Walk into Paradise: Rod Noble

In 1956, when I was a first year student at Sydney University, I invited two fellow students to see with me a recently released film Walk into Paradise. The hero was well known Australian actor “Chips” Rafferty who was also well known in the Territories of P&NG for mistaking a puk puk for a pek pek.

In the intervening half century I had not thought about that film at all. But when James Tyson of Nardoo Nursery at Mt Tamborine, Qld, (now at Smithton, Tas), where Barbara and I had chosen to retire, showed me a copy of a PNG club magazine I was pleasantly surprised to find that my memories of that long ago time were so clear and detailed. The magazine advertised a DVD of the Australian/French financed film, Walk into Paradise.

As a Cadet Patrol Officer I had spent some time in Port Moresby then Wewak, and in 1955 was stationed at Angoram 60 miles from the delta of the Sepik River.

The Sepik District Commissioner Sid Elliot-Smith had sent a signal (telegram) to the Angoram Assistant District Officer advising that a film unit would be arriving at Angoram shortly and requesting that an administration officer accompany the unit upriver.

As I was the only other officer there at the time I got the gig.

The unit arrived the next week on two inter-island trading vessels with about ten persons aboard plus crew. The unit members were invited to the club to meet the nine local expatriates. There I met “Chips” Rafferty and Reg Lye, actors; Francoise, heroine; a young make up lady also from Paris; Jan “Candy” Mitchell, a leading Sydney model who was the stand-in for the heroine who disliked the tropical heat and humidity. It was her first time out of France. Also aboard was Lee Robinson, the director and a principle of Southern International Films which was providing half the finance for the film. The camera director was a very pleasant Italian and the camera man and focus puller were English.

As the government vessel based at this sub-district had a top speed from its single cylinder engine of about 4 knots, which was barely more than the speed of the river current, it was decided that I should join the unit on board one of  the vessels. So next morning, with Mani, my haus boi , I embarked for two weeks up river that should have been deducted from my leave because the time spent there had so little to do with my regular work.

Of course I was there to ensure that there was no abuse or under payment of locals who were used as extras.

As the unit had already been in the Territory for some time, shooting the majority of the film in the highlands, there was nothing for me to do in my official capacity. All members were quite relaxed although they were such a tiny film crew surrounded by so many people that they could not communicate with. However, as I was now somewhat familiar with the area and spoke tok pisin I did do some location finding and did arrange for lots of grass-skirted, topless maidens to paddle the actors past the camera in large dug-out canoes. On the Sepik River, I do not know about elsewhere, men stand up to paddle and women sit down. For the purposes of the film I did request the young maidens to be upstanding and to wear some token bilas.

The two weeks I spent upriver with the film unit reminded me as similar in some ways to the military training I had done with the CMF in Tasmania. Both involved good food, lots and lots of  just sitting around and chatting with pleasant people. Yes, I do know that the members of the film unit were somewhat more cosmopolitan than my fellow soldiers in Tassie. We were sitting around a lot while the film director pointed his light-meter at the sky. Lee Robinson also looked anxiously upwards as the waiting around was costing his company money. It was also costing his partner, a French company  lots of money too.

The fact of dual financing meant that each scene was filmed twice. Both the scenic ones and the dialogue ones. In order to make the dubbing of Chips’ dialogue into French more realistic looking a cue board was held up with a sort of phonetic translation of the French so that his lip movements would syncronise with the dialogue when dubbed. Francoise spoke excellent English.

When I returned, I was asked why it had taken so long. After all they had said that there were only a few shots needed for the beginning of the film. I pointed out that there had been so many cloudy days, not recommended for colour filming. “Shanghai” Brown told me that it is always cloudy during this season and why had they not asked a resident when would it be clear and sunny.

After filming was completed the two vessels tied up at Angoram’s Tobacco Road wharf and a farewell supper for the group was held at the Club. It was bountifully supplied with lots of delicious dishes by Chu Leong. They departed next morning and I returned to office duties. This involved pecking out with one finger on ancient typewriters many reports for the wise ones in Moresby.

The unit’s departure did not end my connection with the film. I had asked for and was kindly given “Candy” Mitchell’s Sydney phone number. I had nearly finished my first term and would be granted leave shortly. Hence I arranged a stay in Sydney, en route to home in Hobart. I rang the number and was invited to a party. Very pleasant. But that’s not all. Just after Christmas my parents moved to Sydney as my father had been appointed to his company’s head office there.

I had reluctantly decided to resign from the service and enroll at Sydney University. The law faculty had a commencement ball. As Candy was the only female of my own age that I knew in Sydney, I asked if she would be my partner at this function. She agreed. So, on the night, I bought a corsage and picked her up in my father’s car. Dancing was no problem, as like all (or most) school children in Hobart I had attended Mrs Donnelly’s Friday night dance classes.

But I was not prepared for what happened when my partner was welcomed by the band. It promptly went into Latin American themes. Candy responded and I floundered a bit as the others on the floor stood back and applauded her. She made a good Ginger, but a Fred Astaire I was not. The last I heard of Candy was that she left the limelight, married and went to live in the Western suburbs.

When I asked Lee Robinson how the exposed reels were dealt with he said they went into the ship’s cool room. When they were returned to Lae, Qantas would see that they were packed in dry ice until delivered to be processed in Melbourne. I do not know what “re-mastered” means but the colour quality of the DVD is remarkable. I can not say the same for the script but it was publicity for Australia’s colonial role in PNG. When the film was discussed last year on the ABC it was said that Chips wanted to do a film where he did not have to travel to Europe or the UK. It would be interesting to find out how many stars David and Margaret would award this film.

I’ll conclude this recollection with two comments: (a) I wonder why more full length movies have not been made in PNG. Many documentaries about the people, the flora, the fauna and of course First Contact have received wide acclaim. Political instability, endemic corruption and the break down of law and order in some centres would not encourage an endeavour like Walk into Paradise again. However I am sure that if Sir Peter or Jan Barter were consulted they could suggest great locations where peace still reigns, the scenery is outstanding and the locals very willing to join in: (b) I suppose it would not surprise an experienced movie maker but I do note that the 14 days on location on the Sepik resulted in ++ seconds of finished film, ergo, a cluttered cutting room floor. 

P.S. Since writing the above I have remembered that I have forgotten a member of the unit: a very pleasant lady with the title of “Continuity Girl”. I had to ask what her duties were as she sat near the camera with a note book. I was told that as film shots are often taken out of sequence she was responsible to check that the actors wore the same clothes even if the shots were days apart.


A.D.O. “Bunny” Yeomans embarking on admin vessel heading up river


Chips, Francoise and Reg going up river


Candy in front of Chips’ cue board


Candy (right) and Chips flying out in a Norseman, after filming

 

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