Baz Luhrmann grew up in Herons Creek, a village near Port Macquarie, where his mother taught ballroom dancing.
But in the well-known story of how the boy from Heron Creek became one of Australia’s most successful film directors, there is one step that is generally overlooked: Crocodile Creek, a 1986 community musical staged in Rockhampton, Queensland.
On Friday August 15 at the NFSA Theatrette, my illustrated lecture will spotlight that forgotten production. The presentation also features Crocodile Creek composer Felix Meagher performing excerpts from the score – music that hasn’t been publicly performed since 1986 when, after its four-night season, Crocodile Creek faded from sight. This oblivion is undeserved. Over the past year, interviews conducted with many participants have convinced me that fate brought together a fortuitous combination of personnel who created something special.
Certainly the production made a long-lasting impact on those involved – and that includes Luhrmann, its professional director.
Only 23 at the time, he had just graduated from NIDA. Young Baz had to fit the Rockhampton job around other commitments, such as a group trip to present their student play at a drama festival in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. This early version of Strictly Ballroom, mounted on a budget of $50, won first prize at the festival, and Luhrmann himself was proclaimed best director.
When asked why he went to regional Queensland immediately after those triumphs, Luhrmann says that he was attracted by ‘the sheer adventure of going to an unknown place with unknown people to try and create a piece of theatre’. He had been recommended for the job by Jim Sharman, who was his mentor at NIDA.