‘Eliza Fraser’ will never go down as one of the best movies made in Australia.
The 1976 bawdy adventure didn’t have a massive budget, but involved quite a large logistical exercise, which I had to write about as a young journalist at the ‘Telegraph’ newspaper in Brisbane.
The indigenous extras for the movie, about 120 all up, hailed from Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The movie told the story of a ship wrecked Eliza Fraser, on K’Gari, what is now World Heritage listed, Fraser Island.
When filming was complete, the ‘extras’ were flown from Fraser Island, back to Mornington in a fleet of light aircraft. I traveled on one, while photographer, Frank Moran traveled on another. On a third plane was actress, Helen Cherry, the wife of Eliza Fraser’s male lead actor, Trevor Howard.
Frank, Helen and I had just a couple of hours on Mornington, with a State Government official taking us on a whirlwind tour, before the light aircraft returned to Brisbane, via an overnight stop at Emerald.
I recall flying over a number of bush fires, with flying conditions difficult.
There was one other Queensland movie I had to write about – The Mango Tree – which was partly filmed at Gayndah in 1977.
The main street of Gayndah was made to look like Bundaberg in 1917, with horse drawn carts carrying sugar cane, being driven down the dirt covered thoroughfare. (Gayndah is famous for its citrus fruits, not sugar cane).
After interviewing some of the cast and crew from the ‘coming of age’ movie, my chief of staff, Frank Watkinson suggested my photographer, Geoff McLachlan and I, stay at Gayndah and get on the drink with the cast, which included Sir Robert Helpmann, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Christopher Pate.
I thought, ‘you beauty’, but Geoff, who was senior to me, and had the keys to the car, was having nothing of it.
He had to get back to Wynnum in Brisbane to contest a table tennis competition.
So he drove like a bat out of hell, dodging kangaroos, just so he could play bloody ping pong.
I never forgave him.
Photo 1: On the flight to Mornington
Photo 2: Helen Cherry with children on Mornington Island.