When DreamWorks came to Stanley

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When DreamWorks came to Stanley

“I hope I get Jack Thompson,” Louise says, as she reads the latest email requesting a booking alteration. “I’ve blocked out ten days for accommodation but the dates keep changing.”

Louise and her husband Sam run several B&Bs and the DreamWorks’ film crew have booked out all of Stanley’s accommodation. A friendly celebrity-guest rivalry has now developed among the owners as to who will get Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz and Jack Thompson.

The town is abuzz with the expectation that this Hollywood A list cast will soon be strolling around the historic seaside area. To Tasmanians, but not to Australian mainlanders, Stanley is best known for its thriving scallop and fishing industry and its popularity with tourists.

Soon, it will also be known as the town where The Light Between Oceans, based on a novel by M.L.Stedman, was filmed.

The movie’s backdrop will be stunning. An extinct volcano — called The Nut — dominates the skyline and clear coastal waters surrounding the town give panoramic ocean views wherever you stand.

Whales use this route for their Artic breeding season and there is an abundance of ocean wildlife. Seal tours run every day and dolphins are often spotted leaping from the water and driving fish into the bay.

The natural beauty of North West Tasmania drew the DreamWorks’ location scout to the area. He travelled all around Australia in search of the perfect lighthouse and finally found it at Stanley.

[pullquote sid=”pullquote-1412937566″]He said he couldn’t believe nobody had set a major film here before,  Sam says, shaking his head.[/pullquote]

And I have to agree. Stanley is a quaint town where residents are clearly proud of regularly winning Tasmania’s tidiest town award. The streets are full of neatly aligned and well-maintained weatherboard and Victorian houses and the main street retains many of its original colonial buildings, all of which add to the otherworldly atmosphere.

Sam and Louise bought the old ANZ Bank building in Stanley’s main street in the late 1990s and moved in ten years ago. A steel bank vault, inexplicably placed above head height, remains at the front of the house and its proximity to the ceiling suggests the bank manager must have used a ladder to store the money.

Sam and Louise

Sam and Louise have turned this front area into a spirit-tasting business ‘The Angel’s Share’. The term originated in Scotland and refers to the amount of liquor lost due to evaporation as the whisky distils. “You lose around 30% and the Scots refer to this as the ‘angels share’. Anybody in the business immediately understands the reference,” Louise says.

My colleague and I are holding a writers’ residence here in December and we asked Sam and Louise if we could meet the locals. “They call her The Queen”, Sam says, though Louise is unsure of how she gained this royal title.

Sam and Louise both grew up on the North West Coast of Tasmania, but spent most of their working lives in Melbourne and Sydney.

Stanley began to reinvent itself shortly before their return. Houses were repaired, the main shopping strip renovated and businesses flourished.

For a major Hollywood studio like DreamWorks to pick Stanley as a movie location is quite a coup as well as being a boon for the local economy. The cast and crew are expected to be in there for nearly two months and will need feeding, housing and something to do during their leisure time. The locals are happy to oblige and have already been employed to build sets, supply materials and, in some cases, appear as film extras.

Les SimmsOne such local is Les Sims, currently working on reconstructing a 1920s wharf location at the Stanley pier. He has also restored several boats that will be used in the film, one of which, Lone Dove, they’ve asked him to skipper in several scenes.

I’m impressed. “So you’re building sets, restoring boats and have a role in the movie. That sounds exciting.” Les smiles and nods, his acting status a perk of having spent his career around ships.

The film crew recently asked him to collect a boat and sail it from New Zealand to Stanley. The boat is a Bass Strait Ketch and he spends some time at his workshop on the wharf showing me pictures and explaining the difference in the sails. His workshop is open to visitors and many are drawn to the collection of faded old shipping magazines scattered across a table. Les has a keen interest in maritime history and points to Lone Dove as an example. When he first sited the boat, its name had eroded but during the sanding process he uncovered it and discovered that Lone Dove was made in 1923 from Huon Pine.

When he is not building sets and restoring boats for the movie, Les volunteers to help with troubled youth. He supervises mostly boys, though occasionally girls, as they complete their community service hours. He teaches them maritime skills including how to use tools, sanding, rope work and some history. He enjoys the work and believes it makes a difference in their lives. He says their self-esteem and confidence improve during their time on the program and many come back and visit him after completing their service hours.

Les hopes people will also visit the wharf set he’s built for the movie which, fortunately, will remain after the film’s completion.

Stanley hums during the summer months with many Tasmanians taking their annual holidays. The town becomes quiet over winter, though, but its majestic backdrop and wind-swept streets inspire the local artists.

Sam introduces us to Mark Bishop, an artisan specialising in hand-crafted furniture whose shop on the main thoroughfare attracts a steady stream of street traffic.

“I get asked three questions,” he says. “How long have you been here? Have you lived here all your life and what’s your favourite piece of furniture?” His response to these queries is that since he is only midway through his life then no, he hasn’t lived in Stanley for all of it yet, and to answer the third question, his best piece is always the one he is working on next. At the moment, he has just finished milling Sassafras wood for the movie.

Mark Bishop

Mark went to art school in Canberra and his early training as an artist is evident in his furniture craftsmanship and his pieces sell locally and internationally.

“One of the best things about what I do is that I get to deliver the furniture to customers and am invited into their houses. I’ve met so many people from all over the world. Sometimes they come back to the shop years later and remind me of the pieces I’ve made.” Mark’s philosophy follows the Japanese belief that if a tree is two hundred years old and you make a piece of furniture from it, then that should also last two hundred years. “All trees die,” he says, “but it’s good to be able to do something with them.”

Mark ushers me into his office and shows me a selection of digital images. Many of the pieces are tables, benches and chairs with curved lines in the centre and light and dark tonal variations. He can usually tell how a tree will look as furniture.

[pullquote sid=”pullquote-1412937832″]It’s like being a butcher. You know what grain is inside each tree. [/pullquote]

He explains that a tree’s history is revealed in its curves and scars and whether it’s been affected by trauma. He says he once saw gum scars on a Eucalypt that indicated it had been exposed to fire. He made enquiries and discovered that there had been a fire in the area 60 years earlier.

Mark works mainly with Tasmanian Myrtle, Blackwood and Eucalypts and says these are much stronger woods than deciduous trees. These woods are also popular with Europeans. “Furniture makers in Tasmania have an advantage as there are still lots of forested areas and European clients can see where the tree originated. They just don’t have that opportunity in Europe anymore.”

Mark will soon be moving to a new workshop and believes that if artists get the opportunity, they should rent a shop front as the amount of sales generated from street traffic is a real advantage. As we leave, we ask for an email address. He hands us a small hand-crafted piece of wood, about the size of a cigarette case with a slide out box. The email is engraved inside. “You didn’t expect I’d have an ordinary paper business card did you? You can put your own business cards in there now,” he says and it’s a reminder of the Japanese philosophy of repurposing the tree.

When we return to Louise and Sam’s house, they have confirmed the Dreamworks’ cast and crew accommodation arrangements. They tell us they will introduce us to Don and Charlotte who run the Cable Station Restaurant, a restored building now offering exclusive accommodation. The building is located near historic Highfield House, a magnificent homestead dating from the early colonial years.

When we arrive, Louise queries whether Charlotte has heard from DreamWorks. She responds that they are currently negotiating the accommodation. Indeed, the property is impressive with the stand alone Cable House and several other rooms located around a courtyard. I can well imagine Rachel Weisz — accompanied by husband Daniel Craig — enjoying their stay in the master suite with its romantic double shower set-up.

cable station

The Cable House is a self-contained historical cottage originally built for the telegraph technician and his family. The equipment used to transmit the first telephone call to Tasmania, made by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons during the 1930s (whose childhood home is also on display in Stanley), is in the cottage kitchen.

Charlotte used to run a restaurant in Broome before moving to Stanley around the same time as Louise and Sam. She says the business has started to really thrive in the last few years and believes there is a growing recognition that the North West Coast produces some of the best food in Australia. The success of SBS’s Gourmet Famer has also raised the region’s public profile.

Charlotte became an advocate of the slow food movement while still in Broome. However, she recalls the frustration of being prevented from practising this philosophy with fresh seafood. Broome has a thriving fishing industry but bureaucracy prevents restaurateurs from buying the fish straight from the fishermen’s trawlers. Instead, the seafood is shipped thousands of miles away to Perth before returning several days later, somewhat wilted, after the long and unnecessary journey.

In Stanley however, she can buy scallops and fish straight from the wharf and fruit and vegetables from farmers’ markets. Every three months, Charlotte and Don celebrate the quality of the local produce by hosting The Producers’ Lunch. A guest chef is invited to prepare an assortment of dishes showcasing the fresh produce. The producers, consisting of farmers and fishermen, are invited to the luncheon to talk about their trade as people dine on the local food, all washed down with generous quantities of local wine. The Producers’ Lunch is one of the highlights of the gastronomes’ calendar with people from all over Australia attending.

There are more restaurants opening within the area and Charlotte believes this is a good thing. For too long Tasmanians have been crippled by a negative mindset about competition. “Scarcity versus abundance,” she repeats several times with emphasis. “Make a note of that,” she points to my iPad where I’m rapidly scribbling notes. I ask for clarification and she replies that where there is abundance there is more choice, and more choice attracts more tourists.

I think Charlotte is right and maybe it’s another reason DreamWorks has chosen to film here. There is an awareness and momentum growing about Tasmania’s North West Coast, evident in the vigour of Stanley. This new-found energy is also what attracted us to hold a weekend writers’ residency and it’s also why tourism is booming.

Sam and Louise have been generous with their time but they need to return home to check their emails. Hopefully, DreamWorks has not requested any further changes to their booking but even if they do, I suspect Louise won’t mind, particularly if she gets Jack Thompson.

More information and booking registration for the Stanley Writers’ Retreat can be found at the TasRes site. 

Stanley writers’ retreat brochure

Sue Bell

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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