Pilbara dog day afternoons

Courtney FowlerThe West Australian

Karratha Station was, for many years, the focal point of the West Pilbara.

Before 1966, Karratha was a thriving sheep station that covered 122,000ha all the way up to the islands through Dampier Archipelago.

From 1929, it was home to the Leslie family and the Aboriginal community with whom they shared their lives.

By 1966, the Leslie family would cease pastoral operations on Karratha station, when the land was bought by Hamersley Iron.

As mining operation ramped up, the focus of the region shifted away from pastoral work.

However, in the past six weeks the spotlight has been put back on Karratha Station as it has been transformed into the film set for Blue Dog, a new movie about the early years of kelpie star Red Dog.

Producer Nelson Woss said the narrative brought to life an era and area of the outback before industrialisation and showed the challenges faced by the community.

"Set in the late 1960s on a station, it tells the time of the region when it transformed from a pastoral economy to a mining economy, " he said.

"This is a coming of age story about a community, a young boy Mick (Levi Miller), his family and a scrappy, one-of-a-kind pup that will change his life forever. In a lot of ways the story is about change and finding your way home."

Mr Woss said he had been passionate about putting a spotlight on the Pilbara since filming Red Dog in 2010.

"We want people across the world to know the Pilbara is not just the engine room of the Australian economy, but has its own unique stories," he said.

"The film is very much a celebration of what a terrific place it is to work, live, visit and invest in, and people from all over Australia should be very proud of this location and come and see what a fantastic place it is.

"Ultimately, the Red Dog story is very much region-specific and I love that there is a story from right here in the Pilbara that resonates all over Australia and the world."

Last month, Mr Woss travelled to Wickham Primary School and a Pannawonica community event, where more than 80 locals turned out to meet some of the Blue Dog cast and crew, including Bear, one of the kelpies playing Blue in the film.

Mr Woss said it was heartening to see how the community had embraced the Red Dog story.

"We've managed to have performances from locals, from speaking parts to extras, and whenever we've needed help we have reached out to the local community who have always been there for us, " he said.

"It is pretty special because that's what the spirit of the Red Dog story is all about - it didn't matter where you were from or what job you had, Red Dog treated you the same, he united a community and it's nice that the films have the same kind of soul to them."

Ngarluma man and tour operator Clinton Walker was employed by the Blue Dog crew to act as a cultural adviser during filming.

What Mr Walker loved most about the Blue Dog story was the acknowledgment of Aboriginal people in the Pilbara and their strong connection with country.

"My job as a man who has gone through initiation is to ensure that all the cultural protocols and practices are looked after on country," he said.

"When we're on location I've been ensuring wherever we are filming is not going to impact on significant sites and I've also helped the actors with the Ngarluma language in the script.

"It's a proud moment - as a people from this region we want people to know who we are and that this is a beautiful country full of history and culture."

Pilbara Development Commission chief executive Terry Hill said the film's high level of local engagement would have lasting benefits.

"The first movie, Red Dog, was so successful and it highlighted the fantastic benefits of the Pilbara to the world," he said.

"This time around it's fantastic to see a lot of local people and businesses being used in this film and we're seeing that money flow back into the community, which is serendipitous at a time when things are a bit tougher than they were three or four years ago.

"We're doing a lot of work with Nelson Woss talking about legacy issues for the movies and finding different ways the movie can continue to impact on the economy in the future."

Mr Woss said he hoped the Red Dog legacy would continue to put the spotlight on the region's growing tourism industry.

"That's why, like the first film, instead of premiering in Sydney or Melbourne the very first screening of the Blue Dog film will be right here in the Pilbara," he said.

"Moving forward we will be looking for opportunities in the future to work together to celebrate the region - we would like to come back to shoot a third film if we get the right story.

"We also want to eventually open a permanent display of Red Dog memorabilia in the region."

Filming of Blue Dog wrapped up on Karratha Station this month and the crew will spend three weeks shooting the interior scenes in Perth. Blue Dog is due to be released in Australia next year.

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