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Albany (pop. 38,000) is the Great Southern’s biggest urban centre and holds a special place in national and regional history as the site of Western Australia’s first European settlement and as a focus of unique connections to World War I and the Anzac tradition. Albany offers a range of historic sites and heritage buildings, along with a big variety of period and contemporary settings.
Albany is considered the inspiration for author Tim Winton’s fictional town Angelus, which features in many of his works. Winton lived in Albany in his early teenage years. Denmark is considered the inspiration for Sawyer, the fictional town in Breath.
Katanning (pop. 4,100) is a regional centre serving the Great Southern hinterland. Katanning, Denmark (pop. 6,150) and Mount Barker (pop. 5,250) are the region’s major towns. Other significant population centres include Jerramungup, Bremer Bay, Cranbrook, Gnowangerup, Broomehill, Tambellup, Kojonup, Nyabing, Pingrup and Woodanilling. Rural villages are scattered through the region, many with little more than a community hall and/or a cluster of homes.
Great Southern landscapes include features unique to the region such as the Stirling Range and the Fitzgerald River National Park. Bluff Knoll in the Stirlings is the highest peak in southern Western Australia. Peaks and ridges in the Stirlings provide distinctive and dramatic settings for outdoor activities such as bushwalking and rock-climbing.
The Stirling Range, Fitzgerald River National Park, the Porongurup National Park and other areas host rare endemic flora. Abundant displays of native flora can occur in grand settings of layered ranges or stark granite features. Filming in these areas may be subject to conditions set by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, aimed at minimising the spread of the plant disease Phytophthora dieback. A unique formation of hills in the Stirling Range, known as the Sleeping Lady, is an evocative backdrop in search of a suitable film.
Pioneer heritage buildings in the region include the first farm established in Western Australia, at Albany’s Old Farm Strawberry Hill. The Rocks is a grand mansion in Albany that was formerly the summer residence of the Governor of Western Australia.
The Forts at Albany is a former military site that dates back to 1893. It has tunnels and bunkers that are featured in the Lockie Leonard TV series. The former quarantine station Quaranup, built in 1875, has a morgue with a dissection slab that also featured in Lockie Leonard.
Relatively recent heritage in the Great Southern includes the fabled Snake Run skateboard track in Albany, which opened in 1976 and is now heritage-listed. It is acknowledged as the oldest purpose-built skate track in the southern hemisphere and is a unique attraction for skateboarders from around the world. Unusual features of the region also include the rusting hulk of the Cheynes II whale-chaser, grounded in the south-east corner of Albany’s Princess Royal Harbour. Underwater settings include the wreck of HMAS Perth and the older dive wreck of the whale-chaser Cheynes III.
The Cheynes IV is a whale-chaser tourist attraction that has been slipped at Discovery Bay, potentially a setting for ship-based scenes.
Breaksea Island, in Albany’s King George Sound, has two restored lighthouse keepers’ cottages in a rugged granite setting. Breaksea features in Lighthouse Girl, by children’s author and novelist Dianne Wolfer.
Climate and Light
The Great Southern lies between 33 and 35 degrees south of the equator. As a comparison, southern Spain and southern California lie at about 35 degrees north. At the summer solstice, the sun’s highest point is 78 degrees elevation; at the winter solstice it tracks up to 31 degrees.
On the south coast at the summer solstice, the sun rises at 4.51am AWST (GMT +8.00) and sets at 7.22pm. At the winter solstice, the sun rises at 7.16am and sets at 5.04pm.
Coastal areas of the Great Southern have distinctive weather patterns beyond the conventional classification of ‘Mediterranean’. Summer usually divides into two halves. From December to mid-January, the weather warms up but the coast is still susceptible to days of cloud and rain. In the second half of summer and the first weeks of autumn, expect more days of fine, warm and calm weather. From March through to May, conditions are often calm and fine, but the days are cooler. Winter (June, July, August) is wet, cool, often cloudy and sometimes stormy. Spring (September to November) generally brings changeable conditions, varying from winter-like days, including storms, to sunny precursors of summer.
Away from the ocean (from about 50km inland), the coast’s summer pattern is moderate. Inland areas experience longer, drier summers with more days of clear skies. Winter and spring change farm paddocks in the rural landscape from the dry tan and grey of summer to a vibrant green. In August and September, the canola (rapeseed) crops flower; for a few weeks, huge inland paddocks are coloured a brilliant yellow.
Near the coast, onshore winds can create hazy conditions at any time. Offshore winds, still conditions and clearing rain usually provide clearer horizons, provided no bushfires or burning activities are generating smoke. Haze from agricultural and controlled burning is a possibility in the fire shoulder seasons, around October-November and May-June.
Simon Baker’s feature film Breath was filmed in Denmark and along the south coast in 2016 and released in 2018. Breath is based on Tim Winton’s novel of the same name, which earned the West Australian author his fourth Miles Franklin Award.
Breath was the start of a flurry of film-making in the region, with two feature films and a television series in production in 2018-19 and set for release in 2019-20:
Rams was shot in Mount Barker, and starred Sam Neill, Michael Caton and Miranda Richardson. Based on an Icelandic film, it is the story of estranged brothers who must reconnect when their sheep flocks face a common threat.
H is for Happiness, featuring Richard Roxburgh, Emma Booth and Miriam Margolies, was shot in and around Albany. It is the story of a young girl determined to save her dysfunctional family.
Itch is a ten-part children’s television series, also shot in Albany, which tells an action adventure story of a teenager who discovers a new chemical element, attracting the interest of a sinister organisation.
The Turning was released in 2013. It is an anthology film featuring 18 directors, and is based on Winton’s volume of short stories. Scenes for the film were shot in the Great Southern.
Two series of Lockie Leonard episodes were released for television, screening in 2007 and 2010. Both series were filmed in Albany. The first series was directly based on Winton’s children’s books Lockie Leonard Human Torpedo, Lockie Leonard Scumbuster and Lockie Leonard Legend. The second series was developed as a follow-on.
Film and television productions in the Great Southern include:
H is for Happiness
H is for Happiness is an adaptation of award-winning young adult novel My Life as an Alphabet, by Barry Jonsberg. It was shot in and around Albany in 2018-19.
New actors Daisy Axon and Wesley Patten star in the film, which also features Richard Roxburgh, Emma Booth, Miriam Margolies and Deborah Mailman. It is director John Sheedy’s first full feature film, following his short film Mrs McCutcheon, which was named Best Australian Short Film at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival.
H is for Happiness is the story of Candice Phee, a brightly optimistic young girl on the threshold of adolescence. Her family is bogged down in depression and division. With help from new friend Douglas, Candace embarks on a series of unexpected schemes to lift her family out of their dire circumstances.
Happiness Film Productions has produced a dazzling guide to Albany and south coast locations used in the film. The guide also includes general information on other attractions, Albany’s history and places to visit further afield in the Great Southern.
The film was supported by major production investment from Screen Australia in association with Screenwest and the WA Regional Film Fund. It was financed with support from the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund and Film Victoria.
Rams is a feature film that was shot in Mount Barker in 2018. It is the story of two estranged brothers, both farmers, whose decades-long feud comes to a head when their sheep flocks face a common threat.
Screenwest commissioned a film tourism guide for Rams, showing off the locations and the movie production process.
The film is a reinterpretation of Icelandic movie Hrutar, which was awarded the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
Rams stars Sam Neill and Michael Caton as the brothers, and features Miranda Richardson, Asher Keddie, Wayne Blair and Leon Ford. Sam Neill’s credits include Jurassic Park, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Sweet Country. Michael Caton starred in The Castle, The Animal and Last Cab to Darwin.
Rams was directed by Jeremy Sims, who also directed Caton in Last Cab to Darwin.
In August 2020, Rams premiered at the CineFestOZ Film Festival in Busselton. It was released in cinemas at the end of October 2020 and debuted at number one at the Australian box office, gaining positive reviews.
The production was supported by Screen Australia, Screenwest and the Western Australian Regional Film Fund.
Itch is a ten-part television series that was shot in Albany in 2018-19 and screened on ABC-TV in 2020. A second series is now in production, shooting in Albany and surrounds and in the Peel region.
Itch is an action adventure about teenager Itchingham Lofte. In Series 1, Itch discovers a new chemical element with unusual powers. His discovery attracts the interest of a sinister organisation and adventures follow.
In Series 2, Itch and his friends are shocked to find dead fish washing up on the shores of Seaburgh after a boat explosion. They suspect foul play involving evil corporation Greencorp, but as the authorities ignore their concerns it is left to Itch and his friends to uncover the truth for themselves.
Itch is based on teen novels written by British broadcaster and author Simon Mayo. Originally set in Cornwall, the story transferred well to the Great Southern location, according to the author and the film-makers. Their views were featured in global publication Location International.
The cast includes WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate Samuel Ireland in the lead role. Newcomers among the cast include many from Western Australia.
ABC ME commissioned the production from Komixx Entertainment, and ABC Commercial holds worldwide distribution rights. Series 1 was taken up by channels worldwide including CBBC in the United Kingdom and BYU in the United States.
Itch was supported by Screen Australia, Screenwest, Lotterywest and the WA Regional Film Fund.
Simon Baker’s film of Tim Winton’s award-winning novel Breath, shot on location in Denmark, received enthusiastic reviews on its release in 2018.
Breath premiered in Albany on Saturday 21 April at a gala event featuring Simon Baker, Tim Winton, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence. A capacity crowd welcomed the film and gave it resounding applause.
Funding secured through the GSDC helped to clinch the decision to produce Breath in the Great Southern. Baker, who stars in The Mentalist, plays the lead role and is the film’s director.
Breath was supported by $1.5 million in State Government funding through the GSDC and $800,000 through Screenwest and Lotterywest.
Breath is the story of two teenage surfers, Pikelet (Coulter) and Loonie (Spence), growing up in a small south coast town called Sawyer. The teenagers are befriended by an older surfer, Sando (Baker), who leads them to take risks and meet challenges that change their lives.
Much of the filming took place in Denmark, a choice that was supported by Tim Winton.
Winton said regional audiences would recognise the local landscape in the film. “The film’s showing … a pure, pristine, living and natural world that people can come to and live in and get nurture and sustenance from. If it interests people that there’s this incredible place at this end of the planet and that helps the region, I couldn’t be happier.”
Breath won the 2009 Miles Franklin Award (Winton’s fourth) and the 2008 Age Book of the Year. Breath was adapted for the screen by Gerard Lee (Top of the Lake), Tim Winton and Baker, who also co-produced with Oscar and Emmy Award–winning producer Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad) for Gran Via Productions and Jamie Hilton (The Little Death) for See Pictures.
The Turning is a 180-minute anthology of 17 stories, each directed by a different film industry figure. Notable inclusions on the list of directors were Mia Wasikowska, David Wenham and Stephen Page.
It is based on Tim Winton’s book of short stories set in various locations in Western Australia, from the Kimberley to the south coast.
Scenes for one of the story segments in The Turning were filmed in the Great Southern, featuring the Stirling Range. Other segments depict events in Angelus, Winton’s fictional take on Albany, but were not necessarily filmed on location in the Great Southern.
The Turning received positive reviews and Rose Byrne won a best actress award in the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA).
In its full form, The Turning was a 180-minute film but it was cut down to 90 minutes and rearranged for broadcast on the ABC in February 2014. The shorter version included only eight of the original 17 stories and the remaining nine were made available online through ABC iView.
Lockie Leonard is an award-winning children’s television production filmed on location in Albany in 2007 and 2009 in two 26-part series. The first series was based directly on Tim Winton’s three Lockie Leonard novels, published from 1990 to 1997. Story lines for the second series were developed by the producers.
Like many of Winton’s works, Lockie Leonard is set in the fictional town of Angelus, which is based on his former hometown Albany.
Lockie Leonard starred Sean Keenan, Rhys Muldoon and Briony Williams. Keenan won the Young Actor Award in 2007. The first series was named Best Children’s Drama and Best Children’s Television Series in the same year, and in 2008 it won a Logie Award for Best Children’s Television Series.
Lockie Leonard has screened in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Government: Parliamentary democracy. Filming in the Great Southern is subject to the laws of the Australian Commonwealth Government, the Western Australian State Government and the local governments of the region.
Currency: Australian dollar
International calling code: +61
Time zone (Western Australia): UTC+8
Visas: International film industry visitors must obtain a suitable entry visa for work or business activities. Click here for Visa details.
Australian motor vehicles are right-hand drive and are driven on the left-hand side of the road. Visitors from countries that drive on the right are advised to exercise a high degree of caution. International driving permits are required for car hire agreements, and must be carried on the driver’s person when in charge of a vehicle.
Power supplies are 240V 50Hz using earthed three-pin plugs. Adapters are required for devices brought from most other countries.
Albany is 400km south of Perth, which is about five hours by car. Travellers from Perth enter the Great Southern just over halfway into the journey. Kojonup is 260km south of Perth, or about three hours by car, and Katanning is 280km.
Regular air services connect Perth Airport and Albany Airport, with up to four return flights a day. The flight time is just over an hour. Perth Airport is a 30-minute drive from the centre of Perth. Albany Airport is 15 minutes from the centre of town. Taxis and hire car services are available.
In Australia, vehicles are right-hand drive and travel on the left-hand side of the road.
Sealed roads connect all significant population centres in the Great Southern and many of the most desirable locations and natural attractions. Some special locations are necessarily off the sealed road network.
ScreenWest has information on traffic and other filming rules and regulations relevant to film productions.
A full range of transport services including car, bus and truck hire are available in Albany and in larger regional towns. Cranes, elevated work platforms and other lifting equipment are also available.
There are no passenger train services available between Perth and Albany. However, an extensive rail freight network still operates and may provide suitable locations for producers. Albany and many regional towns have station buildings next to the railway lines, dating back as far as the 1880s and 1890s.
A wide range of accommodation is available in Albany, including a luxury private retreat, hotels, motels and a variety of bed-and-breakfast options. Other accommodation options are scattered throughout the region. Popular coastal destinations may be fully booked during the peak summer holiday period and at Easter. Visitor centres in Albany and most of the regional towns can provide information on local accommodation:
Regulations and Permits
Local governments in the region can provide information on permits needed for filming in public spaces:
City of Albany
Shire of Broomehill-Tambellup
Shire of Cranbrook
Shire of Denmark
Shire of Gnowangerup
Shire of Jerramungup
Shire of Katanning
Shire of Kent
Shire of Kojonup
Shire of Plantagenet
Shire of Woodanilling
Catering: Larger film productions may engage experienced film industry caterers but regional catering firms will meet the needs of many producers.
- Equipment hire: Hire firms in the region can supply vehicles, plant and equipment. The biggest range is available in Albany, and other centres also have hire services.
- Vehicles: Cars, four-wheel drive vehicles, trucks, mobile cranes, tractors, trailers.
- Plant: Generators, freezers, lighting, compressors, pumps.
- Equipment: Elevated work platforms, scaffold, power tools, sea containers, portable toilets, audio visual.
- Workforce: Several organisations can provide casual workers across a range of skills.
- Traffic management: Qualified traffic management is available to help manage road closures or diversions.
Useful links and phone numbers for film productions:
In any emergency, dial 000
ScreenWest: Provides information on Department of Transport, Indigenous land, industry organisations and location permits
Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions: Albany office (+61 8 ) 9842 4500
St John Ambulance: Albany office admin (+61 8) 9841 4212
Emergency Services: Albany office admin (+61 8) 9845 5000
Local Governments: City of Albany, Shire of Broomehill-Tambellup, Shire of Cranbrook, Shire of Denmark, Shire of Gnowangerup, Shire of Jerramungup, Shire of Katanning, Shire of Kent, Shire of Kojonup, Shire of Plantagenet, Shire of Woodanilling