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HERALD

MAGAZINE SECTION

LUNCH-HOUR

GAME FOR PIRATES

By KYLIE '. TENNANT

Sydney's Television City used to be just a desolate stretch of sandhills, sweeping toward Botany Bay, with Long Bay Gaol on a

distant headland.

SURROUNDED by red

roofed houses and fac- tories, it is now the centre of the Australian film industry, snugged down behind the more extensive and palatial buildings of a motor-building firm.

Television City seems to have borrowed its architectural inspi- ration from Long Bay Gaol. It consists mainly of one enormous brick barn and sets of offices and workrooms, facing a quadrangle like a prison exercise yard.

At present it houses the per- sonnel of Treasure Island Picture Films Inc., the head of whose "Stül" department was explaining

to me some of the difficulties of taking films in Sydney. We were looking at costume shots for "Long John Silver".

"This would have been a good one," he said. "But the pirate on the end forgot to take off his overcoat. A modern coat with a herringbone pattern shows up after we'd been to the trouble to get even the dishes authentic! And here's another of the pirate ship. That would have been good, but you can see the chim- neys of Bunnerong power-house on the skyline."

OUTSIDE there was a noise

of shouts, cries and the crash of steel on steel. Either the revolution had broken out or they were filming a sword fight.

I excused myself and went to look. Everything seemed nor- mal.

In the front office two secre- taries were frantically trying to decipher a page of shorthand so that they could send an impor- tant cable, and were arguing whether a pothook meant "ex- pedite" or "associate."

In the hall an assistant direc- tor in a green necktie was'speak- ing harshly to the little (hero of

the film.

"You can just put this dagger back where you got it from," he said. 'The way the daggers are vanishing I won't have one left. You tooje it to crack nuts? If everyone takes the daggers to crack nuts, these buccaneers will be fighting with clubs before the picture is finished."

IN the cutting-room all was

silence, and the peace of the

lunch-hour brooded over rolls oí film and gadgets for showing coloured slides. In the darkened theatre the producer was say- ing, "No, I don't feel it's right."

Among his other duties of or- ganising every detail of finance and work in three continents (foi the film must be sent to England for colour processing), keeping the peace at imporant confer- ences and smoothing out techni- cal difficulties, the producer must detect any jarring note. He musl .have some sixth sense of what ii "good audience appeal" and re- act swiftly to any slight fault in the film. "I don't feel it's right,' he insists.

"That's the sequence," the head

of the cutting-room insists. "First, one group of pirates fire, then there is the boom of the cannon from the ship, and then the other group fire."

"Haven't we a shot showing the ship coming into the lagoon?"

"No, that was cut."

"Well, it will just have to go in again."

npHE open space between the

.*. great barn which houses the

interior sets-the inside of an inn, a ship's cabin-and the back door of the offices were thronged with pirates in baggy breeches and vel- vet coats and three-corner hats.

Some of them had: earrings and tarry pigtails. One of them had left his hat and wig on the door- step where I was standing.

There were great heaps of bar- rels and crates in which, in one scene, pirates were supposed to lurk. Cars were parked among

these crates.

Little knots of spectators stood about smoking contentedly in the sunshine. Presently there would be another clang and an outbreak

of shouts and roars.

A great pirate, over 6ft in height, came galloping forward, flourishing some weapon. He stopped and flung it, and I real- ised it was a horseshoe.

The horseshoe curved down a kind of cricket pitch and wrapped itself round an iron spike amid cries of "Twelve-fourteen!" "It isn't, it's nine-twelve."

Then a pirate at the opposite end of the pitch rushed forward and hurled his horseshoe. All the other pirates roared together.

'"pHE actors in their lunch-hour *? were playing the technicians. This craze for horseshoe pitching had smitten the film industry like fever. The only people who didn't play were the directors because they were too busy even in the lunch break. But everyone else was judged by ths kind of horse- shoe he pitched, and to say a man "throws a good quoit" was praise

indeed.

When the company goes on location, they take their horse- shoes with them, and fill in the time between shots perfecting

their aim.

At first there was only one set of "quoits"-that is what the shoes are called. Now there are eight sets, and some of the pirate crew can throw horseshoes with their eyes blindfolded or over one

shoulder.

"Is it an American game?" I asked one of the technicians.

"No, indeed," he assured me. ' 'The Australians in the film

taught us to play. They play this game in your outback towns."

The writer of the film script, Mr. Martin Rackin, was also emphatic that he had never thrown a horseshoe until he came 1 to Australia.

One American did declare that they played the game in Texas.

These horseshoe hurling "pirales" are Jim Grey (left) and Eric Reiman.

"Only in Texas we don't take the shoes off the horse," he said. "We just throw the horse as well."

A New Australian asserted the game originated in Bavaria,, where beer was brewed and the brewery horses had outsizes in shoes. There were always plenty of horseshoes about, so the brew- ery men had set up two iron spikes and started throwing at

them.

THE problem began to worry

me. The rumour that horse- shoe-throwing was an Australian game persisted, and I determined to track it down.

The other day the company was "on location" in the tiny wild reserve in Centennial Park. There is a jungle at Television City, but the jungle in Centennial Park was just what they needed, so they had all moved out there, with trucks for carrying boats and bag-

gage.

A mobile canteen was serving out meat and vegetables in the lunch-hour and the usual admir- ing crowd gathered to watch.

Onlookers in Centennial Park are another hazard to Australian film-making. One day all the cars had been warned away and the cameras were in action, when a youth on a bicycle came pedal- ling slowly right across the middle of the scene, ignoring the indignation and arm-waving of'

the technicians.

I found the horseshoe pitch in Centennial Park established on a stretch of green sward between the trees, and the pirates were playing, baggy pants flapping, swords tucked into leather belts, and their earrings swinging as they ran.

I was able to establish that the game was introduced to the com- pany by Mf. Jim Grey, a fero- cious pirate in a knitted cap. He had learned to play while work- ing on the film "Eureka Stock

ade" when it was "on location" at Singleton. Hence the story that the game was played in Aus- tralian outback towns.

"But who taught you?" I asked. "1 don't know his name," Mr. Grey admitted. "He was called Wingy because he had only one arm. He brought along some horseshoes and we all played. It fills in the time when you are not in front of the camera. There's a lot of waiting about in any film."

THE rules of the game as it is

played in America lay down that the shoe must turn two and a half times in the air over a 30ft length. The shoe must be thrown high in the air. The score is "three for a ringer," and, if no shoe rings the iron spike, then the nearest group of shoes wins.

Three ? shoes are thrown by each player. They stand at op- posite ends of the pitch. Two men can play or groups of two aside. There are small stakes laid, and the first score of 11 or 21 wins the game. If a shoe rings the peg, and another shoe lands on top of it, the first "ringer" is cancelled out.

Disputes over which shoe is nearest the iron peg are settled by measurement with outstretch- ed finger and thumb, or, if the

amount at stake is large, with calipers:

"Of course, we haven't the heavy American horseshoes yet," Mr. Grey told me. "But we've

sent to America for- a set. They should weigh about two and a half pounds."

He had the last word as to the origin of the game. "It comes from England," he explained. "They have clay pitches there so that the quoit-or shoe-hits the ground and sticks. It doesn't skid the way it does in sand. In Eng- land they call it pitching quoits."

AT that moment there was a

yell of "Come on, boys!" The make-up man was decorating some wild natives with brown powder and sears.- The Indian women were letting down their

hair. '

The horseshoe pitch was hasti- ly deserted and the pirates went back to their business of cut and thrust. The champion pitcher, I was told, had not been throwing so well because he had had a

chunk taken'out of his hand by

somebody's sword.

Before long it is possible that horseshoe pitching will, indeed, have spread to what the Ameri- cans call "the outback." If it is as energetic as the game played by film pirates it will be worth watching.

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

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