, St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin in association with the Australian Film Commission.
  • O’Brien, Terry 1985. The Greater Union Story 1910–1985: 75 Years of Cinema in Australia, Sydney: The Greater Union Organisation Pty Limited.
  • Pannell, Andrew 1997. ‘Australian Historical Cinema Admissions 1900 to 1996’. Unpublished research compiled for Hoyts.
  • Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia, 1928. Canberra: Government Printer.
  • Sabine, James (ed.) 1995. A Century of Australian Cinema. Port Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia.
  • Shirley, Graham and Brian Adams 1983. Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, Angus & Robertson.
  • Smyth, Thomas Mervyn 1976. Economic Aspects of Film Distribution and Exhibition in Australia. Unpublished thesis for Master of Commerce (Hons) at University of NSW, Sydney.
  • Tariff Board 1973. Motion Picture Films and Television Programs 30 June 1973, Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.