During my Video Camera Courses and even in general conversation people regularly ask me what my favourite shoot has been and I find that to be an impossible question to answer. There have been too many fantastic experiences in my career, but I would like to share at least some of the more memorable ones with you.
Tony Gordon was an amazingly talented presenter. He was also my best friend, like a brother to me. He died a few years ago doing what he loved best in this world, flying his Pitts Special aerobatics plane. It took me a long time to come to terms with that.
We met when we both worked for the Seven Television Network in Australia. We worked together on a children’s show called “Wombat”, and we travelled all around Australia shooting stories about anything interesting, unusual or out of the ordinary. Hundreds of stories and I will share a few of the best.
Uluru or Ayers Rock as it used to be called is one of Australia’s top tourist destinations and a ‘must see’ for anyone visiting Australia, and we were sent out there to shoot some stories. More and more restrictions were coming into place about television cameras going up onto the Rock to film, but we were allowed to film around the bottom of the Rock. To do this though we had to be accompanied by two local Aboriginal men and a National Parks man who had lived out there for twenty years and could speak the local language.
The Aboriginal men could speak some English, but for any in depth information the interpreter would help with an explanation. I think that he was probably also there to make sure we didn’t try to push the Aboriginal men and make them uncomfortable with what we were covering.
Even though we were disappointed about not being able to film on the Rock we were told we would be taken to some interesting caves around the bottom of the Rock.
Just some info about Uluru, it is 348 metres high [about the height of a 95-story building], 3.6 km long and is 9.4 km in circumference. it has around half a million visitors each year.
The thing that gets you when you stand in its presence is that it is one big rock, not a hill made up of millions of rocks, but one big rock, it is incredible. It also has many waterfalls, caves and ancient aboriginal cave paintings, so we were excited about what we might see at the caves when we were taken there by the local Aboriginal men.
Our vehicles stopped about two hundred metres from the Rock and I set up the camera and started filming Tony and the locals walking towards the Rock. Something that made the whole scene seem unreal was that Uluru is totally surrounded by red sand and small bushes. Nothing else. No other rocks, just sand and small bushes.
So, I am getting a variety of shots of this amazing scene as we all walk closer and closer to the base of the Rock. Suddenly Tony moves a a few steps off the track we are following and bends down and reaches under a bush to pick up a discarded Coke can that he sees laying there.
“Arh, look out, Liru” says one of our guides with a quiet voice and a slight smile.
Tony looks up and matter of factly askes “what’s a Liru”
The response “Poisonous snake mate” sees Tony jump a mile and retreat to the track and the rest of us have a big laugh at his expense.
This day that would have many learning experiences for us whiteys.
We follow the locals up to the first cave of our adventure.
This first cave was quite small and had a cave painting on one wall and I was allowed to film it. I shot some general vision or GV’s of the cave and of the painting and also everyone standing around outside chatting. Tony then asks the interpreter what the painting is about so that he can do a ‘PTC’ or piece to camera explaining it to the viewers. The question is put to the Aboriginal men and they all have a chuckle together and we get the response ‘no’. We are aware that Uluru is sacred to the Aborigines so Tony, trying to understand, says “Is that because it is sacred”.
No, we were told, the reason was, that what we saw as a simple cave painting had much more significance to the local Aboriginal men. They were elders of their tribe and the many stories of the painting were handed down to them over the many years of their lives. It was impossible for them to tell the story of the painting in a few words or even a few minutes.
We moved on to see a few more much larger caves. Uluru and these caves are sacred to these Aborigines and one of the elders related a memory he had from when he was a boy. It related to a large cave that they showed us and he called it the men’s cave.
This was a sacred men’s cave and held no less importance to them as any cathedral or mosque might hold to many of us. In fact it held the threat of death to any woman or child that dared to enter. The indigenous tribe did not live in the caves permanently, they travelled around their “Country” hunting and gathering food, having their ceremonies, and passing down their “Dreamtime” stories.
The Elders memory as a young boy was of a day when they were returning to the caves at Uluru from a trip away and they saw smoke coming from out of the sacred men’s cave. The tribe was all-together so they did not know who was there or what was happening at the cave.
They stopped and waited a distance from the caves so they could stay hidden and watch. A short time later, they saw a horse drawn carriage with white men and women leaving the sacred men’s cave. They had been having a picnic in the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. Our Elder said that as a young boy it was a very confusing experience as he would have been put to death if he had been found in that cave . He later learned that the visitors had also left rubbish in the sacred cave and used it as a toilet.
We all came home from that trip with minds that were a lot more open and a renewed belief in the importance of the storytellers.
If you like these stories about some of my experiences as a Professional Cameraman leave a comment and let me know and I will write some more.
If you would like to improve your skills as a visual storyteller check out The Video Camera Course