As Hector Crawford is quite rightly regarded as the pioneer of television
drama in Australia, so too can Roger Mirams be regarded as the pioneer of
children's television drama. As head of Pacific Films, in 1959 Mirams
commenced production of
The Terrific Adventures Of The Terrible Ten,
a series of 15-minute programmes for kids, shot on film in black and
white. The studios of GTV-9 were utilised for interior scenes with
exterior location filming taking place at Macedon, in the ranges just north of
Melbourne. The series enjoyed considerable local and overseas success, and
ran for several years. By 1963 it had evolved into a follow-up series, The Ten Again,
and was being screened by the Australian Broadcasting Commission
(ABC). The experience gained from The Terrible Ten provided the
foundation for a
more elaborate project: The Magic Boomerang.
The Magic Boomerang
was an outdoor adventure series with an element of fantasy. Tom Thumbleton,
a 13-year-old boy who lives with his parents on a sheep farm near the
fictitious town of Gunnaganoo, finds a
boomerang among some Aboriginal relics his great-great-grandfather left in
the attic of their homestead. Tom discovers that when the boomerang is
thrown, all time stands still - except for the thrower. When he catches it
again, time resumes as normal.
Many of the personnel who
worked on The Terrible Ten were also utilised on The Magic
Boomerang. Producer of the series was Roger Mirams, and most episodes
were directed by either David Baker or Joe McCormick. David Morgan was cast in the lead role of
Tom Thumbleton, with Telford Jackson and Penny Shelton playing his parents
Dan and Gwen. Rodney Pearlman appeared as Tom's younger friend 'Wombat' in
the first 28 episodes.
Gary Gray, a
regular in The Terrible Ten, worked behind the scenes as Assistant
Director, and also made on-camera appearances
in later episodes as Tom's cousin Philip from Brisbane. Susan Haworth also
appeared in a few later episodes as Penny, Philip's sister and Tom's
cousin. Significantly, Penny was portrayed as a resourceful girl making a
positive contribution to whatever situations occurred - a stark contrast
to the stereotypical helpless female role prevalent in many U.S. series of
the time. Young Aboriginal actor Bindi Williams, who later had a
lead role in Woobinda (Animal Doctor), appeared in some early episodes
as the son of a local tribe member.
Pacific Films had nurtured
quite a lot of expertise among the children who worked on their series: "By
this time we had established a company of 'senior' kids," said Gary Gray,
"of which I was one, and David Morgan was another, plus Roger's daughter
Joanne, Rodney Pearlman, Gavin Ellis - a range of kids who had been around
for a while. We used to float other kids in underneath and we also used a
lot of local kids."1
Prior to production of
The Magic Boomerang, Pacific Films moved their operation from Macedon
to Woodend, a small town approximately 60km north of Melbourne. When
the Terrible Ten started the crew consisted of two: a sound
recordist plus Roger Mirams as director and cameraman. Now the company had
expanded to include two film units and a crew of 12 to 14. The Woodend
Mechanics Institute was converted to a studio to be used for interior
sets, and later a closed cinema on the opposite side of the road was
utilised as a second studio. All location filming was done in and around
Woodend, which the cast and crew had now dubbed 'Hollywoodend'.
Filming of The Magic
Boomerang commenced in January 1964 and ran through to mid-1965. Most
filming was done at weekends and during school holidays, due to the age of
the younger cast members. For the most part the cast enjoyed working on the series - Penny
Shelton said The Magic Boomerang episodes were "actors' picnics, and
Woodend residents co-operated wholeheartedly, allowing their homes, shops
and railway station to be used - even the local bank was featured in a
Adventure comes thick and
fast in the series, as in each episode Tom and Wombat use the boomerang to
foil the nefarious deeds of the sinister baddies. Wombat, being somewhat
mischievous, likes using the boomerang to play tricks on the locals, but
Tom, being more mature and responsible, only uses the boomerang when its
powers are needed.
Initially 39 half-hour
episodes were produced in black and white. It was sold locally to the ABC, and
there were also many overseas sales, including Britain, Canada and Malaysia. The
series first started screening in Britain and Canada, but it was not until
May 2, 1965, that it had its Australian debut. It was shown at 5:30 on
Sunday afternoon in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and commenced
screening a few weeks later in other states.
"By now Roger had
established his stock-in-trade," said Gary Gray, "and he was a great
marketer of stuff overseas, especially to Europe where kids are cooped up
in apartments. He capitalised on the Australiana dream of kids riding
horses and the 'Our Gang' concept."3
The opening titles feature
Tom riding his horse into shot and throwing the boomerang. The scene
changes to an animated graphic of the boomerang in flight and then the
title appears, with a voice-over "The Magic Boomerang". A
full list of cast and crew credits, as normally would be featured at the
end of a programme, were either shown as part of the opening, or were
included with the episode title superimposed over the commencing scenes. The closing consisted of nothing more than 'The End'
together with a Pacific Films production credit superimposed either
over a boomerang graphic or the final scene.
The effect of the boomerang
stopping time was achieved by simple freeze-frames, or, in scenes where
Tom or Wombat were required to move, by the other actors remaining very
still. The end result was a
series that was well-produced and enjoyable to watch.
During 1965, production of
the planned 39 episodes of The Magic Boomerang were coming to an
end, and Pacific Films was turning its attention towards its most
ambitious project yet: Adventures Of The Seaspray. In a
reversal of the situation that applied to The Magic Boomerang,
Gary Gray had a lead role in Seaspray while David Morgan became the
One year later, while
Seaspray production was in full swing, it was decided to resurrect
The Magic Boomerang. Filming commenced in June 1966, and there was
little relevance to the original series. The new series was produced in
colour, and there were significant changes to the cast, characters and
setting, with a shift in emphasis from adventure to a more light-hearted
show with an element of comedy.
15-year-old Robert Brockman
played Nugget Morris, the new custodian of the magic boomerang, and Gavan Ellis
played his older mate. Nugget would invariably become involved with the
schemes of an eccentric English gentleman with delusions of grandeur, The
Honourable Charles Swinbourne, who resides on a property known as 'Rainbows
End'. Despite its grand sounding title, 'Rainbows End' is little more than
an old shack with the grounds littered by bits and pieces
of various inoperative machinery. Swinbourne is played by William Hodge, and his
is Bluey, played by Chris Christensen. The two local bad guys are 'Tiger'
Martin and Joe Manelli, played by Peter Aanensen and Kurt Beimel
respectively. Despite the total change in characters and setting, the formula
of the original series remained basically the same - the bad guys would
hatch some nefarious scheme and would be thwarted by Nugget with the aid
of the magic boomerang.
Director of the new series was
long-time Pacific Films stalwart David Baker, who explained the changes:
“Our original Boomerang boy, David Morgan, is 19 now, and too old
for the part. He’s working as Assistant Director with the Seaspray
unit. We’ve had to find new children for most of the roles. The actors
from the old series are becoming men and women.”4
The opening of the new
series was similar to the original: Nugget rides his horse into shot,
throws the boomerang, and the title graphic appears. Then a voice-over
narrative states "The Magic
Boomerang. The ancient legend of the dreamtime people tells of a magic
boomerang. When this strange boomerang flies in the sky, all time will
stand still. Whoever has this boomerang has great power."
Only six half-hour episodes of the
new series were made before production was stopped forever. "We
spent six months filming the six half-hour episodes," said Robert
Brockman. "Everything went wrong. One whole episode was shot with
the filter at the wrong end of the lens."5 The
new episodes were screened locally by the ABC, being incorporated
into repeat runs of the original series. The Magic Boomerang
was screened a number of times in subsequent years, but has not been
seen since the advent of colour television in 1975.
THE MAGIC BOOMERANG
1. TV Eye No. 15,
2. Australian Women's Weekly, June 16, 1965.
3. TV Eye No. 15, January 1999.
4. TV Times, June 15, 1966.
5. TV Times, Sept 22, 1973.