Thursday, 25 July 2013

Mary Callaghan and Greetings from Wollongong

Steel City Pictures was launched in 1979 by Australian artist and film director Mary Callaghan as a vehicle to assist with production of the social realist drama Greetings from Wollongong. Written and directed by Mary, this 45 minute colour film was released in 1982 to much critical acclaim, and some local consternation from the city fathers of Wollongong who object to its critical portrayal of a day in the life of the city. Aspects of Mary's career in film prior to the creation of Steel City Pictures, and of the development of Greetings from Wollongong from 1979 through to its premiere in 1982, are outlined below, along with reference to associated promotional and fundraising materials such as posters and student newspaper advertisements.

Michael Callaghan, Greetings from Wollongong, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Wollongong, 1982.

A young film maker

Mary Callaghan (1955 - 2016) grew up in Wollongong and revealed an early interest in film making whilst at high school, alongside a natural artistic talent which flourished in the shadow of her elder brother Michael (1953 - 2011). The latter went on to become a master print maker and artist of renown, famous for his work with Redback Graphix. Mary pursued a career in film, though on many occasions their professional and artistic paths overlapped, usually to the benefit of both. For her Higher School Certificate examination in 1972, Mary produced an 8 minute long film on 8mm - Bird Power - which was fully costumed by her and shot in Bombo Quarry, near Kiama. This was years before the idea of using that locality was taken up by the ABC's Aunty Jack team in their famous open sequence to the television series. Mary's film featured family and friends, including her brother Michael Callaghan and friend Philip Batty, wearing brighly coloured and ornate bird costumes in the quarry as they carry out a series of movements and gestures, amidst the volcanic rock and pools of flourescent green water.

 
Scene from Mary Callaghan's Bird Power, Bombo Quarry, 1972.

A partial copy of he film remains and is available here, under the title 'An experiment in colour and movement'. It runs for approximately 4 minues, which is half of the original version, and was  digitised by the University of Wollongong Library during 2015.


According to the director, "The theme behind the scenes was power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." At the time of its production James Mollison, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, sought to purchase the costumes from Bird Power, however Mary would not sell them at the time. Wollongong artist David Humphries included the costumes in an exhibition held as part of the Wollongong Fusion Art Festival during 1972.

Another high school era experimental film - Power House - was shot on 16mm in black and white by Mary at the then derelict Powerhouse Museum building in Sydney. Influenced by the work of Jean Cocteau and the Dada Movement, it featured cybermen-like figures and was important in Mary's subsequent acceptance in 1974, at the age of nineteen, into the initial intake of students at the Film and Television School, Swinburne College, Melbourne. The class of 1974 comprised eleven students selected from across Australia, with two from Wollongong. Five of the original intake graduated in 1976, and Mary Callaghan was one of these. Whilst a student at Swinburne, Mary collaborated with numerous artists and filmmakers, including Angela Gee, a student at the Preston Institute of Art. Mary used Preston's facilities in the production of a number of screen prints during 1975-6. She remembers having to pose as a student in order to make use of their screen printing workshop, regularly receiving vague looks from teachers wondering who she was. Posters such as Wonder Woman's Revenge Part 1 1975 and It's hard to change your lifestyle 1975-6 were printed at Preston. Her work in posters and graphic design from this period is described at the Mary Callaghan Posters website.

Mary Callaghan received her first grant from John Flaus and the Experimental Film Fund whilst a student at Swinburne. This was used to produce the short film Image Plus. It was shown during 1975 in the Silver Palace heritage cinema at St. Kilda, as part of the Women's International Film Festival. Her poster It's hard to change your lifestyle overnight 1975-6 was associated with the film. Mary was on the Victorian organising collective for this important festival held during the first International Women's Year. The same collective went on to produce Lip - A Magazine of the Visual Arts (1976-1983) for which Mary contributed graphic and textual works, including the cover for the 1977 edition and the Blood is blood is blood insert poster.

Mary finished film school at the end of 1976. The following year she worked briefly in the public service and  taught film for a term at the Preston Institute, whilst the regular lecturer was on leave. She was also involved in production of the film True Love Never Dies and did writing and design work for Lip - A journal of women in the visual arts. At the end of 1977 Mary left Victoria and returned to her family in Wollongong. During 1978 she undertook a 6 week traineeship with Brian Kavanagh, editor of the Australian film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. Mary worked as a trainee editor with him on the 1979 feature The Odd Angry Shot, and was sponsored in this by the Women's Film Fund. The Fund also put $10,000 towards the production of her next project, Greetings from Wollongong. In 1978 Mary also worked for a brief period with Film Australia and in the Drama Department at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), and was involved in Doled Out, a 23 minute film produced by the Unemployed People of Leichhardt production company, with the support of the Commonwealth Unemployment Service, the New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services and Leichhardt City Council. Following completion of this work, in 1979 Mary returned to Wollongong to begin development work on Greetings from Wollongong. The genesis of Greetings, and Mary's decision not to pursue documentary but instead move into 'docodrama' or 'dramatised documentary' as she labels it, is outlined in Charles Merewether's article 'A Slap in the Face: living it out in a dying city' which was published in the trade newspaper Film News during November 1982, at the time of Greetings' release. Merewether's article is a major assessment of the film and also contains an interview with the director. In this Mary reflects on some of her earlier work, noting:

My early films were like notes to myself, that's why I see that work as being limited because it's not explained or developed. It was by way of putting women in the context of a display window, property and price tags, and TV voices representing the males.

Mary had worked on the film True Love Never Dies 1978 with internees from the Winlaton female remand centre in Victoria. It was written and directed by Euan Keddie and used the inmates as actors. Mary noted that:

The portrayal of the girls' lives  was a quite hard-edged documentary style; their "fantasy" was really stylised, so there was a shift in form and content too. It was starting to work but technically it broke down in the sound quality. If we could have gone on and done another film it would have got there.

Charles Merewether for a period taught art history at the Preston Institute and job shared with Ann Stephens, who shared a house with Mary in Melbourne during 1977. Having returned to Sydney at the end of 1978 and finding herself out of work, Mary turned her attention to her next project. 

Greetings from Wollongong 

During a screening of Greeting from Wollongong at the University in July 2013, Mary was asked why she made the film. She responded:

[Quote re origin of Greetings from Wollongong]

Greetings from Wollongong was written and directed by Mary Callaghan, as was her first feature - Tender Hooks - released in 1989. Mary began working on Greetings from Wollongong in earnest during 1979. Substantive shooting took place during 1981 and it was release the following year. In developing her film, Mary sought the assistance of her brother Michael, specifically in areas of art direction and fundraising. During 1979 Michael moved from Sydney to Griffith University, Brisbane, to set up a screen printing course. Prior to this he had been heavily involved in the Earthworks Poster Collective at the Tin Sheds, University of Sydney. Mary had worked with him and others there on occasion during 1978-9 on posters such as Hot Crusifixon Dance 1979. Earthworks imploded during 1979, at the same time as Michael Callaghan headed north to Queensland. The first poster Michael Callaghan produced to help raise funds for his sister's film and her company Steel City Pictures was the now famous 'Q. If the unemployed are dole bludgers, What the fuck are the idle rich?'.

Michael Callaghan, Q. If the unemployed are dole bludgers...., screenprint  proof,
Redback Posters, Griffith University, Brisbane, 1979.

Based on a postcard givenhim by Mary, the poster bears the logo 'Redback Posters' in the lower left corner and was the first of the long series of Redback posters which were produced by Michael Callaghan and numerous collaborators through to the 1990s.

Michael Callaghan and John on the Greetings from Wollongong shoot.

Apart from the Dole Bludgers poster, Michael also worked with Mary to have printed in Brisbane a set of postcards featuring Wollongong scenes to be used in the film. Once again, the postcards were part of fundraising efforts by Steel City Pictures.

Michael Callaghan, Greetings from Wollongong - postcards (1), screenprint, 
Redback Posters, Griffith University, Brisbane, 1979.

Michael Callaghan's circumstances changed dramatically in 1980. Due to controversy associated with his What now Mr Mao? poster - which offended some of the Maoists on campus - and the creation of fluorescent-coloured graffiti calling for students to 'Bong On' - in which he was not involved - his contract was allowed to lapse. Michel returned to his family and friends in New South Wales and to work with Mary. He also continued his Redback Graphix initiative, initially at the Tin Sheds in Sydney and, from 1981 through to 1985, in Wollongong, eventually operating out of an old factory complex in Annadale, Sydney.

During 1980 Mary and Michael worked closely together in getting the film production underway and securing funding through various means. As Mary noted, "Michael supported me all through the arduous process of getting the film off the ground and was a fabulous Art Director willing to go to any lengths to realise and support my vision." A number of public fundraising events were held from 1980 when official channels failed to gain the necessary financial support. These included concerts, market stall and numerous personal appeals for funds and in-kind assistance from both local and out of region organisation. Michael Callaghan's posters record some of these events, alongside the reminiscences of those involved in the making of the film. For example, during 1980-1 a number of fundraisers were held in Sydney and Wollongong. These were promoted through local newspapers, flyers and large posters under the Redback Graphix banner. A number of such promotional activities took place in connection with the University of Wollongong, including a fundraising dance, sale of posters through the Student Representative Council''s office and article in the student magazine Tertangala.

Michael Callaghan and Mary Callaghan, Steel City Pictures, advertisement,  
Tertangala, University of Wollongong, July 1980.

The Student Representative Council also ran an add announcing that copies of Michael's Dole Bludgers poster could be secured from its office for the princely sum of $3.00. A black and white copy of the poster was reproduced in Tertangala.

Michael Callaghan, Support Steel City Pictures, advertisement,  
Tertangala, University of Wollongong, August 1980.

The first specific Steel City Pictures fundraising poster was produced in 1980 by the Callaghans. It was subsequently known as the 'Nice' poster. Printed at the Tin Sheds in Sydney, this brightly coloured screenprint promoted a concert held at the University of Wollongong Union Hall on 21 August.

Michael Callaghan and Mary Callaghan, Nice, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Tin Sheds, Sydney, 1980.

Mary Callaghan was heavily involved in the design and printing of the Nice poster. She developed the concept of the picture window of the Port Kembla steel works in the background, and of the black cut out of the husband / father in the foreground because he was working a shift whilst the mother serves the children dinner. The work was a true collaboration, with both Mary and Michael drawing up the final design together, though Michael did comment to Mary at the time that he thought her fine work on the curtains was "getting too fussy" as it involved a lot of work in cutting out the crosses. The fonts used were standard newspaper fonts, common at the time and obtained in collaboration with the local newspaper the Illawarra Mercury. A special 'Nice' edition of Tertangala was also issued around the time of the 21 August benefit dance, with a liberal use of the word throughout the publication. The 'Nice Chair' poster printed in Tertangala and reproduced as a campus flyer is sparse in comparison to the colourful and complex Redback Graphix poster for the same event.

Mary Callaghan, Nice chair, full page poster, Tertangala
Student Representative Council, University of Wollongong, August 1980.

Also during 1980 a fundraiser was been held at the Wollongong Workers' Club, on 28 August. It featured '3 great political films' - With Babes + Banners, The Hungry Mile and The Bones of Building. The poster for the event was once again printed by Michael at the Tin Sheds facilities  in Sydney.

Michael Callaghan, With Babes + Banners, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Tin Sheds, Sydney, 1980.

Whereas Michael Callaghan had made use of printer''s fonts for the Nice poster, With Babes + Banners was hand drawn and cut. It featured a design reminiscent of Chinese cultural revolution posters of the 1960s, with a simple colour palette dominated by red. A variant print also appeared in the August edition of Tertangala, the University of Wollongong student newpaper.

Michael Callaghan, With Babes + Banners, poster print, 
Tertangala, University of Wollongong, 1980.

The third fundraiser for 1980 was held at the Wollongong Workers' Club on 18 September, with Mary having secured a copy of the landmark feminist and industrial workers film from 1954, Salt of the Earth. Michael Callaghan's stunning poster features the lead actress from the film.

Michael Callaghan, Salt of the Earth, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Tin Sheds, Sydney, 1980.

Once again, the fundraiser was advertised in Tertangala, within its September 1980 edition. The full page ad featured cutout letters and typescript.

 
Mary Callaghan, Salt of the Earth and the Fireman, poster print, 
Tertangala, University of Wollongong, September 1980.

Substantial filming of Greetings from Wollongong took place during 1981 and a Sydney fundraiser was held at the end of the year at the Tin Sheds on Christmas Eve, 1981. The special Benefit Dance poster was once again printed by Michael Callaghan and comprised a simple collage of dancing figures against a bright red background.

Michael Callaghan, Benefit Dance - Xmas Eve, screenprint, 
Redback Graphix, Wollongong, 1981.

This brightly coloured screenprint in red, yellow and blue was typical of the fluorescent paints used by Redback Graphix during the early 1980s. By this time Redback has set up facilities in the old Stuart Park kiosk at Wollongong, and it is most likely that this poster was printed there. 1982 saw the release of Greetings from Wollongong around October - November, with the official world premiere at the Vista Theatre, Woonona, after a plan to screen it at the Wollongong City Art Gallery was vetoed at the eleventh hour by Lord Mayor Frank Arkell. The Lord Mayor was critical of the film as he felt it did not portray the City of Wollongong in the proper light. The classic poster for the film was printed by Redback Graphix and coloured stills images above a lower border landscape of the smoking stacks associated with the Port Kembla steel works. 

Michael Callaghan, Mary Callaghan and Nick Southall, Greetings from Wollongong,
screenprint, Redback Graphix, Wollongong, 1982.

Also released at the time was a second set of postcards featuring coloured stills from the film.

Michael Callaghan, and Mary Callaghan Greetings from Wollongong - postcards (2), screenprint, 
Redback Graphix,Wollongong, 1982.

Greetings from Wollongong was met with critical acclaim, gaining awards and screening at the Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals and the Australian Film Industry presentations. Many thought the dialogue by the non-professional actors used was ad lib, though, as Mary remembers, "I wrote every word with room to move for actors as long as true to meaning" of the film. Following the release and promotional campaign for Greetings, Mary Callaghan began writing and developing new scripts and treatments. This culminated in her direction of the Australian feature film Tender Hooks, released in 1989. Greetings from Wollongong was publicly screened at the University of Wollongong on 31 July 2013, with a Q&A featuring the director Mary Callaghan and historian Glenn Mitchell.

Mary Callaghan film resume

1. Bird Power - an experiment in colour and movement, 8 mm, colour and no sound, 7 minutes 47 seconds, 1972. Director and costumes: Mary Callaghan.

2. Power House, 16 mm, black and white, 1973. Director: Mary Callaghan.

3. Image Plus, 8 mm, colour and sound, 7 minutes 26 seconds, 1975. Director: Mary Callaghan.

4. True Love Never Dies, 1978. Producer and direcetor: Euan Keddie. Script and design: Mary Callaghan.

5. The Odd Angry Shot, 1979. Trainee editor: Mary Callaghan.

6. Greetings from Wollongong - sample scences, 16 mm, colour, no sound, October 1979, 8 minutes 32 seconds. Director and writer: Mary Callaghan.

7. Greetings from Wollongong - sample scences, 16 mm, colour, no sound, October 1979, 8 minutes 32 seconds. Director and writer: Mary Callaghan.

8. Tender Hooks, 16 mm, colour and sound,  1989. Director: Mary Callaghan.

Compiled by Michael Organ and Mary Callaghan.
Last updated: 5 January 2016

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