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THE MAGIC BOOMERANG


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THE MAGIC
BOOMERANG
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As Hector Crawford is quite rightly regarded as the pioneer of television drama in Australia, so too can Roger Mirams be regarded as the pioneer of children's television drama. As head of Pacific Films, in 1959 Mirams commenced production of
The Terrific Adventures Of The Terrible Ten, a series of 15-minute programmes for kids, shot on film in black and white. The studios of GTV-9 were utilised for interior scenes with exterior location filming taking place at Macedon, in the ranges just north of Melbourne. The series enjoyed considerable local and overseas success, and ran for several years. By 1963 it had evolved into a follow-up series, The Ten Again, and was being screened by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The experience gained from The Terrible Ten provided the foundation for a more elaborate project: The Magic Boomerang.

The Magic Boomerang was an outdoor adventure series with an element of fantasy. Tom Thumbleton, a 13-year-old boy who lives with his parents on a sheep farm near the fictitious town of Gunnaganoo, finds a boomerang among some Aboriginal relics his great-great-grandfather left in the attic of their homestead. Tom discovers that when the boomerang is thrown, all time stands still - except for the thrower. When he catches it again, time resumes as normal.

Many of the personnel who worked on The Terrible Ten  were also utilised on The Magic Boomerang. Producer of the series was Roger Mirams, and most episodes were directed by either David Baker or Joe McCormick. David Morgan was cast in the lead role of Tom Thumbleton, with Telford Jackson and Penny Shelton playing his parents Dan and Gwen. Rodney Pearlman appeared as Tom's younger friend 'Wombat' in the first 28 episodes.

Gary Gray, a regular in The Terrible Ten, worked behind the scenes as Assistant Director, and also made on-camera appearances in later episodes as Tom's cousin Philip from Brisbane. Susan Haworth also appeared in a few later episodes as Penny, Philip's sister and Tom's cousin. Significantly, Penny was portrayed as a resourceful girl making a positive contribution to whatever situations occurred - a stark contrast to the stereotypical helpless female role prevalent in many U.S. series of the time. Young Aboriginal actor Bindi Williams, who later had a lead role in Woobinda (Animal Doctor), appeared in some early episodes as the son of a local tribe member.

Pacific Films had nurtured quite a lot of expertise among the children who worked on their series: "By this time we had established a company of 'senior' kids," said Gary Gray, "of which I was one, and David Morgan was another, plus Roger's daughter Joanne, Rodney Pearlman, Gavin Ellis - a range of kids who had been around for a while. We used to float other kids in underneath and we also used a lot of local kids."1

Prior to production of The Magic Boomerang, Pacific Films moved their operation from Macedon to Woodend, a small town approximately 60km north of Melbourne. When the Terrible Ten started the crew consisted of two: a sound recordist plus Roger Mirams as director and cameraman. Now the company had expanded to include two film units and a crew of 12 to 14. The Woodend Mechanics Institute was converted to a studio to be used for interior sets, and later a closed cinema on the opposite side of the road was utilised as a second studio. All location filming was done in and around Woodend, which the cast and crew had now dubbed 'Hollywoodend'.

Filming of The Magic Boomerang commenced in January 1964 and ran through to mid-1965. Most filming was done at weekends and during school holidays, due to the age of the younger cast members. For the most part the cast enjoyed working on the series - Penny Shelton said The Magic Boomerang episodes were "actors' picnics, and great fun."2 Woodend residents co-operated wholeheartedly, allowing their homes, shops and railway station to be used - even the local bank was featured in a robbery attempt.

Adventure comes thick and fast in the series, as in each episode Tom and Wombat use the boomerang to foil the nefarious deeds of the sinister baddies. Wombat, being somewhat mischievous, likes using the boomerang to play tricks on the locals, but Tom, being more mature and responsible, only uses the boomerang when its powers are needed.

Initially 39 half-hour episodes were produced in black and white. It was sold locally to the ABC, and there were also many overseas sales, including Britain, Canada and Malaysia. The series first started screening in Britain and Canada, but it was not until May 2, 1965, that it had its Australian debut. It was shown at 5:30 on Sunday afternoon in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and commenced screening a few weeks later in other states.

"By now Roger had established his stock-in-trade," said Gary Gray, "and he was a great marketer of stuff overseas, especially to Europe where kids are cooped up in apartments. He capitalised on the Australiana dream of kids riding horses and the 'Our Gang' concept."3 

The opening titles feature Tom riding his horse into shot and throwing the boomerang. The scene changes to an animated graphic of the boomerang in flight and then the title appears, with a voice-over "The Magic Boomerang". A full list of cast and crew credits, as normally would be featured at the end of a programme, were either shown as part of the opening, or were included with the episode title superimposed over the commencing scenes. The closing consisted of nothing more than 'The End' together with a Pacific Films production credit superimposed either over a boomerang graphic or the final scene.

The effect of the boomerang stopping time was achieved by simple freeze-frames, or, in scenes where Tom or Wombat were required to move, by the other actors remaining very still. The end result was a series that was well-produced and enjoyable to watch.

During 1965, production of the planned 39 episodes of The Magic Boomerang were coming to an end, and Pacific Films was turning its attention towards its most ambitious project yet: Adventures Of The Seaspray. In a reversal of the situation that applied to The Magic Boomerang, Gary Gray had a lead role in Seaspray while David Morgan became the Assistant Director.

One year later, while Seaspray production was in full swing, it was decided to resurrect The Magic Boomerang. Filming commenced in June 1966, and there was little relevance to the original series. The new series was produced in colour, and there were significant changes to the cast, characters and setting, with a shift in emphasis from adventure to a more light-hearted show with an element of comedy.

15-year-old Robert Brockman played Nugget Morris, the new custodian of the magic boomerang, and Gavan Ellis played his older mate. Nugget would invariably become involved with the schemes of an eccentric English gentleman with delusions of grandeur, The Honourable Charles Swinbourne, who resides on a property known as 'Rainbows End'. Despite its grand sounding title, 'Rainbows End' is little more than an old shack with the grounds littered by bits and pieces of various inoperative machinery. Swinbourne is played by William Hodge, and his cobber is Bluey, played by Chris Christensen. The two local bad guys are 'Tiger' Martin and Joe Manelli, played by Peter Aanensen and Kurt Beimel respectively. Despite the total change in characters and setting, the formula of the original series remained basically the same - the bad guys would hatch some nefarious scheme and would be thwarted by Nugget with the aid of the magic boomerang.

Director of the new series was long-time Pacific Films stalwart David Baker, who explained the changes: “Our original Boomerang boy, David Morgan, is 19 now, and too old for the part. He’s working as Assistant Director with the Seaspray unit. We’ve had to find new children for most of the roles. The actors from the old series are becoming men and women.”4

The opening of the new series was similar to the original: Nugget rides his horse into shot, throws the boomerang, and the title graphic appears. Then a voice-over narrative states "The Magic Boomerang. The ancient legend of the dreamtime people tells of a magic boomerang. When this strange boomerang flies in the sky, all time will stand still. Whoever has this boomerang has great power."

Only six half-hour episodes of the new series were made before production was stopped forever. "We spent six months filming the six half-hour episodes," said Robert Brockman. "Everything went wrong. One whole episode was shot with the filter at the wrong end of the lens."5 The new episodes were screened locally by the ABC, being incorporated into repeat runs of the original series. The Magic Boomerang was screened a number of times in subsequent years, but has not been seen since the advent of colour television in 1975.

 

 

THE MAGIC BOOMERANG
EPISODE DETAILS

 

 

1. TV Eye No. 15, January 1999.
2. Australian Women's Weekly, June 16, 1965.
3. TV Eye No. 15, January 1999.
4. TV Times, June 15, 1966.
5. TV Times, Sept 22, 1973.



Tom Thumbleton (David Morgan) holding the magic boomerang with his mate 'Wombat' (Rodney Pearlman) and their horses.


Discussing a Magic Boomerang script are David Morgan and Rodney Pearlman with director Joe McCormick and producer Roger Mirams.


The full cast - David Morgan as Tom and Rodney Pearlman as Wombat with Telford Jackson and Penny Shelton as Tom's parents.


David Morgan as Tom.


The Magic Boomerang opening titles.


Director Joe McCormick made occasional on-camera guest appearances. He is seen here with Rodney Pearlman as Wombat and David Morgan as Tom.


Opening titles for the second series of six colour episodes.


The second series featured a completely different cast and characters. The new custodian of the boomerang was Nugget, played by Robert Brockman.


The local eccentric is the Honourable Charles Swinbourne, played by William Hodge (right). His cobber is Bluey, played by Chris Christensen (left).


The two local rogues are 'Tiger' Martin, played by Peter Aanensen (left), and Joe Manelli, played by Kurt Beimel (right).