Historic photos and film clips

Roads and Maritime's YouTube channel

Roads and Maritime holds an extensive archive of historic films related to road building projects. We are in the process of digitising this archive, and publish the films on our YouTube channel as they become available.

Sample film: Alice in Blunderland - road safety film (1947)

National Film and Sound Archive

The National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) is the national audiovisual archive, collecting, preserving and sharing the nation’s moving image and recorded sound heritage.

The NFSA has recently established australianscreen, an online promotional and educational resource providing worldwide access to information about the Australian film and television industry.

Australianscreen contains information about and excerpts from a wide selection of Australian feature films, corporate and government documentaries, television programs, newsreels, short films, animations, and home-movies produced over the last 100 years.

Roads and Maritime has provided a selection of films from its vast audiovisual library to the NFSA for inclusion on the australianscreen website. These films depict a range of significant projects, and are important items of our nation's technical, social and organisational film heritage.

View selected clips from these historic films.

From the Skies exhibition

In 1943 aircraft flew at 2600 metres over Sydney to take, for the first time, a series of photographs to aid road planning. The unique photographs had been held in the archives of Roads and Maritime Services for more than 60 years. They provide an extraordinary snapshot of the city during World War II, such as US army tents on Warwick Farm Racecourse.

Following on from the successful From the Skies exhibition at the Museum of Sydney last year, you can order the CD-Rom or posters from the Transport Library or the NSW Government online bookshop.


The CD-Rom From the Skies – 1943 aerial photography contains all of the greater Sydney 1943 aerial photographs as a navigable map so you can search streets and try to find your house. There are also interviews with photogrammetry staff. The cost of the CD-Rom is $39.95 (including GST).


The A1 size posters provide a fascinating insight into the development of Australia’s biggest city. There are 10 different posters available of the following areas:

  • Sydney CBD
  • Homebush Bay
  • Warwick Farm
  • North Sydney
  • Baulkham Hills
  • Port Botany
  • Sydney Airport
  • Maroubra
  • Marsfield and Macquarie Park
  • Strathfield

Each poster shows both the 1943 aerial photograph and its modern-day equivalent. They show how a number of sites have changed remarkably – the diversion of Cooks River at Sydney Airport, the development of reclaimed land at Port Botany, the building of the Sydney Opera House in Sydney city and Homebush Bay is now home to Sydney’s Olympic Park. In contrast, other sites have remained largely unchanged, like the residential area of Strathfield.

The cost of each poster is $14.95 (including GST) RMS cannot provide individual aerial photographs other than the posters of the 10 areas.

To order

You can order online with your credit card at the NSW Government Online Bookshop.

Alternatively, phone the Transport Library on (02) 8745 6065 or email Transport Library (payment can be made by credit card, cheque or money order).

From the Skies Frequently Asked Questions

  • The 1170 frames taken in the winter of 1943 offer a complete picture of the city and much of the surrounding areas. The aircraft flew 37 mainly east-west, straight line runs (such as from Smithfield to Watsons Bay) at around 2600 metres, taking about 45 separate photographs in each run. Each photo overlapped the previous by approximately 60 per cent. On the return run (such as from Vaucluse to Canley Heights) the photography overlapped the adjacent run’s coverage by about 30 per cent.

    The camera (probably a Fairchild reconnaissance camera) produced large negatives - 164 mm by 222 mm - and recorded on each negative were the frame number, time, date and the altitude of each exposure.

    An instrument called an “intervalometer” was used to allow the camera to accurately register the frames. Today, a global positioning system (GPS) is used in conjunction with a computer which calculates the average height of the terrain and how often it has to fire the camera shutter.

    While modern technology has resulted in more accurate cameras and lenses, the quality of the black and white images is excellent for the 1940s.

    The aerial photographs were painstakingly preserved by Roads and Maritime Services (replacing Roads and Traffic Authority) as a part of Sydney’s heritage.

  • The first aerial photography of parts of greater Sydney was undertaken in the late 1920s by Federal agencies such as the Defence Department. It appears that the 1943 photographs were the first taken for the purposes of road planning.

    Aerial photography of Sydney is undertaken at various photo scales on a regular basis. Its main purpose for Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) is to link with on-ground surveying to determine the location of new roads and to guide the improvement of existing roads. Today, aerial photography is done mainly by commercial companies who make the images available for different uses. The photographs from 2000-2004 were kindly provided by Sinclair Knight Merz Pty. Ltd. which has contracted aerial photography in more recent years.

  • Roads and Maritime Services cannot provide individual aerial photographs other than the posters of the 10 areas.
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