A musical re-telling of the Eureka Stockade, the rebellion of gold miners against government regulation and taxes at Ballarat in Victoria in 1854.

Based on the musical play by Kenneth Cook, the film follows the storyline of the play closely.

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Production Details

Budget: variously $90-100,000 (and $92,000), including subsidies from two government bodies - $15,000 from the Australian Council for the Arts, and $16,000 from the newly formed Australian Film Development Corporation

Locations: Australiana village, Wilberforce, near Sydney, two week schedule

Filmed: May 1971, immediately following the closing of the stage musical on which the film was based.

Australian distributor: Self-distributed.

Rating: M

Theatrical release: 'preview' Ballarat 3rd December 1971, the 117th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. 9th December Sydney at the Mecca theatre in Kogarah and the Mandala theatre Paddington for the Christmas season, then scattered screenings thereafter. The film was viewed, if at all, in an abridged form screened on television, and in prints distributed to schools.

16mm    colour                                                                                                                                

Running time: 90 mins (Oxford)

Box office: n/a, minimal. The film never obtained a mainstream release, and did not travel internationally. It was four walled by the producers but with mixed success.

Opinion

Awards

None known.

According to the NFSA, the film was entered into the Brisbane Film Festival in 1972.

Availability

At time of writing, there doesn't appear to be any version of this film available (printing materials are not listed in the NSFA archives).

It is frequently confused in the marketplace with a 1990 Charlie Sheen picture of the same name, Stockade, directed by Martin Sheen. If someone trells you you'll be getting Hans Pomeranz and Ross McGregor's Stockade, starring Michele Fawdon and Rod Mullinar, make sure you get them to check the tape before offering to pay.

1. Source:


Kenneth Cook's play was first staged in 1971, and like his 1968 novel The Wine of God's Anger, the musical was part of his passionate opposition to the war in Vietnam, with Stockade offering the chance to protest against government oppression. There is a biographical entry on Cook at the ADB here.

Stockade was the first play by writer Kenneth Cook, better known for his novel Wake in Fright, which was also released as a film adaptation in 1971.

The play was commissioned by the New South Wales Drama Foundation and after a bruising encounter with the Jane Street Theatre team, Cook withdrew it and it was then first performed in March 1971 at the Independent Theatre Sydney. The film version retained the play's producer as 'director of acting', along with most of the original cast.

The libretto for Stockade was published in 1975 by Penguin, as the second in its series of Australian drama. (Thomas Keneally's play Halloran's little boat, based on his novel Bring Larks and Heroes was published in the same edition).


Stockade is one of a number of Australian productions to look at the Eureka Stockade - other major productions include the Harry Watts' feature film and the Henry Crawford miniseries, and a silent film shot in 1907.

2. Production


Stockade is significant not so much for the quality of the film - it is generally conceded to be a dud - but because of the storm that surrounded it. 

The film itself was done on the cheap. It was shot on 16mm on a two week schedule at the Australiana village at Wilberforce, then a small town near Sydney. A substantial component of the budget (over one third) came from new federal government funding sources, and this would prove a bone of contention.

Rob Mullinar, Graham Corry, Max Cullen, Sue Hollywood, Michael Rolfe, Norman Willison and Michelle Fawdon were amongst the key cast - all had been in the original stage play - but it was the transparent attempt to turn out a cheap film using a pre-existing stage musical that became another bone of contention.

Sylvia Lawson in The Australian was dismayed that an opportunity to make a real film about a signficant historical event had been missed, and that instead filmgoers were being offered a film of a play without being told that was what they were getting.

3. Release:

The film never had a proper theatrical release, but many people heard about the film without actually seeing it.

The film was attacked by Liberal MP for Ballarat Dudley Erwin for receiving government funding while containing immoral content (some scenes were set in a brothel in the Eureka Hotel,  with 'Ma' Bentley 'conducting' the seductions - the film was later approved for screening to secondary school students doing junior history and drama and film appreciation).

The MP proposed that the film be withdrawn from exhibition, ironic in that the film struggled to reach an audience.

More significantly, the film failed to find a commercial distributor, as explained by Brian Davies in Pomeranz's obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald on November 15th 2007:

In 1971 the feature film Stockade ignited a political and commercial battle that nearly ruined Spectrum but galvanised the community. Australian cinemas generated about $85 million annual income for the United States industry, tax-free, because the US distributors and exhibitors claimed that their earnings here only met the costs of making prints for Australia...

...A distribution company undertook to exhibit it but the deal fell through. Exhibitors and distributors closed ranks, offering the identical deal, but not one the filmmakers would accept. Cook and Pomeranz argued that Australian audiences were to be denied seeing an Australian film about Eureka funded by AFDC. Stockade became a national political controversy.

Kenneth Cook and Hans Pomeranz decided that they would self-distribute (fourwall) the show.

However this brought the producers into conflict with the NSW government, which refused to enforce quota regulations for Australian films, but enforced regulations in relation to the prohibition of public screenings in unlicensed halls near picture theatres. Davies continues the story:

Cook and Pomeranz eventually arranged for a premiere in the Orange Civic Centre. The NSW chief secretary, Eric Willis, raised health and safety issues and said that films could not be publicly screened within several hundred metres of cinemas. Pomeranz alleged that filmmakers were up against "slush funds" from America. The film, which was given some sympathetic reviews (along with some hostile ones) remained a costly outcast. It was premiered in Ballarat and screened in halls around Victoria. A nervous industry applauded.

It wasn't quite like that - there were dissident members of the industry, as well as dissident critics, who argued that the film wasn't of sufficient quality to justify making a stand.

Pomeranz at first persisted. He demanded that the Chief Secretary Eric Willis initiate an inquiry into the New South Wales industry, and the control of distribution and exhibition by foreign companies, proposing that Australia was a dumping ground for overseas films, and demanding that American profits be put into Australian productions - with 10% of films screened to be Australian made. 

The AFDC investment in the film also caused controversy. Greater Union's managing director called the corporation a joke, suggesting that its executives knew little about the film industry or distribution, and Tom Jeffrey, as the secretary for the Producers and Directors Guild, responded by suggesting in its first year of operations the AFDC had done more to encourage and invest in local films than GU had done in the past 25 years.

The Australian Theatrical Employees Association even talked of establishing a chain of cinemas around Australia to promote local product, but nothing would come of the proposal.

Nothing happened immediately - the regulations were maintained - but the controversy was another reminder of the difficulties producers faced, and added to the momentum for change and for government assistance, on both federal and state levels. In the end Pomeranz withdrew from the battle, and Stockade quietly disappeared from view.

4. Hans Pomeranz:

After the fuss over Stockade, Pomeranz, a Dutch immigrant who arrived in Australia in the nineteen fifties, gave up film production.

He concentrated instead on his post-production facilities house, Spectrum Films on Sydney's north shore, which he'd established in 1964, and which had faced financial difficulties because of the facilities investment it had made in the production. 

Spectrum recovered, and it would be fair to say that in its hey day there were  very few film-makers who didn't cut a film at Spectrum.

Brian Davies' obituary of Pomeranz is currently available at the Sydney Morning Herald website here.

 5. Kenneth Cook and the play Stockade:


Adrian Guthrie in his University of Wollongong thesis, here in pdf format, at time of writing, outlined the initial difficulties writer Kenneth Cook encountered in the first attempt to stage the musical:


...The other play scheduled for the 1970 Jane Street season was Stockade, commissioned from Kenneth Cook. It was plagued with difficulties which arose from a rigidly conventional playwright meeting a wildly unconventional performance group. The production did not survive to a public season at Jane Street, and this caused a controversy which the N I D A organisers met with a disgruntled public silence. The difficulties lay in the heart ofthe Jane Street project which had been set up as an 'experimental theatre', but was organised along very formal lines. Authors were commissioned to write plays for Jane Street; however, in the hands of (Rex) Cramphorn and the members of the Performance Syndicate, these were scripts that were treated for development...


...The workshop of the script titled Stockade, by Kenneth Cook, failed to come to a public performance and was withdrawn by the author who felt that no respect was given to his text.