Frederick Sydney Wood (1914-1983), film cameraman, was born on 26 September 1914 at Redfern, Sydney, child of Sydney-born parents Frederick Sydney Wood, linotype operator, and his wife Olive Ross, née Young. Syd’s younger brother, Ross Matthew (1916-1980), also a film cameraman, was born on 5 August 1916 at Paddington, Sydney. They were educated locally, and both joined the Bronte Surf Club. Ross was also a member of the gymnastics club, and said later that this helped him understand how to film body posture and movement.
With the Depression under way, Syd had various jobs, including in a newspaper office, before he obtained a position with Fox Movietone News in 1931 as their office boy. Ross joined Movietone in 1933, first helping Hugh McInnes who was filming cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and soon after becoming the office boy when Syd moved into the cutting room as editor. One of the office boy’s tasks was to go to the State Theatrette every Friday to watch the latest newsreels and jot down the stories to make sure Movietone was not being scooped and did not duplicate any stories the following week.
During the 1930s Syd worked mainly in the cutting room, becoming chief editor in 1934, while Ross became an assistant-cameraman. Believing it would enhance his skills in the film industry, Ross studied art at East Sydney Technical College in 1936-39. He said that this training gave him essential grounding in colour, balance, composition and design. Syd married Joyce Hunter Morison (d.1960), a commercial artist, on 29 April 1939 at St Mary’s Church of England, Waverley. Six weeks later, on 10 June 1939 at St Barnabas’s Church of England, Waverley, Ross married Mary Iris Sinclair, a finance clerk. On 19 January 1963 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney, Syd married Patricia Isabella Dunn, née Waldron, an office manageress; they later divorced.
Syd enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 24 April 1942 and, after initial training, was transferred to the staff of the director-general of public relations in Melbourne. Promoted to sergeant in October, he served with New Guinea Force until March 1943. He then took up duties with the Military History Section, Allied Forces Land Headquarters, Melbourne, where he worked with Australian artists and writers such as (Sir) Ivor Hele, (Sir) William Dargie and Jon Cleary, and began his career as a cameraman. In June 1944 he was promoted to lieutenant. From August that year to May 1945 and from July to November 1945 he travelled with the section’s field team, filming military activities in the South-West Pacific Area. Returning to Australia, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 6 February 1946. For several months during the war Ross worked in the Pacific as a war correspondent for Movietone News.
After the war, enjoying opportunities for travel and self-expression as a newsreel cameraman, Syd worked in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, and covered Australia’s top news stories such as the Redex car trials and the 1955 Maitland floods. David Elfick, a film writer and producer, considered Syd’s coverage of the floods to be his finest story. He shot Movietone’s film, Wings and the Primitive (c.1952), in colour.