Filming Tracks in Australia
In 1977, Australian Robyn Davidson set out on a nine month, 1700 mile trek across Western Australia, with four camels and a dog for company. Davidson’s account of the journey subsequently became an international best seller and is now a major feature film starring Mia Wasikowska from Australia-UK based See Saw Films and director John Curran.
Although the actual trek had taken place in Western Australia, the production was shot predominantly in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Sylvia Warmer was the assistant location manager on the feature, and took time out to talk to us about her experiences filming in the beautiful landscape, including dealing with lightning strikes, dust storms and emus.
Shooting the film
What were the reasons for shooing in South Australia as opposed to Western Australia where the majority of the original trek took place?
“The production did not film at all in Western Australia, as the true locations featured in Davidson’s memoir were often inaccessible and too far away for cast and crew to travel.
“The reality is Davidson travelled to these places via camel and some locations do not have road access. Also, the landscape has changed, and at the time of filming much of the country was very lush and green unlike Davidson’s original trek.”
“The director John Curran had to make the decision whether to be authentic to the places Davidson visited or true to her story and journey. In the end, Curran decided on the latter and it was the responsibility of the locations department to find accessible locations in South Australia that married well with the research.”
Historical vs the modern
Robyn Davidson’s original journey began nearly forty years ago, in 1977. It was interesting to find out how closely the film was able to stick to the actual locations, given the fact that so much had altered since then.
Warmer explained: “So much had changed, from townships being modernised, land being protected and conserved to other areas being sold and fenced up. The result meant that it was impossible to film the precise journey. Also, many of the roads Davidson took are still unsealed and closed for certain parts of the year due to flooding and or potential fires.
“Australia is a land of extreme beauty and as such must be respected.”
The climate and conditions
How did the extreme weather conditions affect the shoot, the working day and the crew?
“Intense heat, dust storms, flies and difficult terrain affected the production but the crew were professional and kept their wits about them. Hydration and sun protection were high priorities. Cooler nights were an opportunity to unwind with cast and crews.
Warmer explains that even though Australian crews are very experienced in filming in extreme conditions, it is also important to observe certain fundamental measures.
“Fortunately, for this film, we didn't experience too many days above 45°C (113°F) but we were exposed to the elements nonetheless. Fly nets, zinc cream, sunscreen, broad-rimmed hats, sunglasses, muslin, scarves, long-sleeved clothing, a spare tyre or two, a compass, watch and plenty of water were essential.
“With the rocky tracks we were driving on every day, almost every vehicle had a flat tyre or two at some point. A number of us who were travelling alone had UHF radios, which we could use to talk with each other and/or the local farming stations. When there was no phone reception, and we needed to contact location owners somewhere on their half million acre stations, a radio was imperative.”
The hazards and the wildlife
Extreme heat was not the only challenge the team faced. Snow and rain conspired against them, and they had a very close shave with a bushfire and an extraordinary amount of lightning strikes.
“The day that the crew were heading out from the Flinders Ranges to Coffin Bay – the location where the white sand dunes and beach were filmed - there was concern that the production would not be able to make it as a bushfire had crossed the road that we needed to travel down. Luckily the Country Fire Service had declared it safe that morning and we were able to depart.
“Also, South Australia experienced over 173,000 lightning strikes one evening during the shoot. Even when filming at Kings Creek Station, some crew were battling spot fires from lightning strikes whilst the rest continued filming.
Driving to and from locations at the end of each day could be very hazardous as these were the times that the wildlife was most active. You’d have to be careful of kangaroos, emus, sheep and cattle.”
Local government support
While shooting in Australia, did Warmer have much contact with the local film commissions or other local support agencies?
“The SAFC organised an initial location survey for director John Curran to assess whether or not it was a viable state to film in. The SAFC also provided valuable government contacts to help handle sensitive sites, such as Uluru. Funding from the film festival meant Tracks would premiere in Adelaide.”
As said, the film went on from there and got a great reception on the international festival circuit. Expect to read more about this film. It is due for release on 6 March in Australia and 25 April in the US and the UK.
You can watch the trailer for Tracks below.
We would like to thank Sylvia Warmer for all her time and wish the cast and crew of Tracks success in their future ventures.
For more on filming in Australia, please go to our country guide.