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Australia's First Filmed Traffic Accident, Circa 1905

Australia's First Filmed Traffic Accident, Circa 1905
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Few lessons are more eternal than look both ways before crossing the street. It doesn't matter if you're an earbud-wearing Millennial stepping into a stream of hybrid cars, or a Clovis hunter walking into a stomping trail for mastodons, it never hurts to double-check you're not about to get smashed by something big and fast.

The value of pedestrian situational awareness is underscored in this singular film from the 1920s, of a roadway accident that was actually shot in March 1905 in a suburb of Melbourne. The originally silent documentary, kept in the storerooms of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, was meant as a pleasant promo for sea-biscuit manufacturer Swallow & Ariell's. The company sold hard, doughy nuggets to sailing crews and later the general world; three decades after it was established in the 1850s, the biscuitry was reportedly the fifth-biggest factory on the planet.

Allow the contemporary narrator of the video, a YouTuber who grew up in Melbourne in the 70s and 80s, to set the stage for this unfortunate incident. (And kudos to his eagle-eye for spotting tween workers in bare feet, cause for multiple violations in most modern factories.) Here's the short of it: The employees pour forth from the bakery, some in a rather clownish manner. But one guy didn't look both ways – either because he was in a biscuit coma or, as the film archive's subtitles suggest, he was "transfixed by the camera's presence."

A horse then barreled into him with the power of a rolling boulder. The pedestrian "sustained a severe head injury," the film archive notes. It marked Australia's "earliest filmed road-traffic accident known to survive." For a brief moment, the trampled victim was both a piece of the horse, and of history.

To add insult to hoof-maul, the footage indicates he was next run over by a smaller animal. Comments one viewer: "If the horse didn't send him flying, the dog would have. ;)"

Have a look; the action starts right away and the rest is a more peaceful second take:

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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