Filming at Uluru

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During my Video Camera Courses and even in general conversation people regularly ask me what my favourite shoot has been and I find that to be an impossible question to answer.  There have been too many fantastic experiences in my career, but I would like to share at least some of the more memorable ones with you.

Tony Gordon was an amazingly talented presenter. He was also my best friend, like a brother to me. He died a few years ago doing what he loved best in this world, flying his Pitts Special aerobatics plane. It took me a long time to come to terms with that.

We met when we both worked for the Seven Television Network in Australia. We worked together on a children’s show called “Wombat”, and we travelled all around Australia shooting stories about anything interesting, unusual or out of the ordinary. Hundreds of stories and I will share a few of the best.

Uluru or Ayers Rock as it used to be called is one of Australia’s top tourist destinations and a ‘must see’ for anyone visiting Australia, and we were sent out there to shoot some stories. More and more restrictions were coming into place about television cameras going up onto the Rock to film, but we were allowed to film around the bottom of the Rock. To do this though we had to be accompanied by two local Aboriginal men and a National Parks man who had lived out there for twenty years and could speak the local language.

The Aboriginal men could speak some English, but for any in depth information the interpreter would help with an explanation. I think that he was probably also there to make sure we didn’t try to push the Aboriginal men and make them uncomfortable with what we were covering.

Even though we were disappointed about not being able to film on the Rock we were told we would be taken to some interesting caves around the bottom of the Rock.

Just some info about Uluru, it is 348 metres high [about the height of a 95-story building], 3.6 km long and is 9.4 km in circumference. it has around half a million visitors each year.

The thing that gets you when you stand in its presence is that it is one big rock, not a hill made up of millions of rocks, but one big rock, it is incredible. It also has many waterfalls, caves and ancient aboriginal cave paintings, so we were excited about what we might see at the caves when we were taken there by the local Aboriginal men.

Our vehicles stopped about two hundred metres from the Rock and I set up the camera and started filming Tony and the locals walking towards the Rock. Something that made the whole scene seem unreal was that Uluru is totally surrounded by red sand and small bushes. Nothing else. No other rocks, just sand and small bushes.

So, I am getting a variety of shots of this amazing scene as we all walk closer and closer to the base of the Rock. Suddenly Tony moves a a few steps off the track we are following and bends down and reaches under a bush to pick up a discarded Coke can that he sees laying there.

“Arh, look out, Liru” says one of our guides with a quiet voice and a slight smile.

Tony looks up and matter of factly askes “what’s a Liru”

The response “Poisonous snake mate” sees Tony jump a mile and retreat to the track and the rest of us have a big laugh at his expense.

This day that would have many learning experiences for us whiteys.

We follow the locals up to the first cave of our adventure.

This first cave was quite small and had a cave painting on one wall and I was allowed to film it. I shot some general vision or GV’s of the cave and of the painting and also everyone standing around outside chatting. Tony then asks the interpreter what the painting is about so that he can do a ‘PTC’ or piece to camera explaining it to the viewers. The question is put to the Aboriginal men and they all have a chuckle together and we get the response ‘no’. We are aware that Uluru is sacred to the Aborigines so Tony, trying to understand, says “Is that because it is sacred”.

No, we were told, the reason was, that what we saw as a simple cave painting had much more significance to the local Aboriginal men. They were elders of their tribe and the many stories of the painting were handed down to them over the many years of their lives. It was impossible for them to tell the story of the painting in a few words or even a few minutes.

We moved on to see a few more much larger caves. Uluru and these caves are sacred to these Aborigines and one of the elders related a memory he had from when he was a boy. It related to a large cave that they showed us and he called it the men’s cave.

This was a sacred men’s cave and held no less importance to them as any cathedral or mosque might hold to many of us. In fact it held the threat of death to any woman or child that dared to enter. The indigenous tribe did not live in the caves permanently, they travelled around their “Country” hunting and gathering food, having their ceremonies, and passing down their “Dreamtime” stories.

The Elders memory as a young boy was of a day when they were returning to the caves at Uluru from a trip away and they saw smoke coming from out of the sacred men’s cave. The tribe was all-together so they did not know who was there or what was happening at the cave.

They stopped and waited a distance from the caves so they could stay hidden and watch. A short time later, they saw a horse drawn carriage with white men and women leaving the sacred men’s cave. They had been having a picnic in the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. Our Elder said that as a young boy it was a very confusing experience as he would have been put to death if he had been found in that cave . He later learned that the visitors had also left rubbish in the sacred cave and used it as a toilet.

We all came home from that trip with minds that were a lot more open and a renewed belief in the importance of the storytellers.

If you like these stories about some of my experiences as a Professional Cameraman leave a comment and let me know and I will write some more.

If you would like to improve your skills as a visual storyteller check out The Video Camera Course

Why You Don't Know What Shots to Take

The Four Biggest Mistakes of New Video Shooters

How to Shoot Great Looking Video

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Comments

  1. lou

    Hi just watching Tony Gordon Heart beat video tour of QLD amazing footage hes sadly missed 🙁

  2. Geoff Stock

    He is still truly missed. Where did you see the doco?

  3. Moira McInerney

    Hi Geoff, Tony was one of my first boyfriends back in Adelaide in the 1970’s. He later worked with my husband at Channel 7, and I was one of the many mourners at his funeral. He was spectacular in many ways. I think the tour above refers to the Heartbeat of the Coral Coast documentary with Darren McDonald.

    Moira

  4. Geoff Stock

    Hi Moira, Tony was my best friend and we met when we worked together at Ch7 in Brisbane. That story we filmed at Uluru when we were working on a kids show called Wombat. He shot the docos with Darren later, after he left Ch7. Tony was an amazing guy, he had a touch of genius. He was a huge pleasure to work with, and I still miss him.

  5. Chris Henry

    Hi Geoff,

    Tony was a very dear friend of mine. We worked together a 2UE in Sydney in the 80’s. Tony encouraged me to follow my dreams and I became a professional pilot. It was because of Tony that I met my wife and he was our best man. We have been married 28 years.

    It is one of my greatest regrets that I could not make it to his funeral. I was based in Lismore at the time and all roads north were blocked by floods. I could not get past Murwillumbah but I sure tried. CH7 were kind enough to send me the video.

    I think of him a lot and will miss him always… We was so talented, so unique and loved by many.

  6. Geoff Stock

    I know exactly how you feel Chris, he was a great man and his personality touched a lot of people. He was also my best man. All the best to you. Geoff

  7. Matthew Gordon

    I met Tony about 39 years ago in a little town called Mount Gambier in South Australia. From the moment I was born, or of self concience, I felt loved and understood what it means to love.
    Tony showed romance and love toward anything he sunk his heart into. His warm nature and infectious smile made him saught after company by many that met him.
    My fondest memory of Dad was the holidays he
    would take myself and my brother Jeb on in the major school breaks. He flew us to amazing parts of the country where we would hear passed down accounts of history, both good and bad but never held back on laughter. I miss him and will always, and with his love in my sometimes heavy heart I follow what makes me happy in life, just what he would have wanted for me. There is a movie or two in this guy and its because of Tony Gordon I am able to give the confidence it takes to achieve. X. Much love!

  8. Geoff Stock

    All too true Matty. If there is any way I can help you in your journey let me know. Geoff

  9. Graham Mac Intyre

    I used google to look for Tony when I first moved to Queensland in 2003 unaware of his tragic passing. I too was close to Tony from 1977 till he moved from Adelaide to Queensland I use to sit in the studio’s of 5KA when he was on midnight to dawn shift. I remember stopping at the pie cart and would grab Tony and myself a pie and sometimes a apple pie great days. When Tony was living at West lakes in Adelaide myself and Tony put his Hang Glider together out in the park next door I don’t know what we were thinking lol it would never got off the ground but Tony and Phil Carey and myself kept trying. Tony was also managing the band I was in even tho he really wanted to be in the band but Television was calling him and he also said to me get yourself on TV mate there’s money to be made in front of the camera. When Tony left Adelaide I lost touch with his family from Riverton and Kendal his girlfriend and their child. It was a shock when I was searching for Tony when I moved here to Queensland that he had passed but it didn’t surprise me the way he passed he loved flying I say this without hesitating it was his greatest love I’m just so happy he was a big part of my life love him heaps God Bless you Tony

  10. Geoff Stock

    Thanks for sharing that Graham. He certainly left a great impression on everyone who he shared part of his life with. He truly lived his to the full.

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