Where to get your Hollywood on in Victoria
To celebrate the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival, we’re taking a tour of the Victorian movie locations immortalised on screen.
Fun fact: The world’s first-ever feature film didn’t hail from Hollywood or even Bollywood but from right here in Victoria. Filmed in 1906, The Story of the Kelly Gang was an hour-long epic sympathetic to the plight of Australia’s infamous bushranger.
Filmed in and around Heidelberg, then the rural outskirts of Melbourne, it was a hit upon its release, and the hindsight of 113 years shows it was a harbinger of more – much more – to come. Countless classics across a broad array of genres have been filmed in Victoria since.
The fictitious rural town of Dungatar was actually in the You Yangs Regional Park.
Five iconic movies that were filmed in Victoria
The celluloid extravaganza of the Melbourne International Film Festival – which captivates cinephiles each August – is one of the world’s longest-running film festivals and, according to Screen Australia, Australian and foreign film production tips $89.4 million annually into the local economy.
Film-making is the art of illusion, and Victoria is particularly well adapted to providing a variety of “looks, feels and moods”, says Film Victoria CEO Caroline Pitcher. “Filmmakers have long recognised the diversity and accessibility of Victoria’s locations. The list of local and international productions that have filmed here is huge.”
“Filming is incredibly uplifting for regional communities, especially in difficult times such as drought, and often leads to increased tourism once the film reaches audiences.”
We can all embark on our own journey of discovery into the land of make-believe, visiting the locations around the state immortalised in these classic movies.
Invented by Rosalie Ham for her novel The Dressmaker, the fictitious rural town of Dungatar made a convincing leap from page to screen in the 2015 film of the same name. The dinky grain-farming town where everyone knew everyone else’s business – much to the chagrin of Tilly Dunnage, played with femme fatale charm by Kate Winslet – was built from scratch on the Mount Rothwell Conservation and Research Reserve in the You Yangs Regional Park. “We look like we’re in the middle of nowhere even though we’re only 50 kilometres from Melbourne,” says Annette Rypalski, who was then the Reserve’s general manager.
Filming, with a cast that included Hugo Weaving as the town’s cross-dressing policeman and Liam Hemsworth as Tilly’s ill-fated love, Teddy, had its share of wildlife-generated interruptions, says Annette. “During one scene a possum leapt on a sound boom halfway through an actor’s line. They had to cut, and I had to come in and wrangle the possum out of there.”
Nothing remains of the set except a picket fence, but tour groups exploring the untouched beauty of Mount Rothwell can ask to have locations pointed out to them from not only The Dressmaker but also the Heath Ledger version of Ned Kelly and the Nicolas Cage vehicle Ghost Rider.
Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.
The film adaption of E.B. White’s classic novel about the friendship between a pig called Wilbur and a maternal spider named Charlotte might be set in Maine, New England, but it was filmed in Greendale, 80 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.
Driving through the rolling hills of this hamlet of 600 residents, about a 15-minute drive from Bacchus Marsh, it’s not difficult to see why Paramount Pictures anointed this former gold rush country to stand in as northern America for its 2006 film – nor why they chose working farm Morrocdong, with its rows of poplars and oaks providing striking autumn colours.
“The deciduous trees really give that New England feel,” says Sue Fraser, who owns the farm with husband Peter. “The location scouts found us and the next thing we knew we had a helicopter-load of American film executives landing.”
A lasting legacy of the film starring Dakota Fanning remains in the two striking American-style wooden barns built for the shoot, which are just visible from the Ballan-Greendale Road.
It had to be Warrnambool. Adapted from the true story of a Maremma dog trained to protect the endangered colony of little penguins inhabiting Middle Island, just off the Warrnambool foreshore, the 2015 filming of Oddball was embraced by the council and locals at this seaside city three hours’ west of Melbourne.
Warrnambool’s shopping strip along Liebig Street and Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village played pivotal parts in the four-week shoot following the story of eccentric chicken farmer Swampy Marsh (Shane Jacobson) and his granddaughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) in their attempts to save the penguins from foxes as well as nefarious humans trying to take over their island with a whale-watching station.
Since its release, Oddball has inspired many trips along the Great Ocean Road, as well as summer tours to the penguin colony that is still watched over by custodian Maremmas. But be warned: While the film implies the famous limestone pillars of the Twelve Apostles are close to Warrnambool, they’re actually another 45 minutes’ drive along the Great Ocean Road.
The Man From Snowy River
The iconic Australian bush movie has left its own legacy for the people of Mansfield in north-east Victoria. ‘Craig’s Hut’, the bark hut created for the 1982 film starring Tom Burlinson and Sigrid Thornton, remains the most-Googled search term for visitors to the region. And little wonder. “The movie is created like a romance around the destination,” says Nicole Nye, Mansfield Shire Council’s tourism and events co-ordinator. “As generations go on it’s still a major drawcard.”
Loosely based on the poem by Banjo Patterson telling the story of a mountain cattleman and his pursuit of a colt that was “worth a thousand pounds”, the film is a paean to the beauty of the High Country. On Mount Stirling, around 230 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, the hut (a recreation of the original, destroyed by bushfire in 2006) is reached via four-wheel drive or a two-kilometre walking track from the road. It has been noted that no cattleman worth his stirrups would build in such an exposed location (doubling the crime, it’s nowhere near drinking water), but it remains the perfect site to convey an awe-inspiring feel for the grandeur of the mountains.
The dystopian drama to rule them all, George Miller’s 1979 gonzo flick that made a global star of Mel Gibson followed the vengeful path of highway cop Max Rockatansky (Gibson) as he battled a murderous motorcycle gang. Any road trip to honour the film ought to include the iconic white beachfront house at Fairhaven, on the Great Ocean Road, that stood in as Max’s family home.
“When I was growing up, people were well aware of the notoriety and would point it out as the Mad Max house,” says Rachel Wellam, whose father and uncle built the house in the 1970s. “We agreed to let them use the space for eight to 10 days. The set work inside didn’t go down well ... Mad Max made a bit of a mad mess!” Also worth a visit is the town of Clunes, which is invaded by the menacing Toecutter’s gang.
Mel Gibson in George Miller’s 1979 Mad Max.
The location scout
The secret to being a good film scout, says Michelle Jones, is looking for places that appear to be far away from the city but really aren’t. “Often producers want to shoot within a workable distance of Melbourne, so my job becomes finding that place that looks and feels remote without actually being so. That’s why I love places like the You Yangs, the Dandenongs and even Werribee sewerage farm, which is great for shooting on what appear to be country roads but is only 20 kilometres from the city.”
A freelance location scout for the past seven years after training as an actor, Michelle says Victoria is a sought-after film location for the diversity of landscapes and its film-friendliness. “It feels like VicRoads and councils are really supportive of the process, whereas in other places you can get bogged down in red tape.”
Bringing Jane Harper’s best-selling detective thriller The Dry to life has brought new life to Victoria’s drought-hit Wimmera-Mallee region. More than 100 cast and crew politely invaded towns such as Beulah, Minyip and Hopetoun for the shoot, which wrapped in April this year. “It’s a beautifully untapped region, right on the edge of the Big Desert,” says the film’s location scout, Nicci Dillon.
She is confident the movie, starring Eric Bana, will bring tourists to the region. “There’s something truly magical about the landscape, and the people just embraced us. We brought a lot of money into the region, but it certainly gave us a lot back.”
The 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival runs 1 to 18 August. Miff.com.au