The Shiralee in Scone – 1956-57

A scene from the movie, the Shiralee; filmed in Scone, 1956.

A scene from the movie, the Shiralee; filmed in Scone, 1956.

The film The Shiralee was shot in Scone in 1956 and was the location for the Australasian premiere the following year. The film was based on the novel by D’Arcy Niland and shot on location in Binnaway, Connabarabran, Scone and at MGM’s studios in London during 1956.1

Filming

At least 60 crew members arrived in Scone on September 6, 1956 to shoot at locations in Gundy and in Bunnan at The Cuan and Wooton. Mayor Mark Cotter held a civic reception in Elizabeth Park the following day, with director Leslie Norman and stars of the film Peter Finch, Rosemary Harris and Dana Wilson. Hundreds of people attended and Peter Finch signed every autograph book given to him.2 The reception was broadcast over 2NM Radio.

Many local people were extras in the film including Frank Roser driving his car in Gundy, Bill Pinkerton driving a horse and sulky, David, Brian and Lionel Pinkerton with Bernard and Heather Fogarty played bat and ball, Terry O’Brien instructed Rosemary Harris how to ride and also had a small speaking part ordering the character Macauley to get back to work in the shearing shed and Jack Bartlett drove a semi-trailer with Macauley and Buster as passengers, loaded with sheep up Wooton hill.

The property The Cuan was called Ednoola in the film and the village of Gundy became known as Coollomooloo. The Scone Advocate published a special supplement The Coollomooloo Star. While exterior locations were filmed locally, all interior shots were filmed at MGM’s studios in London. The property was filmed was mainly The Cuan with shots at Wooton being scenes along the road and down the drive.

Garth Hay, who represented MGM Studios and was based in Sydney recommended the location of Scone to director, Leslie Norman. Garth knew the area well as he had relatives at Davis Creek, near The Rouchel, the Cabans.3

The Australasian Premiere

The Mayor, Mark Cotter, his wife and the Scone Rotary Club persuaded MGM to hold the Australasian premiere of the Shiralee in Scone. The Premiere was part of a broader fundraising appeal to build the Scone War Memorial Swimming Pool. The managing director of MGM, Bernard Freeman wrote a letter to the Mayor, agreeing for the Premier being in Scone on the following conditions:

“…a screening of The Shiralee in Scone would need to be an Australasian premiere in order to invest it with maximum news value, thereby immeasurably enhancing its fund-raising potential…I would be prepared to make the film available for such a premiere in Scone, provided that the occasion was the means of raising a very substantial sum of money for the Scone War Memorial Swimming Pool Fund.

…unless the premiere, by virtue of generous donation by invitees, was instrumental in raising several thousands of pounds for your fund, the event would not have any real significance.

I assume…an important proportion of the seating accommodation in the theatre would be reserved for invitees making generous contributions to the funds…so that the amount raised would be far greater than it is were derived from paid admissions.

If organised along the lines suggested, I feel The Shiralee premiere would constitute a social event which allied with district-wide celebrations would warrant coverage by the metropolitan press and national magazines and also by newsreel and television services with resultant publicity of unprecedented value to the Municipality of Scone.

….I sincerely trust that I may have the privilege of working with you for the benefit of your memorial fund and in the interest of your Municipality. My personal pleasure in co-operating with you would be heightened, not only by my association with the occasion as a Rotarian but because the Lady Mayoress brought this proposal to my attention at a gathering at her father’s house some little time ago.”4

The premiere was held on Friday, August 16, 1957 at the Civic Theatre in Scone.

“Crowds came from everywhere as predicted, and as one Sydney paper stated ” as flashing lights and champagne corks popped the three thousand residents of Scone went mad with excitement on their biggest night for decades.5

The premiere was not simply a movie screening, but a series of events all day:

  • Afternoon – Polo Round Robin competition at Yarrandi, for The Shiralee Cup
  • 6:30pm – Floral Festival Queens to conduct Carnival in KellyS treet,
  • 6:30pm – Cocktail party at Belmore Hotel. Local residents with reserved seat tickets and visiting film, radio, newsreel and newspaper personalities will be entertained.
  • 7:45pm – Premiere procession will assemble at Elizabeth Park and proceed to the Civic Theatre.
  • 8:15pm – The Mayor, M.R.Cotter, Shire President, W.A.Bishop and President of Rotary M.Boniface will receive the visiting personalities..
  • 8:30pm – The film programme will commence.6

The Premiere raised approximately £6,000 for the swimming pool fund.

The author’s time at Grampion Hills

The author of the book, D’Arcy Niland was born in Glen Innes and worked for a short time as a shed hand at Grampion Hills, Bunnan.

A few months after filming had finished D’Arcy wrote to the Scone Advocate to ask for a copy of the souvenir supplement “The Coollomooloo Star”.7

“I am especially glad that the Australasian Premiere of The Shiralee was at Scone, because the proceeds are for such an excellent cause, because much of the film was shot in the district and because of my own attachment to the place. This goes back twenty years, when, stony, motherless broke, I carried a swag into your town and was shown kindness and given a job.” ((Heather Ashford; assisted by Mary Woodlands, “Filming in the Upper Hunter”, Moving Images and the Theatre, The Shiralee, Filming in the Upper Hunter, Scone’s Civic Theatre”, Federation Publication No.1, Published by the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Incorporated, Scone, NSW, Australia, 1997, p.24))

According to a story in the Singleton Argus, D’Arcy Niland had been in Scone and went largely unrecognised. “About the only man who recognised him was Dan Palmer, from Grampion Hills Station at Bunnan, 21 miles out of Scone. They had a reunion at lunch time.

Mr Palmer later said “D’Arcy was a piece-picker in the woolshed when we worked the Grampion shed in 1936…he was pretty good at it too.8

Also filmed in the Upper Hunter:
  • Who’s Who in Scone?
  • Wasted Water
  • Thoroughbred
  • Into the Straight
  • Embassy Movie Ball
  • Smiley
  • Smiley Gets a Gun
  • Ride a Wild Pony
  • Born to Run
  • The Causes of Asthma
  • The Picture Show Man
  • She’ll be Sweet
  • The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith
  • Minnamurra
  • In Pursuit of Honor
  • A Nice Guy
  • A Daughter in Australia
  • Rats of Tobruk
  • The Horses that Built a Nation
  • Fistful of Flies

 

Special thanks to:
Footnotes:
  1. The Australian Women’s Weekly, Wednesday 3 October 1956, p.12 []
  2. Heather Ashford; assisted by Mary Woodlands, “Filming in the Upper Hunter”, Moving Images and the Theatre, The Shiralee, Filming in the Upper Hunter, Scone’s Civic Theatre”, Federation Publication No.1, Published by the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Incorporated, Scone, NSW, Australia, 1997, p.3 []
  3. Heather Ashford; assisted by Mary Woodlands, “Filming in the Upper Hunter”, Moving Images and the Theatre, The Shiralee, Filming in the Upper Hunter, Scone’s Civic Theatre”, Federation Publication No.1, Published by the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Incorporated, Scone, NSW, Australia, 1997, p.10 []
  4. Heather Ashford; assisted by Mary Woodlands, “Filming in the Upper Hunter”, Moving Images and the Theatre, The Shiralee, Filming in the Upper Hunter, Scone’s Civic Theatre”, Federation Publication No.1, Published by the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Incorporated, Scone, NSW, Australia, 1997, p.11,12 []
  5. Heather Ashford; assisted by Mary Woodlands, “Filming in the Upper Hunter”, Moving Images and the Theatre, The Shiralee, Filming in the Upper Hunter, Scone’s Civic Theatre”, Federation Publication No.1, Published by the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Incorporated, Scone, NSW, Australia, 1997, p.17 []
  6. Heather Ashford; assisted by Mary Woodlands, “Filming in the Upper Hunter”, Moving Images and the Theatre, The Shiralee, Filming in the Upper Hunter, Scone’s Civic Theatre”, Federation Publication No.1, Published by the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Incorporated, Scone, NSW, Australia, 1997, p.17 []
  7. Heather Ashford; assisted by Mary Woodlands, “Filming in the Upper Hunter”, Moving Images and the Theatre, The Shiralee, Filming in the Upper Hunter, Scone’s Civic Theatre”, Federation Publication No.1, Published by the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Incorporated, Scone, NSW, Australia, 1997, p.23 []
  8. Heather Ashford; assisted by Mary Woodlands, “Filming in the Upper Hunter”, Moving Images and the Theatre, The Shiralee, Filming in the Upper Hunter, Scone’s Civic Theatre”, Federation Publication No.1, Published by the Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Incorporated, Scone, NSW, Australia, 1997, p.24 []