Crocodile Creek – Finding Baz Luhrmann ’s ‘lost’ project

Baz Luhrmann and Felix Meagher, Photograph courtesy Opera Australia editorialIn a special presentation at Canberra’s National Film and Sound Archives (NFSA), film historian and writer Jeannette Delamoir will reveal the story behind Baz Luhrmann’s 1986 ‘lost’ musical Crocodile Creek.

One of Australia’s most successful film directors, Luhrmann was only 23 when he visited Rockhampton, Queensland, to direct Crocodile Creek — a community musical that unfolds amidst the 1867 anti-Chinese riots at the Crocodile Creek goldfield.

“Crocodile Creek faded from sight, and this oblivion is undeserved,” said Delamoir. “Over the past year, I’ve interviewed many of the participants, and I’m convinced that fate brought together a fortuitous combination of personnel who created something special.

“Certainly the production made a long-lasting impact on those involved—and that includes Luhrmann, its professional director.”

The illustrated lecture will spotlight this forgotten Luhrmann production. It will also include a special performance by Crocodile Creek composer Felix Meagher, who will play excerpts from the score — music which has not been heard in public since the show’s four-night season ended almost 30 years ago!

From a script by local Rockhampton writer Barbara Birchall, the musical was inspired by a “disturbance” in 1867, when racist violence targeted Chinese miners at the Crocodile Creek goldfield. Birchall used these events as a backdrop for a romance between two teenagers, Irish Molly and Chinese Mickee. Their relationship is bitterly opposed by Molly’s father, Black Ned, the leader of the riot.

Eventually 120 local people were involved. The cast had 40 members, the orchestra 23 musicians. Fifty volunteers worked through the night making costumes and building sets – then went to work the next day.

“The characteristics that underlie Luhrmann’s present success – the highly developed vision, the searing drive, and the capacity for deep connections with cast and crew – were already evident,” explained Delamoir.

Jeannette Delamoir has a PhD in media studies from La Trobe University, and taught for many years at CQ University in Rockhampton. She has also worked at the NFSA in Canberra and Sydney, and was a 2011 NFSA SAR Fellow. She is currently researching the 1927 Royal Commission into the Moving Picture Industry in Australia.

Felix Meagher has a Bachelor of Music from the University of Melbourne. As manager and performer in the band Bushwahzee, he tours schools around Australia. He is co-creator and Program Director of The Lake School of Celtic Music in Koroit, Victoria, and has also worked on 30 Port Fairy Folk Festivals. Recently he wrote and composed Barry v. Kelly, a dramatic musical set around the death of Ned Kelly; and, with Dennis O’Keeffe, the musical The Man They Call The Banjo.

In the 1980s, Felix worked as resident composer in Alice Springs, Geelong, and Rockhampton where he wrote Crocodile Creek with Baz Luhrmann and Barbra Birchall. In 1988, he collaborated with Baz Luhrmann and Wendy Harmer on Lake Lost for the Australian Opera Workshop. He also contributed music to Luhrmann’s film Australia (2008).

Crocodile Creek –  Finding Baz Luhrmann ’s ‘lost’ project will be presented at the NFSA Theatrette, McCoy Circuit, Acton (Canberra) on Friday 15 August. For more information, visit: www.nfsa.gov.au for details.

Image: Baz Luhrmann and Felix Meagher – photo courtesy of Opera Australia

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