Some of you may know that I am a history junkie…my father was in the RAF just at the close of WWII – he worked on engine maintenance and was stationed in the middle east incl. Palestine and Cyprus. As a little girl he used to show me his book on enemy aircraft recognition (silhouettes of planes) as well as British and Allied planes; I learnt to tell the difference between a Spitfire and a Junker at an early age. This past September, my sister Jenny took me to Perth’s amazing aviation museum where I geeked out on all the aircraft displayed in the huge hangars, as well as all the exhibitions on the history of Australia’s air force, outback transportation and flying doctor service. I was in my element, as was my young nephew Maclean, who has already started flying lessons at 16yrs old.
I remember learning about aviation hero Charles Kingsford Smith, above, for whom Sydney airport is named and it was cool to see/touch his belongings. If I remember correctly, I wrote an essay on him in primary school that scored me an A.I stood in front of the Spitfire and read all the details for quite some time before I was drawn over to the spectacular Lancaster bomber, one of the planes that flew the legendary damn buster raids over Germany in WWII. Maclean joined me in front of the giant plane (below) and one of the knowledgeable guides kindly explained the mechanics of the “bouncing bombs”.I was thrilled to be invited to climb up into the belly of the beast…the guide was kind enough to explain what it was like inside for the crew (bloody scary and very uncomfortable)… Earlier that same day, I received a “butt dialed” call from back in Toronto from my friend, Christopher, whose stepdad, famed Hollywood director, Michael Anderson, had directed the award-winning “The Damn Busters” movie (1955)…what synchronicity, eh? So I made a video for Christopher which I’ll share here so you can see just how huge the plane was.
I was amazed to see how many women were involved with the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) during the war…and pleased to see they got the recognition they earned. So many incredible artifacts are on show and Maclean loved his experience in a virtual reality simulated bomber flight, courtesy of Aunty Glenda! I encourage you to explore the museum’s website for lots more info as well as visiting hours & directions – this is a not to be missed tourist attraction when visiting my home town of Perth, WA. https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/
Suzi and I were sad to say goodbye to Broome…we’d had so much fun on our adventures with pearls, crocs and art. So along with Eduardo we flew down the coast of Western Australia to Perth, my home town where I grew up, went to school, got my first job and had my first kiss (thanks, Alan Mitchelmore).
My sister Jennifer picked us up (with lots of hugs and kisses) at the airport and drove us to the hotel/motel on the South Perth shore – 2 blocks away was the magnificent view of the city across the Swan River (pictured above). Our first sight-seeing trip was to Fremantle, the world-famous seaport for Perth where we had the most delicious lunch at Cicerello’s – when I was little, this was a small family seafood diner/shack on the fishermen’s jetty but now…OMG, it’s a huge dining and entertainment centre, out front of which there’s a big bronze statue of the late Bon Scott of AC/DC fame. Suzi was thrilled to touch the figure and take lots of pics…yes, she’s a huge fan.We took a walk around the city centre with its historical buildings, and just about every small side street had wine bars, cafes and boutiques. What a difference from my childhood days when Freo (as it’s known to locals) was a rough and tumble area that wasn’t too safe after dark.The Fremantle Market has been around since the 1800s and has become a must-see tourist attraction. It sells all sorts of touristy things as well as yummy foods like this awesome fudge. Being diabetic, I had to walk past…but not before taking photos of the deelish treats.Jenny then drove us up the coast to visit my favourite beaches including Cottesloe where we stood overlooking the surf and even saw lots of container ships and other cargo vessels waiting to get into port.Along the way, we passed an iconic image – the Dingo Flour silo. Every true-blue Aussie knows this one!Back to the hotel to relax before a wonderful dinner with the family. More adventures ahead including an emotional visit to the family home (below) up in the hills of Lesmurdie and a visit to the neighbouring town of Kalamunda where I went to school in the 60s.
Broome may have the feel of an outback or frontier town but it’s full of art and entertainment to be envied by any big city. One of the first places in the historic Chinatown centre Suzi and I visited was the famous Sun Pictures movie house. Inside the front doors, we found a number of museum displays including the old projectors and the outdoor seating for screenings under the stars – very similar to Winton’s Royal Cinema.Next was the beautiful Short Street Gallery which looks modest but it holds so many treasure….hundreds of world-class contemporary indigenous artworks… https://www.shortstgallery.com.au/
The gallery’s director (sorry, I cannot remember his name just now) was so knowledgeable and shared the artists’ stories and backgrounds with us. He also directed us to their bigger storage facility (they rotate the artwork on a regular basis to keep visitors updated with new paintings). It was just 10 minutes’ drive away so Suzi and I popped over there for a visit…so glad we did. WOW!There are numerous galleries around town plus many of the restaurants and cafes display local artists’ works but after the Short St Gallery experience, my head hurt from being visually bombarded with colour, energy, stories and history. Time for a rest so Suzi and I hopped on the Broome Tramway bus for a touristy experience viewing buildings and historic places with someone else doing all the driving! Fun as well as educational…definitely recommend that. Next time, we visit the crocodile sanctuary for a full-on reptilian adventure where Suzi and I get up close and personal with hundreds of crocs!
What can I saw about the beaches around Broome? I don’t think “fantastic” or “extraordinary” says enough. The most popular and famous one is Cable Beach – 22kms long and bounded by red ochre cliffs and sand dunes, the wide expanses of white sand offers great beach combing and walks, especially at low tide. There are numerous resorts and caravan/camping grounds along the length of it, and Cable Beach has first-class dining venues, lots of parking lots…perfect for family activities as well as romantic strolls. Lifeguards are on duty at the beach from May to October and it is advisable to swim between the flags. Suzi and I had several enjoyable visits….
Cable Beach is famous world-wide for two things: the sunsets and the camels. Camels? Yes, there are 2 camel ride companies who take tourists up and down the beach atop the friendly beasties – Suzi and I decided to pass on that (the rides are pretty expensive) – but we enjoyed the sunsets every night, driving 5 minutes down to the main viewing area and along with hundreds of sun worshipers, watched as the sun dropped below the horizon. So beautiful and exciting…people would cheer and clap each time.
There are several more fab beaches around Broome, such as Roebuck Beach and Town Beach (below) with its long fishing jetty and a history that included WWII bombings and strafings that killed hundreds. But beware, there are salt water crocs, jellyfish and sharks that can kill ya! No swimming or paddling for me!Overall, it’s pretty safe on Broome’s beaches, just read the signs and know your seasons – when we went, it was not jellyfish season and the crocs were pretty scare. You’ll get the best view of the beaches flying into the town…when I looked out the window and saw this, my heart started pounding….get me to the beach!Next blog….I hit the Broome pearl boutiques and buy my fantasy pearl!
Apart from Perth, Suzi and I spent the longest time in the beachside town of Broome, located up the top of Western Australia. As a kid, I remember doing a school project on Broome, all about the pearl industry that thrived up there in the early 20th century that continued through the 60s and 70s when the Mikimoto cultured pearls from Tahiti took over the market (thank goodness natural pearls are back and Broome rules once again). I thought no more about Broome until a few years ago when I discovered Aussie actor Aaron Pedersen’s body of work shot on location up there in The Circuit tv series (pictured below) and most recently Mystery Road II; once the decision was made to come home for a long visited, a stay in Broome was set!Flying in from Darwin, the expanse of beachy coastline was extraordinary….so exciting to land in such a remote town that’s full of history.Eduardo got a special welcome (above) aided by the flight crew who helped him down…yes, my little emu was treated to 1st class service on board. Once we touched down and checked into our lovely holiday cabin less than a mile from the spectacular Cable Beach, we started checking out all the attractions and activities – wow, so much to do and see in Broome. So I’ll be splitting the Broome blog into multiple parts to focus on the town, the beaches, the pearls, the red dirt roads and the crocs! So first, let’s go shopping…..
Our camp ground was so pretty and filled with birds and trees and leafy shrubs. It felt like we were in the jungle…but thankfully there were no spiders or snakes.We were only about 10 minutes from the downtown shopping precinct and thanks to beautifully maintained roads, the daily ride in was smooth and comfortable. Many of the shops were once pearlers’ huts that have been converted and upgraded, or new buildings that kept the feel of last century’s vibe. Johnny Chi Lane (shown above) is a walkway between the two main streets and is lined with groovy boutiques and cafes. We stopped in at the Green Mango Café (below) which was once a big hippy hangout and has now morphed into a renowned café featuring organic handcrafted foods. It’s not air conditioned but well-worth the sweat! Check them out on Facebook.We then popped into the Broome Gallery owned by artist James Down. Loved his colourful work (originals, prints and souvenirs). I bought a couple of emu-themed postcards and enjoyed browsing the poster displays – oh if only I had more suitcase space!Although Broome is a very hot region, the streets were lined with beautiful tropical trees and flowering plants, as well as some sculptural installations showing of the culture and art that can be found here. Suzi suggested visiting the Saturday craft market so off we went to the old court house that was actually featured in The Circuit tv series which filmed there 2007-2009. Sure, things had changed a bit it was still recognizable and I got a thrill walking around where Aaron had trod – yeah, I had a real fan-girl moment there….LOL. We pulled into the parking lots across the road and when I looked up, I saw this…we were at the local jail!So many wonderful friendly vendors with food, art, jewellery…I fell in love with these two prints (above) by artist Betty Rupe (www.kimberleyart.com.au) and they are currently being framed back here in Toronto. Can’t wait to hang them on my wall. Emus and brolgas are native to the region so these are perfect Broome memories for me.
Whew, what a full day we had so with a great big BBQ grill across from the cabin, Suzi decided it was a lamb night for us. And I found my favourite soft drink to enjoy with the chops!Next blog will feature the beaches and the magnificent sunsets that have made Broome so famous around the world. And camels…lots of camels!
Since arriving back in Toronto from my 2 months traveling around Australia’s most remote towns, I’ve been obsessed with maintaining contact with new Down Under friends as well as Aussie social media news and information, especially about filmmakers and musicians. One story particularly piqued my interest as it dealt with both those subjects: it told the story of documentary filmmaker, Tristan Pemberton, and his passion project – a new documentary film that told the story of an indigenous rock band as they toured the Australian outback in some of the country’s most remote places.
Gravel Road tells the real-life story of Jay Minning, singer-songwriter of the most isolated rock band in the world, TheDesert Stars. His four-piece bandmates are traditional land owners of Spinifex Country in the Great Victoria Desert of Western Australia, which is home to the last nomadic people in Australia. From their home in Tjuntjuntjara, the film follows Minning and his band’s first ever tour as they rock their way across the Western Desert with songs of hunter-gatherer life. Their elders survived the British atomic testing (at the infamous Maralinga site) and the band’s profound connection to culture spans back 2,000 generations. With customary Spinifex reciprocity, Minning shares the journey with East-Coast friends, a band named The Re-mains, providing a rare glimpse into his country, his culture, his music and his extraordinary everyday life. Producer/director Pemberton (shown below with editor Harriet Clutterbuck, ASE) previously collaborated with the community of Tjuntjuntjara and The Desert Stars for many years. He produced short films The Cheater and Maku Digging; the documentary Ara Wankatjara Nyinanyi (The Good Health Story) for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Outback Stories show; a short for Spinifex Health Service Ukuri Wiya (Ganga is Bad); the music promo for The Desert Stars homelands tribute Tjuntjuntjara; and most recently The Tjuntjuntjara Story, a staff recruitment film for the Paupiyala Tjarutja Aboriginal Corporation (PTAC).It’s taken some 3 years to research, film, edit and finally get the documentary on screen: Gravel Road is now screening around the world at international film festivals and last month it was screened at CineFest Oz film festival in Western Australia. The band made a surprise live appearance after the film screened, delighting theatregoers. The audience demanded so many encores, the band ran out of material! Offers for them to appear nationwide are now pouring in.I recently e-chatted with Tristan about his journey with Jay and the band, his relationship with the Tjuntjuntjara community, the filming process, the hardships of filming on the road with a small crew and then pulling it all together in order to launch at film festivals across the country…..
Tristan, you’ve worked on several previous projects involving the remote Tjuntjuntjara community – what was so special about Jay and his band’s tour that fired your imagination? Jay and the Desert Stars are traditional landowners of Spinifex Country where, in 1986, the last hunter gatherer nomadic people in Australia and possibly the world – a family of seven – made contact for the first time. My journey to research the facts around those events started over ten years ago, and my passion to tell that story with Tjuntjuntjara Community – with the community’s full support – hasn’t waned. The fact is, Spinifex People, due to their isolation, have managed to keep culture very intact and remained some of the most traditional people left in Australia, and probably the planet. So the Spinifex People have a unique place in Australian and world history, and Jay writes his songs, tells his stories, from that perspective. That in itself fascinates me and lights that fire in my belly to share Jay’s stories and music through film.Were you a fan of The Desert Stars/Re-Mains prior to shooting the film? Yes. I’d first heard of the Desert Stars on my second trip to community where I was running a filmmaking workshop. Together we’d made a short film, called The Cheater, and during post-production we were looking to add music to the edit. A couple of people involved in post immediately suggested we add some Desert Stars music as they were the local rock band. A CD appeared shortly after and I heard their music for the first time. It was such a perfect fit, with songs that reflected culture of life in the desert and the Spinifex experience. And what great songs. Jay really is a gifted songwriter, weaving his life experiences into catchy melody and poetry, with a great 80s rock feel.
Did you discover new truths about the community, the country, the musicians or yourself over the years it took to get the story to the screen? As long as you keep pushing yourself, I don’t think you ever stop learning about yourself and the world. Filmmaking is hard work, and it never really gets easier. But it’s made easier by the contributions of others. They say it takes a village to raise a child, well the same can be said of a film. Without its village, its own little community, most films never get made, or have a chance to find its audience once completed. So as a filmmaker one of the most important jobs is to surround that story idea with its own community who’ll support and protect it and help it grow into something bigger and stronger. It’s been incredibly humbling to watch as so many have invested time and energy into Gravel Road, with their only reward the hope that it, and the band, will succeed in finding an audience.How important was the input from local elders when telling the band’s story and that of the community itself? Absolutely critical. Without input from elders and the collaborative support of the Tjuntjuntjara community, there’s simply no way I could, or would wish to, tell Jay’s or any story that belonged to the Spinifex People. Afterall, they are not my stories. I just see myself as a conduit, using my skills to walk with and work with Tjuntjuntjara community so together we can share their stories. Collaboration only works when there’s genuine ngaapartji ngaapartji (reciprocity) and cross-cultural consultation and understanding. Jay was the first person – outside the post team – to see an edit, and subsequent edits. And once complete, a private community screening was arranged where all community members were invited to attend. I would never allow a community film to go out into the world before the community got to see it first so they are happy that it’s not mis-representing their story, or presenting anything of cultural concern that shouldn’t be seen or heard. Once Gravel Road had Tjuntjuntjara’s community blessing, it then started its journey beyond the desert into the world.
Did you encounter any resistance from Jay or the musicians when shooting scenes that perhaps revealed more on a personal basis than perhaps they wished to share? And if so, how did you strike a balance with creative differences? Not really. The band were very open to allow me access to their lives during the time I was travelling with them. Occasionally I’d be advised not to record a certain landscape, or capture a particular location – but that was always for cultural reasons which I completely respect and had no reason to challenge. At the same time, I was careful not to push people too far. As a documentary filmmaker you have to use your intuition – or simply ask – to work out when the people you’re recording are getting film fatigue. Sometimes people just want a break from the camera and have some personal space, so I was always acutely aware to allow that to happen when needed. (Jay is also an artist who shares stories through his paintings- see below)After watching the trailer, I can see how all that bumpy dirt road traveling must have put a strain on both your vehicles and your own bodies – how many flat tires, broken axles, empty petrol tanks or back aches took their toll on the musicians and crew? So as not to spoil the film, I guess you’ll have to watch Gravel Road to really answer that question. Though I will say it certainly was uncomfortable sitting in a bus driving over corrugated road for hours and hours, days and days on end. On one of the days sitting on the bus I calculated that if we were hitting 50 corrugations (vibrations) a second, it works out to be 180,000 vibration per hour or about 1.5 million vibrations after 8 hours of driving. That plays havoc on electrical and mechanical equipment, not to mention our bodies.As director, cinematographer and co-producer of Gravel Road, how time-consuming was this project and did you have any sort of personal life throughout production? During the shooting phase, I didn’t have much of a personal life at all. Shooting documentary is all consuming, especially when working in remote locations. There was no sound recordist, or any other crew, with me so I had to be on, or ready to go any time during the day and most nights. Even when exhausted you have to be ready to get going. You never know when you might need to capture that critical piece of the action which will help to drive the narrative forward. It’s hard work!How do you hope audiences respond/react to the film both in Australia and when the film hits international screens? We had our world premiere at Phoenix Film Festival, Arizona USA in April. The feedback from audiences there was very positive with loads of lively and engaging discussion after every screening. Later in April Gravel Road appeared at Poppy Jasper International Film Festival in Morgan Hill, California (just south of San Francisco) where it won Best Documentary Feature award. There, too, we had great discussions around the film, the band and the Spinifex People. So far, the feedback we’ve had has been really positive and audiences have enjoyed Jay’s passion for his music and enthusiasm to share his stories. We often get comments about how great the band play and what wonderful, catchy songs they perform. There’re often comments about the landscape that the band passed through. It’s a feel-good film which shares a really positive story about how the Spinifex People have survived atomic testing and the ravages of colonialism to rise above, keep culture strong and succeed.
Thank you, Tristan, and good luck with Gravel Road as it rolls out into wide release in cinemas around Australia and the world. If you want to learn more about the documentary, visit the official website or follow Tristan and the film on social media: