Sunday, January 12, 2014


JAN 11
PILGRIMAGES are one of my favourite things in the whole world. There were dozens of D H Lawrence flavoured ones several years ago. Even in Australia you can go to Craig Street, In Thirroul near Sydney, where Lawrence wrote Kangaroo, and lived with Frieda for about six weeks near the roaring Pacific Ocean. The height of my passion for Vincent Van Gogh occurred when I was in my early twenties. I met some university students from Eindhoven in Holland at that time, and they took  me to Nuenen, a little village where Van Gogh grew up with this parents, and his father was the local pastor. Then there’s Arles, a plethora of locations for various masterpieces, although the Yellow House was bombed by the Nazis. One of the most beautiful places in the world, for me, is the tiny village of Auvers-Sur-Oise, where you can see the fateful wheatfields, the simple Gothic church in the famous painting with the purple windows, and the humble graves, side by side by side, of Vincent Van Gogh and Theo Van Gogh, both dead within a short space of time.

So this brings me to a pilgrimage of a different kind, and no less rewarding, 62 kilometres from here, called Braidwood, where I stayed for the whole day yesterday and could have stayed for several more. It’s where my favourite Australian film was made: The Year My Voice Broke (1987). Holding my MacBook Air, I had the film as it were in my hand.

Upon arriving, heart beating quickly, we found the church hall that appears at the mid-section of the film. The characters go to the hall for a social evening of music and dance. Danny meets Freya there. The Everly Brothers are making the joint jump with ‘Temptation’ and Trevor arrives late and stuns the whole dance floor, and trance-like they watch the young lovers leave. The film shows Danny’s arrival, complete with a Marlon Brando impersonation, on the west side of the hall and through the side entrance. I took photos at this point where Danny walks in. The windows of the Anglican Church hall were opaque, but there was the tiniest crack that offered me a singular, frustratingly hazy glimpse inside, that I could compare to the vision in the film.


Then we ventured over to the main street and found out that the café that Freya and her family own is now a ‘Vinnies’ store. The interior of both shots are similar, and it was fun to once again compare the vision of the film with the vision from current day life. The white pillars for the building next door are the same, as are the steps leading into the shop. Just a little further up the road is the newly renovated building that is now a tourist office, but was then a picture theatre. Here I could see the spot in which Danny queried the cinema owner about any upcoming Brigitte Bardot films (’not that you’d be allowed into’), and where he first gets bullied by the thugs, Pierdon and Malseed.

Across the road from the cinema, one of my favourite scenes was enacted. Freya and Danny are outside, late at night, watching the moths bump against the electric lights. According to Freya, ‘the whole town’s out dreaming.’ They talk intimately of Mrs O’Neill’s ghost and forcefields. It picks up on the gothic nature of the film. It was amazing to be able to stand in that exact spot. Although the shop fronts are newly painted, the posts sticking out of the ground are the same. Some of them have little metal hooks on them.

Other highlights included having a drink at the pub that is featured quite often in the film- except there has been a lot of renovating here so it was hard to reconcile the images with that of real life- and visiting the cemetery and the racecourse where Trevor breaks the track record. Besides the hills scenes which serves as Danny and Freya’s sanctuary- ‘Willy Hill’- the most difficult spot to find was the scene at the waterhole where Trevor nearly ‘drowns’ Freya because the madman keeps her head under the water too long. It was a fair way out of town, over Shoalwater Creek at Bombay Bridge. If you ever go there, go completely over the bridge, and there it is at the end of a short track on your right hand side. It’s a beautiful spot of cool, fresh water and soft sand, and it looks exactly the same in the film.

I could have lingered over these spots in Braidwood forever. Before we left we had a quick look for ‘Willy Hill’, to no avail, and had a chat with the daughter of the Braidwood Hotel. She was only about 8 years old when the film crew landed on her parent’s doorstep. Earlier on, in 1970, the pub played host to another film crew when Mick Jagger’s ‘Ned Kelly’ came to town. Yes, Ben Mendelsohn and Mick Jagger in the same pub, but at different times. The lovely town is steeped in history. Old buildings, thick gutters and a wide, wide street. A perfect location for a film set in the 1960’s.




Phil said...

Willy Hill's not hard to find if you study the scans in the footage taken from the spot and compare it to the satellite image of the area in Google Maps. You can actually pinpoint the exact area to within ten or twenty metres.

harrison said...

Wow thanks Phil- I really hope to back there in the next couple of years.

harrison said...

Irasna said...

Hi Phil, I have been searching for the location for Willy Hill on Google Maps and can't seem to find it at all, I plan on making a pilgrimage there in the next year. Any chance you can post close coordinates (doesn't have to be exact). That would really help.

Phil said...

Hi. Happy to help anyone interested in this story. I've been in Canberra for this last year and have made several trips. I haven't actually walked up to the Willy Hill location b/c it's on private land, but have stopped on the closest accessible road and taken photos. If you look at the vista in the 'hypnotist' scene, which I believe is just above the rocks where they inscribe their names, you can see from the panorama that sweeps from left to right that there is a line of 3 unwooded hills on the left, then to the right in the distance, some tree windbreaks running roughly in line with the camera, then further to the right, Braidwood township, then further to the right still, a high hill covered in bush. That's what I used to work out the basic location. On Google maps using the satellite picture, I could work out almost immediately what the likely hill was. I've provided links to my drive which shows the where the hill is, and the closest road. The road is gravel, but can be easily driven. The first shot with the yellow highlighter circle shows the location, plus the name of the closest road. It's probably 1.5 to 2 kilometers out of town. The second shot with red markings shows the location again, the windbreaks again which are observable in the movie, and the direction to Braidwood. Good luck!