Australia Makes Debut In T.V. Films
Australia will get television—"this year, next year, some time, never . . ." We know tenders for television equipment have been considered and we know Sydney's first television station will be at Gore Hill, near St. Leonards—and that is all we
Yet Australia, despite her lag compared with Britain and America, is making a good start in a connected field: films for television. Our first feature, "Captain Thunderbolt," will soon be finished in Sydney. It is intended for the overseas markets.
This is the story of "Captain Thunderbolt."
By Max Brown
IF "Captain Thunder-
bolt," which presents a real Australian subject, is a success it will give a badly needed boost to Australia's ailing film in- dustry.
Success would pave the way for the production of at least four television films a year in Australia.
There is a David and Goli- ath flavour about the story of the making of "Captain Thun- derbolt." For this is a time when the experienced film studios of Britain, Europe and Australia are reeling from the competition of the monster companies of Hollywood, and those same Hollywood com- panies are at a loss for means of dealing with the television
Yet now a small Australian
company, a newcomer to films —is tackling the new field of pictures for television.
The company is Associated T.V. Pty Ltd., and the brain behind it is C. G. Scrimgeour, former Director of Commer-
cial Broadcasting in New Zea- land, mention of whose name still precipitates arguments in New Zealand homes, although "Uncle Scrim" himself has been living in Sydney since
the war's end.
He decided to make a tele- vision film on the N.S.W. bushranger Thunderbolt be- cause the subject had a genu- ine historic interest and be- cause he was handed a script well-suited to the requirements of the American market he had studied so closely in re- cent trips to the United States.
The film "Captain Thunder- bolt" is intended for normal screening in theatres; but a
"cut" version will go abroad
I SPENT three weeks with the Captain Thunderbolt Production Unit in real Thun- derbolt country 200 miles south of the Queensland bor- der this month and have seen the unit at work in Sydney.
The shooting of "Captain Thunderbolt"—the film, not the man—had the quiet, cul- tured New England town of
Armidale in a buzz for a fort- night.
A notice offering £500 re- ward for capture dead or alive of the outlaw was posted on a
board outside the town's erst-
while police station. Horse- men flourishing guns thun- dered up and down the dirt
roads outside the town almost
every day chasing mailcoaches
The Armidale Court House was turned inside out over one week-end for the trial of the
outlaw for horse-stealing, and half the University College faculty, including the vice- warden, Dr. James Belshaw, filed into the jury box in period dress.
Armidale folk, riding com- fortably on the sheep's back in shadow of the high stone fac- tories of learning which dom- inate the town (Armidale is the only town in the State with more schools than hotels) were debating again whether the police shot Thunderbolt or his accomplice.
Several approached bearded, frock-coated members of the cast in pubs and in the street and told them that Thunder- bolt, for all his law-breaking, was a saint compared with a lot of men in Sydney and Can- berra nowadays.
RIGHT: Thunderbolt (Grant Taylor) and Joan Blake (Rosemary Miller),
before Thunderbolt is sent to Cockatoo Island Prison. BELOW: A British tele- vision newsreel, as it reaches the viewing screen.
NEW ENGLAND is im-
pregnated with Thunder- bolt lore. His saddle is in the Armidale Museum. The origin- al entry of his death is in the Court Register.
Numerous landmarks, caves and lookouts over a wide area are associated with his exploits. For many years local residents and visitors believed he was alive and left letters addressed to him in a box on his grave at Uralla Cemetery. Many local people are descended from pioneers who were helped or hindered by the bushranger.
Almost everyone from Glen Innes in the north to Singleton in the south can tell you some myth that has grown up around the bushranger and most of them are agreed on one thing— that Thunderbolt killed no one and was a good deal more par- ticular in his methods than
Schoolboys watch director Cecil Holmes setting up a shot near the bowling green at Uralla. Holmes is talking to the actors on the waggon. On the right are camera- man Ross Wood and his assistant Ian Vibart. The waggon was loaned to the com- pany by Mr. Tom Fletcher, owner of Kentucky Station, where Thunderbolt was shot
by police in May 1870.
many respectable citizens of his day and ours.
THE screenplay "Captain
Thunderbolt" tells how Fred Ward (alias Thunderbolt) was sentenced to Cockatoo Is- land Prison for horse-theft, es- caped by swimming Sydney Harbour, and carried out a series of robberies in New Eng- land before he finally disap- peared during a gun battle with police at a dance in a
Unfortunately the require- ments of British censorship do not permit the inclusion of the true and highly romantic story of the association be- tween Thunderbolt and the half-caste girl, Mary Ann Bugg.
According to a history of Thunderbolt by the editor of "The Manilla Express," Mr. A. R. Macleod, Mary Ann Bugg had been educated at a
girls' school in Sydney, but
found herself unwanted by both blacks and whites and fell desperately in love with Thun-
When the outlaw was im- prisoned at Cockatoo Island she swam between the north shore and the island on four occasions until she eventually contacted Thunderbolt sec- retly.
Several nights later Thun- derbolt swam to the north
shore and freedom, some say with leg irons.
Macleod says the bushran- ger began his northern ex- ploits in 1864 by holding up the Northern Mail in quick
succession at Bendemeer, Mus- wellbrook and Singleton. He recounts the famous story of how the outlaw bailed-up a German band and had it play for him. He ends his account by telling how Thunderbolt stuck up an inn at Kentucky on May 25, 1870, was shot by police in the ensuing chase, and buried in Uralla Cemetery.
WHATEVER people may
say of Thunderbolt now, one thing is certain—he lived
in violent times.
A glance through the Armi- dale Court Death Register of the time shows the following causes of death, typical of the
Visitation of God.
Suffocation, occasioned by falling out of bed onto his face in a state of helpless intoxication.
Spearwound in left side and skull fractured.
Found drowned in well.
Died whilst thigh was being amputated.
Accidentally shot by constable in discharge of duty.
Softening of brain.
Injury from stone thrown by
Head cut off by someone un-
Each bald statement covers a story that would make head- lines in any newspaper to-day. Other causes in the book are too terrible to print.
"Captain Thunderbolt" has some well-known screen and radio actors in its cast.
Grant Taylor made a name for himself as an actor of virile roles in "Forty Thous-
and Horsemen" before the
war. Petite Rosemary Miller, who recently played the lead in "Dark of the Moon" in Sydney, is his boyhood sweet-
Rosemary is pretty in real life, but rushes show her beau- tiful on the screen.
Loretta Boutmy, former blues singer with Les Welch's band in Sydney, has her first screen part as the half-caste girl.
Charles Tingwell came straight from the "Kangaroo" unit in South Australia to play the part of Blake, Thunder- bolt's lieutenant. Sydney stage and radio actor John Uni- comb, American actor Harp McGuire, and John Fegan, play the police troopers who run the bushrangers to earth.
Jean Blue of "The Over-
landers" and "Bitter Springs"
is the outlaw's mother.
THE location team for "Cap- tain Thunderbolt" work- ed enthusiastically and with the minimum of fuss.
The hub of the activity in Armidale was the Imperial Hotel where the unit lived. A typical shooting day began with a call at 7 a.m., and there was the brief scurrying around corridors in dressing
gowns, uniforms, bush dress or bustles before bacon and eggs at 7.30.
By the time the more usual
run of hotel guests had come down for breakfast, trucks with gear and cars with tech- nicians and cast were on their way to one or other loca- tion beyond the town for the day's work.
Most days, of course, were of the usual sort experienced in film-making — exacting, patient work with many re- hearsals and the camera crew trying to outwit the clouds.
Two days had special in- terest including one in which Thunderbolt held up a coach and robbed Miss Kathleen Drummond, daughter of the Federal member for New Eng- land. Mr. Drummond, M.P., had loaned Grant Taylor his own horse for the hold-up.
The coach, a four-in-hand drag owned by Mr. Geoff Forster of Abbington proper- ty, was built in London in 1870 and actually served on the New England coach-routes soon after Thunderbolt had been loose. Mr. Forster, dres- sed as Thunderbolt, drove it in the "Back to Armidale" cele- brations four years ago.
BOLT" is now about
half-way through filming. Many shots have to be made
yet in and around Sydney. The
woolshed dance will take place in a Pyrmont woolstore, a pub scene will be shot in The Hero of Waterloo at Millers Point, Grant Taylor will break stones
in a quarry near Oxford Falls and hide from police in a cave in National Park.
When the film is finally fin- ished shooting about one month from now it will then pass into the hands of the cut-
ter and editor.
The amazing thing is that the film will cost £15,000 —about one sixtieth of the
amount the "Kangaroo" unit from Hollywood is spending on a film of a somewhat greater length.
There are incalculable fac- tors in any artistic production; and the attitude of members of the Thunderbolt Production Unit is that, if Australia can turn out a Bradman or a Bromwich, there's no reason
why it can't make good films.