In the first twenty years of Australian
television, three series were made featuring similar characteristics:- Adventures Of
The Seaspray, The Rovers and Barrier Reef. All three were half-hour
adventure series set on a boat, filmed in colour with a view to overseas sales, and aimed
squarely at a family audience. (There was a fourth 'boat' series at the time, Riptide,
but it was quite different in concept - a one hour adult drama).
The third of these, Barrier Reef,
was packaged by Fauna Productions (which was formed by John McCallum, Lee Robinson and Bob
Austin, and featured an on-screen credit as 'Norfolk International'). Faunas first
television series was Skippy, and, with an eye on overseas sales, the formula of a
uniquely Australian ingredient (a kangaroo) was repeated in Barrier Reef with,
obviously, the Queensland Great Barrier Reef. The series was devised by John McCallum and
Lee Robinson, who spent many, many hours discussing ideas for the show.
Barrier Reef was originally titled
'Minus Five' when production commenced at Hayman Island on September 15, 1969. 'Minus
Five' was not just a title on paper - some of the early episodes were actually completed
with 'Minus Five' opening credits. In fact, some prints still retain the 'Minus Five'
title, although none have gone to air. The name was not changed to Barrier Reef until
The series was filmed in colour and
entirely on location in North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef, with the exception of
the first episode which also had some scenes filmed in Canberra. It was the first series
in the world to feature extensive colour underwater filming on location - no tanks were
used. It was one of the few local series to be produced outside Sydney or Melbourne, and
was also reported at the time to be the most expensive series ever produced in Australia.
Many of the Skippy crew also worked
on Barrier Reef, which commenced production shortly after Skippy finished. Barrier
Reef was not an easy series to make, especially in the early days when the crew seemed
to spend more time maintaining the boats than shooting film, but they had been together
for three years and were willing to do what was needed to get the job done.
Producers of Barrier Reef were Lee
Robinson and Joy Cavill, and Executive Producers were John McCallum and Bob Austin.
Directors on various episodes were Peter Maxwell, Brian Faull, Lee Robinson, Eric
Fullilove, Howard Rubie and Neill Phillipson.
The real 'star' of Barrier Reef is
the majestic barquentine 'New Endeavour', a 135 feet long windjammer which weighs 220
tons. It was built in Svenberg, Denmark, in 1919, and worked the Scandinavian coast until
it was hit by a mine during World War 2. It was rebuilt in 1945 and came to Australia
fitted out as a crew ship in 1965. Fauna Productions purchased the ship for $60,000 and
spent almost $100,000 on repairs which included some new hull planks, fitting her
with new sails, air-conditioning, a desalination plant, accommodation, tiled shower rooms,
a generator and new pumps and engines. The below decks area was converted into a small
studio, including the 'Minus Five' control room.
Barrier Reef is about the adventures
of a scientific search and recovery team working for General Trust Corporation, a large
Australian industrial and pastoral group. The team work aboard the barquentine 'New
Endeavour', which houses the sophisticated 'Minus Five' electronic equipment. 'Minus Five'
was specifically developed for General Trust projects, and stands for 'Mineral
Identification Nuclear Undersea Seismography Mark V', and, among other functions, it can
give accurate geological analyses of the seabed and the earth below it. This technological
marvel is affectionately known by the ship's crew as 'Grandma', from the fairy tale line
"What big eyes you have!"
'Grandma' is kept top secret because of the
political and commercial interest it could generate, not least due to it's ability to
locate mineral deposits or turn up sunken wrecks carrying valuable cargo. The team on the
'Endeavour' is very much in favour of conservation and opposed to the exploitation of the
Reef, and they are often required to carry out duties for the Government.
There is a lot of specialised equipment
used in the series, including a sleek two-person mini-submarine, futuristic looking scuba
gear, sonar guns, underwater radio communication and jet-powered speed boats
capable of running at 100 kmh. The mini-submarine was actually made in Italy and imported
by a Sydney diving company. It was purchased by Fauna Productions for use in the Skippy
feature film The Intruders, and is 18 feet long, of fibreglass construction,
propeller-driven and powered by four 12-volt batteries. Also, specially constructed rafts
with outboard motors were utilised for camera crews to work near the water for sea-level
shots. Other props included a shark and a large groper fish, both made of fibreglass.
Leading the cast is Joe James, who plays
Ted King, captain of the 'Endeavour'. His first mate and diving expert is Jack Meuraki, a
Thursday Islander, played by George Assang. Jack and Ted actually go back a long way,
having grown up together on Thursday Island. The ship's bosun and one of the divers is
Steve Gabo, played by Harold Hopkins.
Ken James (no relation to Joe James) plays
another diver, Kip Young. Ken was previously seen as Mark Hammond in Skippy, and it
was originally intended that he would continue that role in Barrier Reef. In the
last episode of Skippy he was to be shown leaving Waratah National Park to start a
new job on the Great Barrier Reef, however Fauna Productions subsequently decided he
should play a new character. For that Ken James was thankful: "I was a bit worried
about becoming typecast" he said.1
In what industry sources considered a
surprise move, an Egyptian actor, Ihab Nafa, who had recently taken up residence in
Sydney, was cast as Dr. Paul Hanna, a Government scientist seconded to the 'Endeavour'
from the Science Council. He appeared in the first 17 episodes.
He was replaced from episode 18 by Rowena
Wallace as Tracey Deane, a General Trust Corporation scientist. Rowena had just completed
filming of The Rovers, so in effect went from one boat straight to another.
Susannah Brett also played a scientist,
Elizabeth Grant, who operates the Minus Five equipment. She appeared in the first eight
episodes before her character was recalled to Melbourne. Press reports suggested there was
discontent on the set, and tension between Susannah and production staff. A Fauna
spokesman denied this, saying, "As far as we are concerned her character has merely
dropped out of the series as a natural event. One expects a nucleus of actors to be there
almost continually, but some characters can be eased in and out. This is a case in
point."2 Susannah said, "My contract ran for only six episodes. I enjoyed
working on the series and am sorry it's over."3
Susannah was replaced by Elli Maclure, who
joins the team in episode 9 as Diana Parker, a scientist with a computer-like mind for
figures. It was intended that Elli would stay for the rest of the series, however she had
to leave for personal reasons, and made her final appearance in episode 20. Her character
was not replaced, and her responsibilities on the 'Endeavour' were assumed by Rowena
Tina Cornioley is seen as Kelly Clarke, a
radio operator at the Trust's on-shore field office at Bowen on
Queensland's north coast. Publicity
material stated that her part was a semi-regular role, but in fact
she only appears in two episodes, although her character is referred to in others.
This led to Elli Maclure
reverting to her maiden name, as her married name, Tina Julien, was causing confusion with Tina
Cornioley. "I felt a bit silly changing my name so late in the
proceedings," said Elli. "But in any case, I wanted to begin using my
maiden name because at that stage my marriage had broken up. My full name
is Christine Helen Maclure, so I tried to get a contraction of the first
two and came up with Elli."4 Elli last used her
married name in Homicide episode 242, 'Love Story'.
Other semi-regular support roles were Tom
Farley as Professor Martin, the designer of the Minus Five equipment; and John Warwick as
Sir John Hargreave, the managing director of General Trust Corporation. John Warwick
played a similar role in Skippy as Sir Adrian Gillespie, chairman of the Waratah
National Park Trust. Another support role mentioned in early publicity was that of Bob
Davenport, the North Queensland field manager for the company played by Robert Bruning, but
he appeared in only one episode.
The other 'stars' of Barrier Reef
are the divers who substituted for the actors. They were led by husband and wife team Ron
and Valerie Taylor, two world renowned underwater experts who are particularly well-known for
their photography. Valerie Taylor actually had a guest role in one episode (No. 34 'His
Majesty Regrets'), and Ron Taylor was credited as Director of Underwater Photography for
the entire series. The Taylor's expertise in all aquatic matters - from
photography to marine life - was pivotal for the success of the series.
One episode required a large groper fish as a 'guest actor', and the
Taylor's found one after several hours of searching - however, in spite of
being fed copious amounts of fish, the groper was very grumpy, and his
temperament improved only when the Taylor's gave him some T-bone steaks! Almost every episode featured underwater scenes, the quality of which
are absolutely superb - if for no other reason, these scenes alone make Barrier Reef
The episodes emphasise action and adventure
rather than dialogue, and make full use of the atmosphere created by the romance of an old
sailing ship, the wonder of modern state-of-the-art technology and the spectacular scenery
to be found on the Great Barrier Reef, both above water and below. Outside location work
is extensive, and use of sets and studios is practically non-existent - interior ship
scenes, including the Minus Five control room, were actually filmed on board the
The main characters are not explored to any
great depth, but nevertheless they are realistic and convincing. Joe James portrays an
excellent ship's captain: rock-steady, understanding, always to be relied upon in a
crisis, but without the contrived strutting about like a super-hero that flaws many
American shows. Likewise, the other crew members are believable and not portrayed as
larger than life, and all are competently played, with only Ihab Nafa's portrayal of Dr.
Hanna coming across as a bit wooden.
The episodes themselves, by
the nature of the series, are not intended to be 'deep and meaningful'
social comments or character studies, but they are quite well structured
and certainly entertaining. Occasionally there is an awkward ending, but these lapses are rare. Most episodes have credibility, leaning towards
understatement rather than 'over-the-top', and the feel of adventure is captured nicely.
The series doesn't talk down to the viewers, nor is it too sophisticated for the younger
audience - it strikes a good balance, and is an excellent example of the 'kidult' formula.
Critics in two TV magazines panned the
series when it premiered: Herb Martin, writing in TV Week, missed the point
completely, comparing Barrier Reef to science-fiction shows Star Trek and Lost
In Space;5 and F.C. Kennedy, TV Times' resident critic, - well, he
liked any programme.6
The series did capitalise on then current
events. Use of the 'New Endeavour' coincided nicely with the bi-centenary of Captain
Cook's visit to Australia in the original 'Endeavour', and the issues of conservation and
the Crown of Thorns starfish threat were mentioned often during the series.
Individual episodes focused on other contemporary events: Episode 20, 'God Bless Her',
featured the Royal Visit to Townsville, and episode 26, 'Moon Shot', concerned the ill-fated
Apollo 13 spacecraft.
The most significant of these 'contemporary
events' episodes are Nos. 12 and 13, the two concerning Cyclone Ada, which hit the
Queensland coast and decimated Hayman Island, Daydream Island, South Molle Island, Shute
Harbour and Airlie Beach, killing eleven people. The 'Endeavour' and most of the cast and
crew were safely in Townsville when the cyclone struck, and they assisted in rescues and
taking supplies to Hayman Island after the cyclone had passed.
One episode, 'Slipway', was almost
completed when the cyclone hit. Producers Lee Robinson and Joy Cavill took advantage of
the situation and quickly wrote two new episodes around the cyclone. Although they were
virtually filming at one end of the ship while the script was being written at the other
end, the two episodes, 'Cyclone' and 'Assignment In Shute', do not suffer because of it.
The dramatic footage of actual cyclone ravaged holiday resorts provided a sober, realistic
setting that could never be reconstructed.
Janet Kingsbury was filming a guest spot,
and stayed for the two 'cyclone' episodes. "The reaction of the local people brought
a lump to my throat," she said. "They were so grateful to see us, talk with us, to feel part of an
untouched, normal world again. In one scene in 'Assignment In Shute' a man, his wife and
children were asked to appear as extras. He asked me if he would be paid and was almost in
tears when I told him he would. He'd lost everything and was planning to go prawning that
night to get a feed for the kids".7
As most of the action in Barrier Reef
centred around the regular cast, guest parts were usually limited to one or two roles,
with some episodes having no guest cast at all. A number of well-known actors appeared,
including Producer John McCallum in the first episode. Episode 23, 'Shark Bait', featured Hunter
lead Tony Ward as a wealthy fisherman, with Sue Costin cast as his daughter. Ironically,
about three years earlier Sue Costin was cast as Tony Ward's girlfriend in the first
episode of Hunter!
During filming of episode 5, 'The Pewter
Chalice', some of the actors got into difficulties during a swimming rescue scene. Susannah
Brett, Tina Cornioley and guest actor Christina O'Brien were swept up by a strong rip, and
Christina had a cramp in her foot while Tina got her foot caught up in Christina's wet
clothes. As safety measures were already in place due to the potential risks of filming in
the water, help was immediate and the actors were in no danger. "It was a frightening
few minutes," said Tina Cornioley. "After a rest we went back into the water and
did the scene again, although I understand they may use some of the film from the first
scene in the actual episode because it was so dramatic."8
Rowena Wallace recalled some memories of
the series in a TV Eye interview: "I went straight from one boat to another. The
Rovers was filmed on the 'Derwent Hunter', a schooner, a beautiful boat but shocking
in a swell. Then I went straight onto the barquentine 'New Endeavour' in Barrier Reef.
They were great days because we had a wonderful ship's crew, and sometimes on a Sunday
we'd take the boat over to Dunk or something with a few of the actors and the ship's crew,
and come back at sunset singing sea shanties.
"It was great fun, I loved every
minute of it. Peter Maxwell (the Director) would be screaming out to Mike Kitchenside, the
captain, to 'keep the bloody boat still', and of course you can't keep a huge barquentine
still. We used to have a spy on the boat and by the time we got back to shore the
production office knew exactly what had gone on all day. It was great, it was wonderful,
it was such an adventure. They're gone, those days."9
Rowena did not appear in episode 26, 'Moon
Shot'. She tells the story: "Peter Maxwell (the Director) and I had a game going
where we would change the name of the episode on the clapper board. We were filming on Hayman Island, and we were all going a bit troppo, and we thought we were very funny doing
all this. Anyway, Joy Cavill (the Producer) comes up to me and says, 'We are absolutely
disgusted at what you have been doing, it's outrageous and unprofessional, and we are
going to punish you for it. You're not going to be in an episode!' So they made me sit on
the beach and have a wonderful time; my hand was slapped and my punishment was not to have
my face on television!"10
Veteran actor Willie Fennell played
a desk-type security agent in ep. 36, 'Pilgrims Progress', a 'serious'
character embellished with some comic overtones. One scene required him to
fall overboard: "The director, Peter Maxwell, insisted on having someone
take the fall off the ship for me," said Fennell, "but I had to go out in
a small boat and be dropped in the water to do the scenes where I'm fished
out by Kip Young. Peter insisted I wear flippers for the water scenes and
I found they were very necessary. Have you ever gone swimming in a
business suit? It was so heavy it was tough to keep afloat, and I was near
drowning when they dragged me into the boat."11
Barrier Reef was sold to over fifty
countries, including Britain where it was screened by the BBC. In the U.S. it was picked
up by NBC, who were impressed by the underwater scenes, which they
referred to as glug glug. Other countries that bought the series included Canada, Japan, South America,
and most of Europe.
Locally, Barrier Reef was seen on the
0-Ten network, as the series was set up financially following a deal made with Sir Reginald Ansett,
the head of both Ansett Airlines and ATV-0. It premiered in Melbourne on February 5
1971 (it was already being seen in Britain and Canada), and ATV-0 screened the series out
of sequence. It debuted in Brisbane on February 12, but Sydney's TEN-10 decided not to screen the series until
September, in order to get maximum benefit from newly introduced
Australian content regulations. "If we were to screen it now, it would be
a repeat programme by September, when the Broadcasting Control Board's
stringent new requirements for first-run programmes come into operation,"
said TEN-10 General Manager Leslie Peard. "We will therefore hold
Barrier Reef until that time to help us meet our programming
requirements under the regulations."12 Shortly
afterwards ATV-0 followed suit, taking the series off air in March and
returning it to the schedule in September. SAS-10 Adelaide and TVQ-0 Brisbane
also deferred the series, however many
country stations continued screening the show without interruption.
39 episodes were produced of Barrier
Reef, which were all that were initially planned over a twelve month shooting
schedule. However, Barrier Reef was not as financially successful as Skippy
because it went over budget. This was mainly due to problems with the underwater scenes,
which could be held up for several days if the water was not clear enough for filming. In
fact underwater filming was still taking place when all other filming of the series had
Barrier Reef was repeated many times
during the 70's. Its popularity worldwide was sufficient for a couple of Annuals to be
published for the children's market (along with Skippy and Woobinda).13 The script
from the first episode was included in a text book for students, 'In Focus'.14
The cast moved on to many and varied
things: Joe James joined Number 96, Rowena Wallace played Constable
Jane Bell in
the last episodes of Division 4, Harold Hopkins replaced Michael Laurence in The
Godfathers, Ken James appeared in The Group and Elli Maclure had a role in Birds
In The Bush, to mention only a few. The 'New Endeavour' was used for pleasure cruises
in Sydney and Melbourne before being sold, and Fauna Productions embarked on their next
television project: the critically acclaimed Boney series.
Barrier Reef is not as well
known as Skippy, or as sophisticated as Boney, or as popular as Homicide,
but it is nonetheless significant in Australian television history. It has passed the test
of time, and stands up well alongside other programmes, local or imported, contemporary or
1. TV Week, Sept 13,
2. TV Week, March 1970.
4. TV Times, Nov 6, 1971.
5. H. Martin, Viewpoint, TV Week, Feb, 1971.
6. F.C. Kennedy, TV Times, Oct 23, 1971.
7. TV Times, May 6, 1970.
8. TV Week, December 1969.
9. TV Eye No. 3, October 1994.
11. South Australia TV Guide, Feb 12, 1972.
12. TV Times, March 17, 1971.
13. Barrier Reef Annual 1972, (World Distributors, Britain,1971); Barrier Reef Annual 1973, (World Distributors, Britain,1972)
14. Don Reid, Frank Bladwell, In Focus - Scripts From
Commercial Television's Second Decade, (Macmillan Australia, 1972)
The original cast
line-up: (l to r) George Assang, Harold Hopkins, Susannah Brett, Joe
James, Ken James and Ihab Nafa.
A scene in
the Minus Five control room from the first episode: Susannah Brett as Liz Grant is seated
at the console, with (l to r) Ihab Nafa, John Warwick, John McCallum and Tom
Ihab Nafa as
Dr. Paul Hanna.
Reef opening was effective in its simplicity, consisting of three scenes
The original Minus Five opening was more complex, with additional scenes
including shots of the principal cast members and the title superimposed over the control
one of the specially constructed rafts fitted with an outboard motor.
Director Peter Maxwell with
Brett as Elizabeth Grant.
as Diana Parker.
The final cast
line-up: (l to r) Ken James, Harold Hopkins, Rowena Wallace, George Assang and Joe
James as Captain Ted King.
One of the
divers in the mini-submarine.
Joe James as
Capt. Ted King, George Assang as Jack Meuraki, Ken James as Kip Young, Harold Hopkins as
Steve Gabo and Rowena Wallace as Tracey Deane.
Joe James as
Capt. King and Rowena Wallace as Tracey Deane in the Minus Five control room.
Kingsbury in a rescue scene from episode 12 Cyclone.
Harold Hopkins and Joe James on one of the high-speed jet boats.
Ken James (left)
and Harold Hopkins as divers Kip Young and Steve Gabo in a scene from episode 22 Sea
illustration of Captain Ted King that appeared in the Barrier Reef Annual 1972.
Susannah Brett, Tina Cornioley, Elli Maclure and