The ‘Making of’ BLOWN AWAY
The story of Cyclone Tracy is an anthemic Australian narrative. It is part of Australia’s core history and mythology, and provides a modern example of survival and heroism that is so engrained in Australian culture. But if you strip back the national pride that the story gives us, Cyclone Tracy is, above all else, a Northern Territory story. Like the bombing of Darwin, Peter Falconio and Azaria Chamberlin, Tracy is one of ours, and it is time that Australia reflects back on a monumental incident of Australian history with new eyes.
James Bradley and Rachel Clements started talking about making a documentary for the 40th anniversary of Cyclone Tracy in early 2013. In research and development, it became clear that there are untold stories, myths and legends of the storm, the evacuation, the rebuild and the changing socio/political face of Darwin after the event. Rachel and James became excited about the potential of a documentary that looks back on the cyclone after 40 years and challenges the history books.
In March 2013, we approached Danielle MacLean, a leading Aboriginal filmmaker based in Darwin, and she quickly agreed to come on board as writer/director. Coming from an Aboriginal ‘Top-End’ family, Danielle grew up hearing the stories from the survivors in her family. She brought the access to Darwin and it’s residents that was vital for the film. We were delighted to have Danielle on the team. For the first time, NT key-creatives have told the story of Tracy from an NT perspective. We did have a blow-in (James Bradley) but he has spent much of his career editing NT stories (Dhakiyarr vs the King, 5 Seasons, Mr Patterns, etc).
As a team, we were committed to celebrating the courage and resilience of the forgotten champions, and to create a program that would shine a light on the remote frontier town of Darwin in the early 1970s, before self-government. Indeed, many people believe that the rebuilding of Darwin after Tracy was the catalyst for the Territory to finally attain freedom from Canberra. There are generations of Australians who are unaware of the heroes from the tragedy. Everyone knows there was a cyclone; very few people know any of the personal stories of Darwinians who lived through the devastation.
We entered formal development with a Time Critical Development grant from Screen Australia in early September 2013. We travelled to Darwin, country Victoria and NSW, and Canberra to film interviews with some of the leading players in our story.
Their stories, experience and memories were strong and we knew we had found characters who could put add human element to the natural disaster.
We entered official production in May 2014, and we interviewed 35 people during the course of principal photography. There are many people who want to tell their story about Tracy, particularly those who were adults at the time and are now in their 60’/70’s, and we wanted to ensure that we had a diverse range of engaging characters.
We had to work with a large canvas – there are countless stories that could have been included, and numerous elements of the disaster and aftermath to contain. It was tricky and painful to choose the people who appear in the final film, and we carefully debated about which stories to include.
There are teams of fabulous filmmakers who have worked on Tracy’s story over the years, and we were lucky to have access to their archival footage. The now defunct Film Australia sent people to Darwin immediately after the storm, and ABC and other news channels were active in Darwin as soon as first light came up on Xmas Day 1974. We worked with wonderful researchers at the NFSA and ABC who have extensive collections from these filmmakers who provided a treasure trove of past work for us to delve into.
Through research, we were also able to source a collection of still images from a wide range of sources – from professional photographs in large collections, to photographers living in Darwin at the time of Tracy, and from private, family collections of survivors. Many of the photographs from Darwin based-based photographers and stills from personal/family collections have never been deposited in official archives, and we look forward to be able to lodge these in the National Film and Sound Archives as a means of preserving valuable heritage material in relation to Cyclone Tracy.
As there is no visual material available of the storm itself, we needed to find a device for telling that crucial part of Tracy’s story. The Cyclone hit at night and we had to look for ways to use the cover of darkness to hint at the scope and savagery of the storm. The stunning and emotive animation created by Darwin-based animator Melissa Huni Bolliger was a blessing. We were able to illustrate the incredible stories being told by our participants, including accounts of fridges and other whitegoods flying through the sky, and the beautiful images of birds leaving Darwin. We hope that Huni’s work on BLOWN AWAY will bring recognition to a small but passionate sector within the NT film and television community.