Here we re-publish the article Australia 175 from a recently re-discovered issue of Australian Cinematographer from the early 1960s – by John McLean ACS
During five months of 1963 a crew known as the Australia 175 Film Unit has travelled some 40,000 miles around the continent. Their aim, to produce a series of documentary films that would show Australians what is happening in their own country, and audiences overseas the great steps forward which Australians have made in industrial development over the past decade.
Equipped with gear streamlined for operation both on location and for studio interiors, our initial crew was director Dennis Hill, sound Don Connolly, electrics Lex Meredith and myself as cameraman. Following the preliminary shooting by Ron Windon (ACS) of some really spectacular footage at BHP Wollongong, our unit left for Western Australia and the vast iron ore deposits of the north. The basis of our first story called ‘With Our Hands’ was this industry and the huge every day requirements which rely upon it, from cars to canned beer.
The Buccaneer Archipelago in the far north-west corner of Australia is notably famous for its Yampi Sound deposits at Cockatoo and Koolan Islands. Here we were first made appreciative of out relatively light gear when we heard of the 35-foot rise and fall in the tides, hence hundreds of steps from our ship to the cliff tops and town several hundred sheer feet above us. In spite of the high temperatures and humidity, we found this part of Australia most photogenic and a subject to do justice to our medium, Commercial Ektachrome film, processed at General Film Laboratories in Hollywood.
From Yampi we travelled to Port Hedland and the newly discovered fields of Mount Goldsworthy and the prospective port at Depuch Island. A voyage aboard a battered pearling lugger and a hair raising landing through the surf in a dinghy and we were ashore on this fascinating island. There were ancient aboriginal rock art and etchings of voyages long gone including Charles Darwin’s famous expedition in HMS Beagle during the middle 1800s.
Western Australia’s beautiful Hammersley Range strongly rivals the ‘centre’ in grandeur and ghost gums, and I found it hard to determine how best to cram all this beauty into my 16mm frame.
Across the Trans-Continental Railway, again our versatile gear proved its worth. At night whistle stops, Meredith used our Mearns Trany and Colortrans for fast night refuelling exteriors. For sync sequences and interviews, Connolly and his Nagra in conjunction with our compact inverter, supplied locally by Coral Sea Productions, made it possible for our ARRI to run sync anywhere and I mean anywhere.
Through Whyalla and Adelaide to General Motors Holden in Melbourne and a large sequence on the production of the latest Holden. Our greatest problem here was the constant mixed light and inaccessibility of setups because of the travelling lines of car bodies and components.
From chassis to horn buttons we built a car with steel which as iron ore probably originated from Yampi Sound. Our finished car off the line, General Motors put ‘us’ through their famous testing ground at Lang Lang in Victoria, at least that’s the way it seemed. The fact that our gear came through equally as well as our sponsor’s product speaks highly for its sturdy construction.
During production of this first film we came upon and overcame many problems. The months we were shooting this film gave many opportunities for us all to learn and try something new. We hope now that our finished film will get its airing on a televisions in all capitals in the near future and although lacking one of its greatest assets, colour, it will serve its purpose: the national interest.
John McLean ACS was awarded the Milli Award for Australian Cinematographer of the Year in 1973, and was inducted into the ACS Hall of Fame in 2001.