Broken Hill’s film industry boomed in the 1970s but the celluloid rolled much earlier, according to film historian, Melanie Ashe, who was in town this week, garnering stories for her PhD research at Monash University.
“The first film made in Broken Hill was a silent film in 1936 called ‘Uncivilised,’” said Ms Ashe.
“Mining companies then commissioned many films here.”
They utilised famous filmmakers, such as Frank Hurley, a pioneering photographer who was full of bravado. He traversed frontiers, including Antarctica with Douglas Mawson and Sir Ernest Shackleton, and both world wars.
“The BDT wrote about Hurley when he came here in the 1930s,” said Ms Ashe.
“Hurley was such a larger-than-life Australian explorer character, sort of like Indiana Jones.
“He was the first person filming in Broken Hill who went underground with a moving image camera. “His film was called ‘Silver City.’”
In 1953, Hurley filmed ‘Barrier Story’ underground, with Zinc Corporation involvement.
Over a hundred films, television series and commercials have been filmed in the region.
In 1968, the United Kingdom supernatural horror television series, ‘Journey into Darkness,’ was filmed here and the Australian mini-series, ‘Golden Soak’ in 1978.
The psychological thriller, ‘Wake in Fright,’ (1971) was followed by a prolific time of feature films shot around Broken Hill in the 1980s and 1990s.
This included ‘Mad Max II’ (1981), ‘The Battle of Broken Hill’ (1981), Razorback (1984) and Ring of Scorpio (1991).
“Especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s horror films, the outback had a reputation for being vast, scary, hostile,” said Ms Ashe.
“It’s a cliché, not true.
“It’s erasing a lot of people, such as Aboriginal people.
“It’s never been empty.”
“Even before mining, it was always being managed and shaped by humans.
The Pastoral genre was also represented in ‘A Town Like Alice’ (1981), which had a Romantic Frontier theme.
Ms Ashe said that Hollywood used to be more experimental than it is now but films being made in Broken Hill are going in the opposite direction.
“Films show more nuanced, complicated depictions in recent times,” she said.
“It’s a range of locally made films and international ones, such as ‘Mission: Impossible II’ and the new Mad Max film,” said Ms Ashe.
“Sometimes the area gets asked to play Arizona or a setting in America.
“When the conditions are right, it’s cheaper to film here in Australia.”
Ms Ashe chose filmmaking in Broken Hill and the Far West for her research because it is prominent yet not much is written about it.
“I was living overseas in Canada, teaching film, and I kept on noticing that so many films were shot around here,” she said.
Ms Ashe has observed that filmmaking is unique in Broken Hill.
“The way the films have been made out here is a reflection of the people,” she said.
“It’s community – people helping each other out and things get done just by people knowing each other and asking for a favour.”
Ms Ashe will be returning to Broken Hill soon and is doing a call-out for locals.
“If they’ve worked in the film industry and intersected somehow, I’m totally interested in hearing from them,” she said.
She believes that Broken Hill has seen it all.
“From the ‘B grade’ blockbusters to the genre films.”
“It certainly represents some inherent Australianness.”
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