What do Gladys Moncrieff, Chrissy Amphlett and Charles Chauvel have in common?

All have streets named after them. One in Dickson ACT celebrating ‘Our Glad’; a Melbourne city laneway in honour of The Divinyls’ lead singer, and a drive in Mutdapilly after Australia’s most famous filmmaker.

Born in Warwick in 1897, Charles Edward Chauvel lived on his parents’ property in Mutdapilly. As a young man he worked on several southern Queensland stations, studied commercial art and attended drama classes in Sydney. Strongly attracted to all things cinematic, he became a production assistant working with filmmakers such as Snowy Baker, for whom he was primarily responsible for the horses.

An athlete turned actor, Baker was the darling of the silver screen; he moved to California in the 1920s. Chauvel followed, surviving in Los Angeles by writing articles about his home country and taking whatever small jobs he could find in Hollywood studios. Baker acted in some American films, managed a polo club and taught the rich and famous such as Garbo, Fairbanks, Valentino and Elizabeth Taylor how to ride, fence and swim.

When Chauvel returned to Australia, he made his first film, a romantic adventure entitled The Moth of Moonbi (1926). Then Greenhide was released in the same year about a wilful high society girl visiting the outback. Chauvel travelled far to find locations and much of this production was shot in the Dawson Valley. In the lead, he cast an Australian actress, Elsie Wilcox, whose name was promptly changed to Elsa. They married the next year and worked together on many films until his death in 1959. She wrote, produced, directed, made costumes and did hair and makeup. In her later years, she promoted Australian cinema, collected and ensured the preservation of Chauvel film prints and worked with charities such as the Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, and Barnardo’s Australia. Elsa died in 1983, aged 85.

At the end of the twenties, Chauvel returned to Hollywood to seek American releases for his silent films but the industry was in the throes of making the transition to sound. He returned to Australia and for a while managed a Melbourne cinema before settling in Stanthorpe. In 1933, he made In The Wake of the Bounty, his first picture with sound.

Several movies and some years later, Forty Thousand Horsemen, his tribute to the Australian Light Horse, premiered around the country in 1940. He had been inspired by the war records in Palestine of his father and of his uncle, General Sir Harry Chauvel. He made other war features such as The Rats of Tobruk and short propaganda films for the Department of Information. In 1949, he directed Sons of Matthew, a saga of pioneering life in the forests of the Lamington Plateau. His final feature was Jedda (1955), Australia’s first film to be made in colour.

Charles Chauvel died of coronary vascular disease aged 62. He was tireless, determined and demanding, blessed with immense vision and a pioneering spirit. He was, quite simply, in love with movies.

Since 1992, an award in Chauvel’s name has been given to ‘distinguished contributors to Australian cinema’. Past recipients have been Gillian Armstrong, George Miller, Geoffrey Rush, Heath Ledger and Claudia Karvan.

 

 

 

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