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"And throughout remotest lands,
the stamp of the industrious hands of Middlesbrough"

Landor Praed, Newcastle Daily Chronicle 1863





A CENTURY IN STONE - DOWN UNDER
Sydney - Brisbane - Melbourne - Perth - Adelaide - Newcastle
(August / September 2005)


(An earlier version was serialised in the Evening Gazette, September 2005)









 

From the very beginning years ago, the aim was to push my luck as far as possible to get the story back on the map. After packing out the clubs and the UGC in 2004 and then the DVD/VHS going ballistic, people were asking me if I'd pushed it as far as it could go. The answer was not quite. I wanted to take it to Australia and show it in the shadow of our industry's biggest "monument", built with Teesside steel, at Sydney Harbour. The show would be the ultimate tribute and an epic finale to the film project.

I began approaching independent distributors in Australia in April 2005. None would touch it. And then the Sydney Film Festival rejected it. I decided on a more direct approach and called this cinema I had heard about called Dendy. It was right opposite the bridge and next to the Opera House. I gave the manager the hard sell of my life and eventually he offered me a hire deal of 4 days for 3 grand. It wasn't cheap but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to die for. I bit his hand off and booked it.

I'd had a fair bit of interest from ex-pats over in Perth where apparently there was a large colony of Teessiders. When I found on the internet various independent cinemas across Australia with hire rates that were easier on the pocket, I thought about an Australia-wide tour...for the sheer hell of it why not? Like the quote "the iron of Eston has diffused itself over the world"...the film would have a go at doing the same.

With Sydney in place, I got Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth booked in no time. It was game on, 5 cities in 5 weeks with the grand opening at Sydney Harbour on August 1st.

The tour would cost around £12,000. I raised £9,200 from sponsors: UK Trade and Investment, Northern Film & Media, ISTC steelworkers union and Middlesbrough Council and I put in the remainder. Mayor Ray Mallon and myself wrote to the Lord Mayor of Sydney as I wanted to present a DVD as well as some other Teesside cultural gifts.

Middlesbrough FC arranged for Sydney-born Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer to present us with a signed shirt. We were both interviewed by Boro TV. I was well impressed by Schwarzer who was talkng about how important it was for schoolkids in Sydney to know the story as well as in Teesside.

Tony Poynter of the ISTC arranged a superb cast-iron blastfurnaceman figure with the inscription "Presented to the people of Sydney by the ISTC Steelworkers Union of Middlesbrough, England whose labour provided the steel for the Sydney Harbour Bridge".

And with a 14-feet long 'Made in Teesside' banner, for a special photo opp. once we got to Sydney, me and my colleague Ted Flint, after weeks and weeks of manic preparation, were ready for the off...

Sydney Town Hall

Coun. Philip Black, Lord Mayor's Office



Dendy Cinema, Opera House Quay



With old pals outside Dendy

'Bridge-Climb' HQ

SHB Plaque

DL girder on the SHB

Climbing the SHB


 

SYDNEY

July 26th - We did a Radio Cleveland interview down the phone at Heathrow just minutes before we boarded. The journey was a grueller. We crossed the expanse of Europe and Siberia, turned right into Asia and stopped off at Japan. for 6 hours. Finally after 11,000 miles and 28 hours, we reached the far corner of another continent to be met with a global icon that began its life on Teesside! It was great to feel Sydney beneath our feet.

We were met at the airport by our hostess, my old mate Andrea Simpson from Eaglescliffe, who happened to live just 10 minutes down the road.

The next morning, with brutal jetlag, we made our presentation at the Lord Mayor's office in the splendid Sydney Town Hall. We received a great welcome from Councillor Black and his colleagues. They in turn presented us with gifts to deliver to the Mayor of Middlesbrough on our return. These were a 'City of Sydney ' cut glass ornamental piece and the City's official book of Sydney history.

Our schedule was frantic. We had just a few days to chase up our press release that we had emailed a week before leaving. The response was disappointing. We had put an ad. in the Sydney Morning Herald but getting editorial wasn't easy in a big city with so much going on. ABC Radio and another paper said they were interested and would get back to us but didn't. We almost got a national TV scoop on the film review show 'At the Movies'. They were dead keen but we missed the filming deadline by a day. Our resources had been stretched to the limit. We realised we should have been there a few weeks in advance to really bang on at them all.

We arrived at the Dendy on a mid-winter's day. It was 23 degrees. The first person we met was a young Captain Cook in full garb selling tickets for his harbour cruise ship nearby. We quizzed him on camera about where he was born..."Erm...Great Ayton?!" he spluttered (in an Aussie accent), "Wrong!" we pounced and he said "Oh yes Marton thats right...I haven't been back there for 200 years". Great fun.

We also met up with some lads in Boro shirts buying tickets at the cinema. We wanted to get the banner onto the bridge but it looked impossible. Following a recent anti-Iraq war protest on the roof of the Opera House there were security guards all over the place.

We walked over to the Dendy. To actually stand there with the bridge and the opera house in front of us was bizarre enough but to see 'A Century in Stone' in lights and our posters in the lightboxes was undoubtedly one of the most surreal moments of my life.

The cinema was plush, the projection and sound equipment top class. The film had never looked or sounded as good. George App, Tom K and Jack Collins on this huge screen, 11,000 miles from Eston.....

We got about 90 people in the first day which Dendy told me was good for a Monday. I dedicated the first show to the miners of the Dorman-Long pits: Eston, North Skelton, South Skelton, Lumpsey, Kilton and Lingdale, and the steelworkers of Brittania, Cleveland, Clay Lane and Redcar. I felt my voice crack a bit when I said the names. I got a standing ovation at the end. A heady couple of days to say the least.

There was a fair bit of emotion from the crowd afterwards when Ted interviewed them for our 'road movie'. We had sent over a box of 300 DVDs to the cinema and they were moving.

Over the 4 days, we got about 300 in. Most were ex-pats, some having left Teesside years ago and had never been back. Others were curious Australians with no connection to Teesside. The response was just as good "We'll never look at our bridge in the same way again" was the general response plus the fact that the old miners should have had subtitles!

There were familiar faces too such as me old mate Andy Devine from art college days who now lives in Newcastle 2 hours North of Sydney. And Peter Chapman, an old flat mate from Uni. days 11 years ago in Newcastle (U.K.), who has also emigrated. He saw the ad in the paper and told me "I did a double take and said to myself - he's finally finished it!" We all sat on the patio outside the opera house and raised a few jars...the bridge was all lit up and Captain Cook sailed by. Immense.

There was another group of really enthusiastic younger people who were taking notes watching the film. They were from 'Bridge-Climb' and were keen to use the DVD in staff training and to see it in the gift shop. They invited us to a VIP climb on the bridge - on the house!

The bridge is truly magnificent. Climbing it and seeing 'Dorman-Long Middlesbrough' stamped on the girders made me proud - and bloody furious at the same time. It is incomprehensible and typical that Teesside has failed to let the world know that this wonder originated on Teesside???

The 'Bridge-Climb' guides told us how every day they tell hundreds about Dorman Long and Middlesbrough and that they have actually had people from Middlesbrough do the climb unaware of the link?! I wasn't surprised one bit.

We reached the top of the arch to immense views of the harbour and found ourselves talking about Middlehaven of all places. It is comical to have developers coming in to Teesside building the likes of 'Manhattan Gate' and 'Hudson Quay' when we have so much of our own to champion.

The bridge is the perfect theme for celebrating Middlesbrough's past as well as making a statement that (symbolically at least!) the place is connected to the wider world and is not some isolated provincial town.

Towards the end of the 4 day run, we finally got our press breakthrough with a big piece in the "The Australian" the country's only national paper. But by the time it hit the streets we were bound for Brisbane...

 



Our hosts - Jan and Gary

Boro Boys in Brissy



Syd Lincoln the Emigrant Eston Miner


 

BRISBANE

Teesside folk legend Vin Garbutt has been coming out here for years and he put us in touch with his Brisbane publicist Jan Narey, originally from Middlesbrough. She and husband Gary picked us up from the airport and treated us to more Aussie hospitality.

It was dawning on us by this time that absolutely everyone we had met since we got to Australia was incredibly helpful and friendly. There was no hint of aggro in the cities' streets, no yobs and hardly any litter. The Aussies are chirpy by-default almost and call us lot 'whinging poms' which is fair enough but then again I'm sure if they had 58 million people on 5% of their landmass under our weather it would be a different story...but British cynicism they dont have and nor any superficial American-style 'have a nice day' nonsense either. The Aussies were a blast of fresh air.

The venue in Brisbane was the Schonnel, a cinema on the University of Queensland campus. Maybe a bad idea for our kind of film but great place, good people and top pizza. The crowds were smaller, about 25 a show but the reception was still good. The sister of Boro Chairman Steve Gibson also turned up and there were several expats trooping the colour in Boro shirts.

The Brisbane highlight, though, was meeting 94-year old Syd Lincoln - the Eston mineworker that got away! His daughter Barbara had got in touch before we left and told us how he worked in Eston mine in the 1920s and emigrated just after the war.

Jan and Gary drove us up North for a couple of hours through Queensland, passing the superb Mt. Tibrogargan as well as an 60-foot high cut out of TV croc man Steve Irwin!

We reached this village quite high up and found Syd with his accent undiluted after 60 years. He had seen the film and was pleased to see us. We set up the camera and recorded him. He told us a tale of how how he sailed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge when he emigrated and recalled the wagons of ironstone that went into making it back home. It was a bit bizarre to be interviewing a bloke about the pit so far from Eston, and with wild parrots flying about our heads!

Our next stop was Melbourne a city we were told was the most vibrant in all Australia. But as we were getting ready to leave for the airport we got a call from the manager of the Lumiere cinema in Melbourne. The place had gone bust and was in the hands of the recievers! It was the day before opening and we were flying to no gig...




At the Lumiere, homeless!

The Trades Hall

Paddy Garrity (on a box!)



Jacob, Roof-Top Radio

 

MELBOURNE

We left almost tropical Brisbane to "the coldest Melbourne weather for 70 years", so announced the pilot as we landed. It was just four degrees, damp and just like home.

The city had more of an edge than Brisbane that was obvious from the start. We stayed at the Nunnery...which is what it used to be but is now an offbeat youth hostel full of creepy old religious statues.

We called the Melbourne papers and broke the news about the Lumiere going bust and our predicament. The next day a couple of pieces appeared in the Melbourne press about stranded British filmmakers needing a venue.

The mobile went nuts. We found ourselves on two radio stations amid debates (not that we were experts) on the decline of independent cinemas across Australia. We got a call from a radio listener who suggested we try Melbourne Trades Hall. It sounded appropriate and when the manager turned out to be a bloke brought up in Port Clarence it was a sure thing! Paddy Garrity was his name and he offered us 2 nights and printed us a load of flyers for free.

The building was grand, like the old Royal Exchange in Middlesbrough. The interior walls were bedecked with murals and banners. The place was buzzing with different unions and community groups and political-left theatre, art and film shows. On the roof there was a radio station where I was interviewed by comrade Jacob while the aboriginal flag and the red flag flew above us at permanent half-mast. It turned out that the first successful campaign in the world for a legislated 8-hour working day was fought from this building back in the 1860s. Melbourne had a radical history...pity it is now only known for Neighbours!!!

The shows pulled in about 40 odd people each night. The Q&A sessions seemed to gravitate to John Howard's 'Thatcherite' agenda which was very much a talking point wherever we went. With Australia so close to Asia, you get a real sense of the globalisation issue. People were damning the relocation of manufacturing to China and call centres to India. It sounded all too familiar.

After three weeks, it was time for my colleague Ted Flint to head home and for me to get to Perth, about 2,000 miles away on the West coast...



'The 12 Apostles', Great Ocean Road

The FTI

Bob Carman, born on Eston hills.



Chocka!



 
PERTH
I hired a car in Melbourne and drove along the Great Ocean Road passing the spectacular '12 Apostles'. The plan was to drive all the way to Perth in 4 days crossing the vast Nullabor desert on the longest stretch of straight road on earth but I chickened out and flew from Adelaide.

I stayed with my cousin's relations, Colin and Debbie Sawdon who emigrated like many from Teesside in the dark days of the 80s.

The cinema was part of the Film & Television Institute in the bohemian suburb of Fremantle. The FTI was a well established hub for film folk. There were production studios, training courses, equipment hire and a media bus which is taken into aboriginal communites to make films. I talked to my first aboriginal at FTI, an actor who played the kangaroo hunter in the Kenneth Brannagh film 'Rabbit-Proof Fence'. He asked where I came from. I raised an eyebrow and told him from the same place as Captain Cook. He joked "Whoaaaa... you're a bad white fella!"

It was in Fremantle that the aborigines were most noticeable. The café society could have been almost anywhere in the West were it not for groups of these striking black people wandering about. They were like ghosts from another time and no one seemed to bat them an eyelid. Incredibly they didn't get the vote until 1967 ! Although, white attitudes have radically improved in recent years, especially amongst the younger generations, problems of social exclusion and poverty remain endemic.

At FTI, following a good write-up and a couple of ads in the local papers, I had high expectations that the fabled Teesside colony would turn up in droves. But on the opening night, just 11 people showed up. It was the lowest turn out ever for the film. What a downer.

One positive thing was meeting and recording an ex-pat who was actually born on Eston hills - 'Quarry House' to be exact which was a rough old cottage, demolished in the 30s, up by the Nab. His name was Bob Carman and he was thrilled to see the film. (Bob sadly passed away in October).

The next day, I made a full-on effort to get on ABC radio. I called up the producer who I discovered was from Bolton. So I promised not to mention the Carling Cup Final if he got me on air and it worked. I was on the ABC at last. The presenter Russell Wolf was a scream and we talked cricket instead (as England were on the verge of winning the ashes on Australian soil !)

The radio show was a prime-time plug and it worked a treat. We had a packed house in what is geographically the most isolated city in the world. It seemed as good a time as any to declare the story back on the world map! Even more turned up at the last show the night after.





The Mercury Cinema

Suzi and Andi Ramone
Volunteers at 3D-Radio



 

ADELAIDE

Next was Adelaide known as 'the city of churches'. It was more a city of radio stations as I got on 6 including 3 community stations. These have been a big tradition across Australia for decades. 3D-Radio was the most well known here. It broadcasted from a normal house using simple equipment. A brilliant diversity of shows are put on round the clock, 365 days a year entirely by volunteers of all ages, all backgrounds, from granny-poets to to punk rockers, they all get their weekly 2 hours in the hotseat. Why we don't have this kind of thing in the U.K. is beyond me???.

I also got on the ABC again where we had a phone in and a caller described my accent as "Gorgeous, like Auf Weidersehen Pet"?! I gave them a quick geography lesson and put them right.

The Mercury, like the FTI, was another excellent cinema and resource centre. We got about 250 in which may have been due to the poster which billed Director 'Nick' Hornby as introducing the film?! Not to worry, I got wined and dined a few times by ex-pats.

Newcastle, New South Wales

with art college buddy Andy Devine

Stockton, New South Wales

Pelicans, Stockton Beach

Bob Cook at the Steelworks Monument

yeehaw !

 

NEWCASTLE

Adelaide was supposed to be the last stop but an extra show was arranged in, of all places, Newcastle, once Australia's premier coal and steel town.

My old mate Andy Devine who I caught up with back in Sydney had been in touch with the Industrial Heritage Association of Newcastle and a one-off show had been hastily arranged at a local club for September 13th.

I flew back to Sydney and took the train up passing signs for Gateshead, Wallsend, Morpeth and even Stockton along the way. I got off the train at Newcastle and the station was made of...Dorman Long girders!

Next day, Andy and Aussie wife Kerry took me on a novel trip to 'Stockton'. The only thing similar was the name. This one had a golden beach, the Pacific Ocean, surfers and pelicans!

Newcastle was more Teesside than Tyneside and its steel industry had gone the same way. The last blastfurnace of BHP Steel was pulled down just three years ago. I met Bob Cook, a former BHP steelworker who runs the Industrial Heritage Association. He organized a massive arts festival to coincide with the closure of the steelworks and raised a million dollars to do it. A huge monument to the workers now stands on the site. It was a creative collaboration between the workers and an artist. The management, unions and the town all got behind it. It is the size of a house and a mammoth credit to Bob and his colleagues for having the vision and conviction to pull it off. He told me: "Newcastle is proud of its legacy and is using this to inspire future pride."

The Newcastle show brought the tour to an end in comical fashion as the DVD player conked out halfway through. We got it going again and managed to shift few DVDs at the end.

So after 20 odd shows, 300 DVD sales including a batch in the bridge giftshop plus numerous radio interviews and press articles, it was done apart from getting the banner on the bridge...

I met up with Andy Clark from Billingham who I first met at the Dendy. With a cameraman down at harbour level, we made our way up to the pedestrian walkway on the bridge. When the security guy was about 200 yards away and staring into space...we unfurled the banner and gave the thumbs up to our man below. Whether we were spotted by the CCTV I dont know but as the security bloke spotted us, we turned and skulked off. Mission Accomplished!

And that concludes my tale...not quite Bill Bryson but if you have read this far, it can't have been that bad...

Bonzer, Fair Dink'm and G'day !


CH 2006



SPECIAL THANKS:

TO THE SPONSORS

NESTA, UK Trade & Investment, Middlesbrough Council,
Northern Film & Media, UK Film Council, ISTC-Community.


& THE PEOPLE
xxxxxxx x xxxw
UK: Ted, Kate Cox-UGC, Tony Poynter ISTC, Simon Crosby UKTI, Mark Schwarzer, Dave Allen & Mike McGeary MFC, Vin & Pat Garbutt, Barbara Argument-Evening Gazette, BBC Radio Cleveland, BBC Look North, Mike Morrissey.

SYDNEY:
Andrea Simpson, Dendy, Marianne at BridgeClimb, Coun. Philip Black, Andy Clark, Jarazinho, Peter Chapman, Danielle 2SCR Radio, Nick Cater-The Australian, Alex Brown, Dan Galloway, Tim Emmerson, Andrew Parsonage, Rob Richardson and folks, Debbie Deedee.

BRISBANE:
Jan Nary and Gary Rankin, Desley and Valentino at The Schonnel, Brisbane Folk Radio, Syd Lincoln, Barbara and Peter Layton & Sam from the Boro.

MELBOURNE:
Paddy Garrity and Mary, Jacob Ontheroof & 3CR Radio.

PERTH:
Colin and Debbie Sawdon and the girls, Grant Watson, Helen, Phil & Paul Roberts at FTI, Mark Naglaszas-The West Australian, Russell Wolf and Damien Rabbit-ABC Perth, Kevin Windross, Bob Carman's lads.

ADELAIDE
: Mark, Lisa, Dezzy, Grant, Imogen at the Merc, Ian Armstrong and family, Roz Button & Di at the Y, Mark NFI, Suzi Ramone and Bunny Ramonette 3DR, Ewart Shaw EBR & Jane B ABC.

NEWCASTLE:
Andy Devine, Kezza n Marley, Bob Cook and pals, ABC Newcastle, Curtin Radio.

And everyone else who came, bought the DVD or bought us a drink...
good on yer !




After the tour I went walkabout...
2,000 miles in 10 days with 10 total strangers in a 4X4 (Big Brother on wheels??!!)


(All pix by Me and Jaime-Lynn Nelson of Oklahoma. A BIG HELLO to Kagzy, Eddie, Steve,
Paddy and Madam M in Melbourne, Fraulein Nic Oh La in Germany , Kristina in Belgium,
Nature in Korea and Phil in Bedford...what a trip!!!)





 

"We carry in our hearts the true country and that cannot be stolen,
We follow in the steps of our ancestry and that cannot be broken"

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