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Tall Timbers

A Story by Beryl Bowden

Stroud played an important role in the Australian film industry with the making of ‘Tall Timbers’. Most of the outdoor scenes were filmed in the Stroud area. Simmsville, a little town five miles from Stroud, was selected for the mill scenes.

Ken Hall directed the film for Cinesound; the stars were Frank Leighton and Shirley Ann Richards. Frank Harvey, Harvey Adams, George Lloyd, Aileen Britton, Letty Craydon, Joe Valli and Bobby Dunstan played supporting roles.

Lance Skuthorpe, the Australian Buck Jumping Champion at the time, doubled for all the horse riding in the film.

TALLTIMBERSSimmsville consisted of one large sawmill, with a few weatherboard houses clustered round it. The men who worked in the mill occupied the houses. During the filming, some of these men were used as extras, acting the parts of disgruntled mill-hands. It was thought funny that the fellow singled out to yell ‘what about our wives and kids’ had no children!

One Sunday the entire population of Stroud was recruited as extras for a picnic sequence. The script called for us to run down the main street of Simmsville in an excited fashion after hearing the locomotive whistle blow. On cue, we took off, running like mad and hamming it up for the cameras. One boy didn’t look where he was going and fell over a dog lying asleep in the middle of the road. Not surprisingly, the dog jumped up and bit him! The cameras caught the impromptu action and when the ‘rushes’ were shown that night, Ken Hall was so pleased he left it in.

A locomotive hauled the logs to the mill from bush locations on flat- topped trucks. As part of the action we were asked to hop onto the trucks and be hauled away. It was supposed to be a happy affair but not for Letty Craydon and quite a few others. Terrified, eyes tight shut, not daring to look down at the deep gorges, she clung to who-ever was closest as we rattled across the trestle bridges. Needless to say, she wasn’t the only one who was pleased when the loco finally arrived at its destination.

There were various benefits to the town because of the movie making. The Central Hotel never had it so good. It was booked out the entire time the film crew was in town. We got to know and like the cast and crew and on hot afternoons they would join us for a cool-off at Towser, the local swimming hole. At age twelve I had a huge crush on Frank Leighton and it was a great thrill to be swimming with him! Even though he was a famous movie star and we were country kids he seemed to enjoy our company and teased us quite a bit.

Dad was the local picture exhibitor. He showed the movies in the School of Arts every Saturday night. Each day Tall Timbers was being filmed Dad showed the day’s ‘rushes’ for them. He made no charge and even though he was promised the premiere of the film, it was, as we expected, held in Brisbane at the Tivoli Theatre. However, Dad did have the honour of being the second theatre-in the world– to show it!

He screened it to packed houses for four nights… everyone kept coming back to see themselves in the crowd scenes!

During the years Dad was involved in the movie industry we saw many changes: from silent movies to talkies; from one projector to two; from a noisy generator in a tin shed to ‘proper’ electricity; from black and white to colour; and from the small screen to the wide screen. Dad didn’t make any money out of the venture because all the changes and improvements ate up the profits. There was, however, a certain satisfaction for him, knowing that his efforts filled a very real need in the town.

Going to the pictures certainly became an important social event for the people of Stroud and surrounding villages.

An excerpt from Beryl’s published work Growing up in Stroud

Isn’t modern technology wonderful? This film clip is actual footage of the film. I found it on Mr. Google.

Australian Audiovisual Heritage Online – Tall Timbers 1937

I can identify the man who says “Why not?” as Wal Bridge and Peirie Mason says “What about our wives and kids?” George Newton and Ezzie Maytom are in the fore-front though don’t have speaking roles. Other people might recognize some of the men standing around, if so, I would like to hear from them.







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2 Comments on “Tall Timbers”

  1. Anne Frost May 30, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Oh dear oh dear – that acting!
    And to think Simmsville has completely disappeared. We’ve been out and looked and can’t find even the remnants of the town.
    Your life has spanned some very interesting times Mum and how lucky are we that you have the talent to write about your memories.

    • Kenneth Haynes. January 25, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

      I found my way to Simmsville just this morning. The Lantana and the bush has again taken hold and, just as you said, there is not a lot to see. However I did photograph the remains of the boiler left in the vicinity of the Timber Mill and the weir, which is still intact, situated in a gully below the town. If you are to go back you will find the bridge crossing the creek on the western side of the town has been washed away but to the town, is only a short walk.

      I poked in and around Simmsville for two or three hours and knowing a little of the history and the layout of the town, I was able to let my imagination run wild. A truly wonderful and fun filled morning.

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