Broome, Australia: Sun Pictures Outdoor Cinema Within Film Actually the Beginning of it all for Writer

The pearling shed, redressed as the Roebuck Bay Hotel for the film Bran Nue Dae. Move over Baz Luhrmann. With a fraction of the budget, less digital wizardry and even more unbridled joy, Bran Nue Dae does for the Kimberley what Australia the movie couldn't: shows off its famous turquoise bits and calls its star town by its own name. The east Kimberley formed much of Australia's sweeping backdrop but was passed off as the Northern Territory.

By contrast, Bran Nue Dae was filmed and set where its spirit lies, in the north-western town of Broome.

Tourism operators in the subtropical holiday idyll couldn't have bought the publicity. The film mentions the word "Broome" with alacrity - I lost count somewhere near 27 - and showcases the iconic landscape of the Kimberley coast, as well as its multicultural liveliness.

"Filming in Broome added a million dollars to the budget but we couldn't have filmed anywhere else," says director Rachel Perkins, of the small-budget musical based on Jimmy Chi's stage play of the 1990s. "Broome is so distinctive - the reds, the blues, the corrugated iron and the old pearling masters' homes. We were lucky to find a lot of locations fairly unchanged since the 1960s, when the story is set."

The film charts a 2000-kilometre journey between Perth and Broome but cinephile tourists keen to walk in the filmmakers' footsteps need not dust off the Kombi to do so.

Apart from some scenes shot in Perth and Fremantle and the bit where a dewy-eyed Missy Higgins serenades her German beau at an anonymous watering hole (it's Molly Springs near Kununurra), most of the filming was done within a tidy radius of Broome.

So if you're looking for the "Port Hedland" eatery Tong's Chinese, where Deborah Mailman's character seduces the film's young lead, Willie (Rocky McKenzie), look no further than Napier Terrace on the edge of Broome's Chinatown. Further seduction beneath the whimsically adorned "Condom Tree" was shot at Roebuck Plains Station, north of town. "Every young bloke ends up at the Condom Tree," insists Ernie Dingo's character, launching a Kimberley myth.

Nothing had to be done to the boxy, charmingly uncharming Tong's to recreate a 1960s feel. On the other hand, the Roebuck Hotel - scene of Jessica Mauboy's bluesy solos and a series of all-in musical knees-ups - is too altered to pass as the rustic pub of Jimmy Chi's adolescence (wet T-shirt competitions are part of its contemporary charm).

Ironically, the filmic stand-in was the town's boutique brewery, Matso's, the timber interior of which retains a nostalgic vibe (perhaps it's the legendary ginger beer). Exterior shots were filmed at a heritage-listed pearling shed dressed for the period. Find it on Hamersley Street overlooking Roebuck Bay, just down from Matso's.

Bran Nue Dae pilgrims will certainly spend an evening at Sun Pictures, Broome's outdoor cinema and Australia's oldest picture garden.

Scene of a monsoonal downpour early in the film, the nostalgia-riddled cinema, where geckos, bats and passing jet planes contribute to the ambience, is the same one in which Jimmy Chi devoured musical films as an adolescent, inspiring story.

Few travel to Broome and fail to visit Cable Beach, so even unwitting visitors will get a glimpse of the site of the film's comic finale. The wide tidal beach and cobalt-blue water are unmistakeable. But beach scouting was a rigorous part of pre-production and Gantheaume Point, the dazzling pinnacle at the southern end of Cable Beach, landed a role without even trying.

"People come to Cable Beach and think they've seen the beach in Broome," Perkins says. "But Gantheaume Point is a whole other story. We just had to include that amazing contrast of aqua water and bright-red sand."

Gantheaume Point, home to dinosaur footprints and Anastasia's Pool (dug from stone by a lighthouse keeper for his arthritic wife), feature in flashback sequences and wherever impossibly blue water is seen.

Perkins felt similarly drawn to the church at Beagle Bay, an Aboriginal community on the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome. "It so demanded to be in the film," she says of the church, whose striking altar is made of mother of pearl shell. The three-hour, four-wheel-drive trek stretched the film's budget but the pilgrimage remains one of Perkins' recommendations for Bran Nue Dae groupies.

The low budget was no foil for serendipity on the film shoot. With a week to go before filming and no location secured for gun-toting, lascivious Magda Szubanski's service station, a perfect venue sporting a For Lease sign materialised on Walcott Street. A certain seedy star quality now lingers at the disused servo in the wake of Szubanski's lewd ways with hot Chiko Rolls.

In the absence of a cashed-up art department (no vintage Prada luggage here), the friends of cast and crew chipped in with wardrobes, kitchen utensils and bric-a-brac to flesh out this and other sets.

Crew member Arnhem Hunter gave his blessing to use his late father's old house at Morgans Camp. Off Chapple Street in Chinatown (rubberneckers can visit - there are no doors), the house was the place where the young lead and his mother (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) shared a home. Look closely at the meal-time scenes for another sign of kismet. The table came straight out of Chi's kitchen.

If you can't visit a local's house in Broome, this could be the next best thing. It's got history (the ceiling rails were once used to hang pearl-diving suits), character (corrugated iron and natural ventilation) and tribal significance (it was gifted to a Bardi law man by the Yaru people). Besides which, you don't have to go far to glimpse the legendary turquoise, white and red trifecta that makes its setting worthy of the big screen.

Megan Anderson


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