It is not every day one gets to see Nicole Kidman! ell, actually we didn’t today either – but she was there! Excitement and anticipation were in the air. Shuttle bus drivers were counting the number of times they glimpsed her as they slowly drove back and forth past the set. Filming of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’ was starting at Stokes Hill Wharf. As there was no pedestrian or vehicle access, free shuttle buses were running every five minutes or so. Many curious folk were queuing for a ride, not so much to enjoy all the wharf had to offer but to see the action. Would they catch sight of Nicole or maybe Hugh Jackman? Probably not, but the possibility was there! A small section of the wharf was modified to resemble Darwin of the 1930s, “a little bit of Asia, a little bit of the Wild West, a little bit of Africa” according to the director.
Grubby old-fashioned clothing smeared with extra layers of dirt was the order of the day. The costumes were so realistic we could have been transported right back to the early thirties, though personally it reminded me of pictures seen of the early convict days! Women in smart dresses of the time, small girls, men in workgear looking somewhat self-conscious and more than a little hot in the heavy clothing, young aboriginal boys and a few older women; all ages were represented. The youngsters in particular looked very proud to have been selected to take part. Extras were hired for $15.70 an hour. Some had been waiting on the sidelines since 5.30 that morning! When filming was in progress all other activity ceased. After each segment, buses could continue on past the set to deposit and collect passengers. Then there was a short walk through the throng of waiting extras to the amenities of the wharf. Of course, we all made it a very slow amble, taking in all the wonderful costumes and sights around us. Filming of the epic in Darwin was going to be four times as expensive as if it had been completed in Sydney, but the director considered that nowhere else could match the beauty of the water in Darwin and so the expense was justified.
Out on the harbour tugs and other boats were plying to and fro getting into position for the next shoot. It was most exciting being in the midst of so much activity. I was chatting to the captain of a boat that had been hired for the venture. He pointed out a magnificent yacht in mid harbour, reputedly the most expensive one in the world, weighing 1000 tons, 90 metres in length, valued at $120 million and belonging to an American software developer. Rumour had it among the ‘extras’ that was where Nicole was staying during the filming. Rumour or fact, I know not!
Stokes Hill Wharf is one of the ‘must see’ places in Darwin. It really comes to life of an evening as the sun is setting, but it was a day to enjoy lunch there amid all the action and excitement.