Posted by scarlsson at 09:39, December 12 2012.

The Chauvels’ career took a totally different direction with their last venture, “Australian Walkabout”. Before leaving London, after post-production work on “Jedda”, the BBC had interviewed Charles and Elsa on television, with excerpts from the film. They had a huge public response to the interview, with viewers asking to know more about outback Australia. The BBC had run a series of wildlife adventure films in South Africa with a husband and wife, Armand and Michaela Dennis, but the couple had recently deserted BBC for a more lucrative offer with a commercial station. Charles received a cable from the BBC asking them to return to London and discuss the making of a similar series in Australia.

Charles was in his element, filming documentary in his beloved outback. Such a series was fairly new in Australia. It was new to Charles and Elsa, too, who now had to appear before the cameras. Their safari followed an almost diagonal route from Sydney to Darwin, via Broken Hill, Port Augusta and Alice Springs.

The thirteen half hour episodes included the Flying Doctor and School of the Air, the opal fields, horse-breaking and picnic races, the Rum Jungle uranium mine, crocodile shooting and buffalo hunting. The Chauvels got to know a range of outback people, from Aboriginal cameliers and artists, to well-sinkers, property owners and one revered flying doctor, with whom they flew to lonely outposts on the way to Lake Eyre. More in Locations and Films >

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.”

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Posted by scarlsson at 10:00, June 28 2012.

We’re in Queensland! No other town in Australia has featured as much in Charles Chauvel’s films as Canungra. The little town tucked into the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, in the Gold Coast hinterland, was the location for scenes in his 1935 film “Heritage”, his second war film, “Rats of Tobruk” and then the epic “Sons of Matthew”. Canungra was first established by timber-cutters, but today is a hub for The Scenic Rim, an area of tourism, wineries and horse studs. It is the gateway to the Lamington National Park and Mt. Tamborine – two of Chauvel’s key locations for his pioneering drama, “Sons of Matthew”. The film gave Michael Pate his first leading role as the oldest son, Shane, and the youngest was played by John Ewart, later familiar to Australian film and television audiences.

Another major location base was the O’Reilly’s homestead on the Lamington Plateau. Well known today as a tourist resort, in the 40’s it was a farmhouse that sometimes took in paying guests. At O’Reilly’s, Charles and Elsa Chauvel wrote the first draft of their “Sons of Matthew” screenplay, and many of the films’ rainforest scenes were shot on the Plateau.

Not to be forgotten are the other locations used in the Scenic Rim, where the Chauvels received great assistance from local people – in Rathdowney, the Darlington Valley, and Numinbah.

Excerpt from book:

 “It was a tough initiation for some of the technicians, as many had never ridden a horse. They made an exhausting ascent up the narrow, rock-strewn trails of the Saddleback, behind bellowing frightened cattle –  it was, after all, what the O’Reillys had done! One bullock slipped over the edge of the trail, but its fall was checked by a tree, and after twenty minutes of hard work the men were able to pull the bulky animal to the top. Not only the cattle were afraid on this journey. During lunch break, Bernard O’Reilly had casually killed a death adder, remarking that they were in adder country. The crew and cast were nervous for the rest of the day, turning over every rock or log they sat on.”

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Currans Hill, Narellan NSW

Posted by scarlsson at 10:00, April 24 2012.

Currans Hill today is deemed a suburb of Camden. In 1942 it was a bare hill surrounded by farmland. Chauvel found it the perfect location for his ‘town’ of Tobruk, a portion of which was reconstructed on the hill according to official war photographs.

Excerpt from biography:

“There were unexpected diversions for farmers in the Narellan district, early in 1944. On Currans Hill, normaly a quiet, rural location, war suddenly and noisily erupted. Bewildered residents watched as the Hill was invaded by truckloads of equipment and people – some in uniform with weapons, others with cameras.

 A sealed road was laid. On either side of it carpenters erected white-painted buildings and what appeared to be ruins of a church. Why erect something already ruined? When the ghostly structures were complete, a fierce storm blew the set down, the day before it was needed. It was patiently repaired, before bren-gun carriers rolled in and soldiers poured into town. From the sky, planes bearing the dreaded enemy swastika swooped low to bomb everything the carpenters had completed. Locals no doubt thought the whole operation was lunatic. Complaints were received from nearby farmers that the noise had affected the laying of hens and three cows had gone off milk.”

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Posted by scarlsson at 10:00, February 8 2012.

What a difference between Kurnell today and the sweeping sand dune country that we saw in 1938.

The sandhills of north Cronulla/Kurnell stretched for about 250 miles and provided a convincing stand-in for the Sinai Desert. The ravages of sand-mining and landfill operations, 4WD driving and horse riding have since reduced them to a small area used today for fitness training.

Excerpts from biography:

“The men were in the saddle at 3 a.m., waiting for the dawn shots Chauvel wanted. The sky was overcast and a slight drizzle began, filling Charles and Elsa with apprehension. These sand dunes, with their shifting shadows and wind-tossed crests, seemed to embody all Charles’ hopes for the film.”

“The horsemen milled about in the dawn light, silhouetted against the sky as they formed their lines and rode softly along the crest of the dunes. Long lines of mounted men made new shadows on the pristine sand, as they circled the dunes or ploughed over the top, the horses’ hooves sending up plumes of sand. They were re-enacting the movements of former Anzacs in Sinai, who had been keenly aware that they were following an historic route, with maybe the ghosts of earlier armies.”

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Great Mackarel Beach – Pittwater, Sydney

Posted by scarlsson at 10:00, December 5 2011.

Sydneysiders: Do you recognise the same beach in the second photo?

It depicts a key scene in Charles Chauvel’s award-winning 1935 film “Heritage”. The peaceful, uninhabited cove at Great Mackarel Beach was used to depict the first settlement at Sydney Cove in the early days of the colony. Discover More…

I have never been to Great Mackarel Beach at Pittwater but I believe it is still reached chiefly by boat. I would love to hear from someone who lives there and recognises the setting.

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