The Australian Story episode Into the Lion’s Den showcases some rare, colour footage of Special Operations Australia commandos training in secret during World War II.

Shot in the remote bush of Fraser Island in Queensland, well away from the public gaze, it is a glimpse into the world of espionage and the art of killing as taught more than 70 years ago.

The commandos were being trained for operations behind the Japanese lines throughout South-East Asia.

The vision shows the men learning how to use weapons, setting limpet mines to blow up shipping, practising bush survival skills and fighting in unarmed combat. It is entertaining, yet chilling.

The footage came to light when director Graham Shirley was recording interviews for the Defence Department with members of Special Operations Australia (commonly referred to as Z Special Unit) veterans, many of whom have since died.

“I didn’t know the footage existed … and then a couple of the guys I was talking to mentioned they’d been filmed in passing,” Mr Shirley said.

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Mr Shirley tracked down a can of Kodachrome 16mm film at the Army training headquarters in Sydney and found a tantalising treasure trove documenting the beginnings of Australia’s first commando force.

“I thought it was a wonderful find and it ticks so many boxes: it’s well shot, the colour’s well preserved, it’s an evocative glimpse of the World War II era,” he said.

“I thought it was superb. What really brings World War II to life is colour.

“The Americans filmed the war in colour — look at The Battle of Midway — but it was expensive and most of Australia’s war correspondents worked in black and white.”

Read more at ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)