The Northern Territory and JEDDA

Posted by scarlsson at 10:00, September 14 2012.

The settings for JEDDA were eclectically-chosen from many beautiful parts of the Northern Territory, from The Centre to Mataranka, the Roper River, Beswick, Kakadu and Marrakai. Two key locations were Katherine Gorge and Ormiston Gorge, both extremely difficult to reach in the fifties, long before organised tourism. The homestead used for exterior shots was Coolibah Station, near Victoria River, with interiors replicated at Avondale Studios, Sydney. Crocodile scenes in Jedda were filmed on the Roper River near Mataranka. Rosalie Kunoth from Alice Springs (Ngarla Kunoth on screen) played Jedda and Bobbie Wilson from Darwin (Robert Tudawali) was cast as the charismatic Marbuk. Sydneysider, Paul Clarke (Paul Reynell on screen) played the part-Aboriginal head stockman, Joe.

katherine-gorge-front-pageThe Territorian identity, Bill Harney, acted as guide and interpreter for the Chauvels and their crew, and indigenous people who appeared in the film came from local communities, plus some tribal men from Arnhem Land. Making the film was a constant battle with heat, dust, crocodiles and isolation.

Excerpt from biography:

“The Jedda story was born around a campfire, by a waterhole called Kundulla. We had bivouacked near the Mainoru River on the southern edge of Arnhem Land, where the receding flood rains of the ‘wet’ leave numerous waterholes – lovely, secuded places adorned by red waterlilies and noisy with bird life. Around our campfire at night, by the light of kerosene lanterns, Charles and Elsa began to meld some of the stories they had gathered into the skeleton of a script. It was 1950, and we had spent the dry season trekking through Western Queensland, the Northern Territory and the eastern part of the Kimberley, on an adventurous five-month search for key locations, testing colour film and listening to peoples’ stories. There were plenty of good Territorian yarns, but every now and then a ‘real’ story, telling of the drama and stark reality of lives in isolated, lonely places.”

More in Locations and Films >

JEDDA (1955) – The Northern Territory

“Jedda” is the story of an Aboriginal girl caught between two cultures, and the tragic consequences. She has been raised on a remote buffalo station in the Northern Territory by a white woman mourning the death of her own baby. It is understood that she will eventually marry Joe, the part-Aboriginal head stockman, but when a wild Aboriginal man arrives at the station looking for work and tries to attract her attention, she is mesmerised by his bearing and strange tribal customs. He abducts her and takes her on a long journey to reach his own tribe, at the same time pursued by Joe and the police, who  want him on a charge of murder.

The chase sequence reveals stunningly beautiful landscapes from Central Australia to Kakadu, and the waters of Katherine Gorge. The film was shot in Gevacolour, under gruelling conditions in the outback, and achieved three firsts in Australian filmmaking – the first all-Australian feature film in colour, the first to cast two indigenous people in the starring roles and the first Australian feature accepted at the Cannes Film Festival. The script was loosely based on three true-life stories, the character of Marbuk inspired by Nemarluk, the Aboriginal fugitive and resistance fighter of the thirties. Processing and final post-production work was achieved at the Denham Laboratories, in the U.K.

Excerpt from biography:

“What a challenge my father had confronted! He was accustomed to challenges, but this one was monumental – experimenting with colour, when there were no film laboratories in Australia able to process it, and planning to star two untrained Aboriginal people in a script that at the time would prove controversial. Film Industry colleagues shook their heads and told him it would be “death at the box office.” When production plans were underway and Charles seeking extra funding, he secured an interview with the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. He always believed in going to the top first. Menzies was scathing in his criticism of the idea. Later, though, the Federal Government granted a petrol allowance for the location unit, through Northern Territory Administration. Perhaps they didn’t want them to do a  ‘Burke and Wills’.”