Great Mackarel Beach

Great Mackarel Beach was backed by bushland and a little stream doubled for the movie as Sydney’s famous Tank Stream. The technical crew, equipment and scores of extras were taken there by boat; they played convicts and soldiers bringing ashore their supplies and building their first huts.

“Heritage” was an ambitious film to make, requiring elaborate sets, costuming and hundreds of extras. The story was patriotic and traced 150 years of Australian history through two pioneering families. Outdoor shooting locations ranged from the Burragorang Valley and Copmanhurst, NSW, to Canungra, in southeast Queensland. At Canungra, Chauvel organised a grand-scale movie picnic, an opportunity for local people to watch some scenes being shot. With the cooperation of Queensland railways and a Brisbane radio station, an estimated 4,000 people descended on the little village of Canungra, some by train and many in their own cars. The CWA set up tea stops along the way! In those days it took about 2 hours to reach Canungra from Brisbane.

The sets depicted the historic arrival of the ‘bride ship’ at Sydney Town, portion of the Governor’s residence in 1831, pioneers’ cottages and Sydney’s ‘Bull’s Head Inn’ – all within the Efftee Studios, Melbourne.  Peggy (Mary) Maguire, one of the daughters of a family who owned Brisbane’s iconic Bellevue Hotel, won the role of the pretty Irish girl from the bride ship, with whom the pioneer falls in love. A few years after the film, the Maguires went to London and became known as the ‘marrying Maguires’, owing to the five daughters’ notable marriages in England. The acting was stilted, but the settings were stylish and the film was launched with a vigorous and imaginative publicity campaign. The film was made during the depression. When extras were called for, hundreds of people applied, glad to get work for a few days, so there was no shortage of sailors, soldiers, convicts and ladies of the town. The 1935 Commonwealth prize for filmmaking was a Government attempt to encourage the struggling Australian film industry. The prize, 2,500 pounds, was a huge boost to Charles Chauvel and his small company, Expeditionary Films, and it seemed to set the pattern for many of his later films, bearing out his comment “Australia is a magnificent canvas upon which to paint our pictures”.

Funny things can happen in movie-making –  here is an excerpt from the biography:

“The scene inside Bull’s Head Inn was ready to shoot, until someone noticed that there was no actual bull’s head above the entrance! Studio staff panicked. As an exterior shot of the inn was required, Charles dispatched a props man to quickly find a bull’s head. The unlucky man contacted every second-hand or antique shop he could find, to no avail. He eventually went to an abattoir and persuaded the workers to give him a recently-severed head. It looked just right when pushed through the flimsy wall of the studio set, but proved disconcerting to the actors on the other side. All through their scenes, they could see the gory part of the new studio ‘prop’, with its blood slowly oozing down the wall.” (Australian Screen Online)

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