Our tin shed men behind the Storm Boy boat
Our Fleurieu Peninsula, particularly Goolwa, will beam from the bright theatre lights when the director and cast of the remaking of Colin Thiele’s beautiful and classic tale Storm Boy walk the red carpet for a special screening at Victa Cinemas on January 7.
Not entirely the glitz of Tinsel Town, or even the expected glamour sprawling across a Sydney walkway as it hits the screens nationally on January 17, but nonetheless a significant moment for Australia’s movie industry. Definitely exciting for our locals, who in no small way contributed. Stars the lot of them.
But like the gripping end to a Coen brothers thriller, behind the scenes were a bunch of eight or 10 ordinary blokes who worked amazing hours in a tin shed racing against time to complete one of crucial elements of this contemporary classic – the wooden boat.
They are the men of the Armfield Slipway & Boatshed on the bank of the mighty Murray at Goolwa, who between them did a Tom Cruise – completing what seemed at the time a mission impossible.
Leading this team, under the direction of Armfield chairman Garry Coombes, was Bob Jennings, a motoring writer of national acclaim, whom has been living his passion for wooden boats this past decade.
“When we heard there was going to be a sequel to the 1976 movie Storm Boy we got in touch with the South Australian Film Corporation to let them know we had the original boat in the first movie and it was restored in good, running order,” Bob said.
“They contacted the film unit in Sydney, who flew over and had a look, but decided it wasn’t suitable; they needed a sea-faring boat. After a exhausting search they found one suitable on Kangaroo Island and bought it off a bloke who had restored it and used the boat for pleasure.
“They showed us pictures of the boat and asked if we could put a cabin on it; turn it into a 1950s fishing boat. We came up with a concept that Garry photoshopped onto one of the images they had sent, and they liked the style. They asked us to built it.
“They delivered the boat to us from Kangaroo Island, and said we had two weeks for us to do everything. Two weeks. We had eight or 10 of us, all volunteers, working on different aspects of it for incredibly long hours for six days a week, and we got it done.
“We had it undercoated and all. The boat looked very smart. The Film Corporation people then sent down people with a pelicans that was being trained, and stuck it on top to make sure the proportions were all okay.
“They also sent their props people in to make all of our brand new work look old and battered. They came with mission brown paint, wire brushes, knives, and put mud from the river into a pressure container and sprayed it over the boat to make it look knocked around.
“It didn’t stop there. They wanted details changed; the authenticity they asked for was incredible. I really admired them for that. There were ordinary plastic cleats on the back which you use for mooring, and they asked us to make some wooden ones, so we did. They took out the original floorboards which were in good nick and got some old housing floorboards which were rough as guts, chopped them up and put them in.
“The throttle on the engine had a single leaver control made from plastic so we had to take it off and make one especially with a metal lever. The stainless steel trimmings had to be taken off. The portholes in the cabin were sourced from Queensland and had to be also roughened to look old.
“The filmakers took the boat to Port Noarlunga for one of the ocean scenes, and we had to put out-of-sight anchoring points below the water line on the boat so it could be moored in the ocean and not drift away.
“The screws. Even the screws had to be changed; they had to be slot head screws and not a Phillips head which were not made in those days.
“There was not a name on the original boat in the movie, but it was referred to as HideAway. I guess this one will be known as HideAway II.
“When the film crews finished filming – they were so good to us right throughout and the paid Armfield – they asked us if we wanted the boat. I suppose it was because we had the boat from the original film and we had looked after that. The answer was obvious.
“We will preserve the boat in a knocked-about condition until after the film launch and the Wooden Boat Festival
“We will re-do some of the paint work that is peeling and has been deliberately wiped off, otherwise it will deteriorate. It will be still kept as it is now in terms of style and character.”
A lot of work had obviously gone into the movie, and those at the boatshed should also be proud of their effort.
According to Bob, he blokes here at Armfield Slipway & Boatshed always put in, and on this special project people like Alan Edwards, the wrangler for the boat on set, Ron Bastik, who did all the working drawings, and hard working people including Peter Shipside and Ted Beckett were terrific. A lot of blokes were, especially Bob himself. The driving force was their love for wooden boats, tarted up or not.
When asked whether he would be at the opening night at Victa Cinema Bob joked: “Sure will; a lot of us will be there. All eyes will be on the boat, bugger the rest of the film.”
And may the rest of us also take note whether the screws in HideAway II are slot headed or the Phillips head kind when the cameras flash on the scratched and dented timber work in a millionth of a second.
According to Bob, every moment working on this boat for a fabulous movie like Storm Boy was a thrill, and what made it special was the enormous respect between film crew and the men in the tin shed.
Bob joked again how the blokes met a real star – Mr Percival: “Angelina Jolie woud have been nice to meet, but the blokes settled for a pelican.” That’s show business.