From Australia’s Jewish Past: Newman Hirsh Rosenthal  – educator, historian and writer

April 18, 2023 by Features Desk
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Newman, the eldest of three children, was born on 8 August 1898 in Ballarat, Victoria to orthodox and traditional parents Mark – a pawnbroker and salesman – and Sarah. 

Both his parents and his maternal grandparents were actively involved in Ballarat’s Jewish community, his father having served as the Synagogue’s President.

We are unable to find an image of Rosenthal.

In 1917, after completing secondary education at Ballarat Agricultural High School, Newman studied teaching through the Victorian Education Department and returned to his former school as a junior teacher. The following year he enrolled in science at the University of Melbourne and completed his secondary school teaching degree with the Melbourne Teachers’ College.  After graduating with a B.Sc and B.A. in 1922, he resigned from the Department of Education and joined the staff at Xavier College Kew, where he remained as a chemistry master until 1950.  Interestingly, he married a fellow teacher, Adelaide, at the St Kilda Synagogue in 1927, and they had two children.

On 12 November 1941, Newman was appointed as an education officer in the Royal Australian Air Force with the rank of flight lieutenant.  He was promoted to squadron leader in 1942 and then headed the Visual Training Section at Albert Park.  Here they produced instructional films and film strips.  The main training film, which he produced in collaboration with the Directorate of RAAF Training, was used to show advancement through recruit training to various Air Force trades.  In July 1944, the section was transferred to the University of Melbourne, and he was appointed as director – a position he was to continue with until his retirement on 30 April 1966.  Later he joined the RAAF Reserve and carried out full-time duty from March to July 1951 and from October to December 1952 in the position of an acting wing commander.  The university’s visual aids centre continued to produce films and film strips for the armed services, as well as for Australian educational institutions. It also began to investigate the use of new technologies and Newman was particularly interested in the telecommunications medium of television.  From 1955 he directed the university’s television research program and pioneered research into its use in teaching.

In 1951, he travelled to Britain, Europe and the US to study the educational use of films and television and again in 1955, still in the RAAF, Newman had the opportunity to again visit the US and university visual aid centres.  Throughout his professional life, he continued to travel to Europe and North America to undertake investigations and represent the university at international conferences on the use of visual aids for educational purposes. His research focused on audience reactions to films, especially that of children and adolescents.  He believed education should avail itself of new technologies and advocated high-quality programs and the teaching of critical-viewing skills.  His early published work included films – Their Use and Misuse (1945), A Teachers’ Manual (1947) and In Our Lives (1953).  His expertise was recognised by his appointment as Foundation President in 1950 of the Victorian Council for Children’s Films (and Television), a position he held until 1954 and joined the State Film Centre Council in 1948, remaining a member until 1979.

Although scientific pursuits were predominant in his professional life, Newman’s interests extended into the humanities.  He was very attracted to literature which was quite fitting, as the family had a long association with it – his maternal grandfather, Newman Spielvogel, had been a scholar and newspaper correspondent, and his uncle, Nathan Spielvogel, was a writer, historian and teacher of repute.   In 1919 Newman was the editor of The Trainee – the Teachers’ College Journal; editor from 1926 of the Australian Jewish Herald, and later the Australian Jewish News. He wrote institutional histories and biographies (including that of Sir Albert Coates and Sir Charles Lowe), frequently contributed to daily newspapers, and reviewed many books about Jewish history and culture. A great deal of his writing reflected an interest in the history of Jewish settlement in Australia and in Jewish customs and faith.  His published work on Victorian Jewish history included Look Back with Pride in 1971, a study of the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation, and Formula for Survival, both written in 1979 and an account of the Ballarat Hebrew Congregation.

He cared very much for the environment and wrote on such matters as pollution and water conservation.  He was awarded an MBE in 1979.  Newman passed away on 31 January 1986 at Kew.

Published works by Newman Rosenthal include

Look Back with Pride – The St Kilda Hebrew Congregation’s First Century

Sir Charles Lowe – A Biographical Memoir

The Uncompromising Truth – Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948

Formula for Survival – The Saga of the Ballarat Hebrew Congregation

The Albert Coates Story – The Will that Found the Way – Co-author Albert Coates


The AJHS acknowledges the following references in the preparation of this story:-

Australian Dictionary of Biography – Carol Hooper; The Jews in Victoria – Hilary L Rubinstein; Australian War Memorial – Peace to War – A RAAF Training Film; University of Melbourne Archives


The Australian Jewish Historical Society is the keeper of archives from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 right up to today. Whether you are searching for an academic resource, an event, a picture or an article, AJHS can help you find that piece of historical material. The AJHS welcomes your contributions to the archives. If you are a descendent of someone of interest with a story to tell, or you have memorabilia which might be of significance for the archives, please make contact via or its Facebook page.

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