Obituary: Joan Long
Monday 01 March 1999
She started out at the Commonwealth Film Unit in 1948 as a secretary but quickly made it her business to get into the cutting rooms to "learn the grammar of film". The director of the film Babe (1995), Chris Noonan, once described Long as "the closest thing to royalty in the Australian film industry".
She was born Joan Dorothy Boundy, one of five children of a Methodist minister and his wife, at Rushworth in rural Victoria. A history graduate, she was none the less perturbed by what she called the "intellectual snobbery of films". She once reflected: "It wasn't something you did, it was something you were interested in."
Early in her career she was challenged to write a script about the Australian explorer Edmund Kennedy, who was speared by Aborigines at Cape York in 1848. The film's producer declared that hers was the first script he had read which showed a real understanding of how films were made. She was promptly told to "go out and make films".
It was her award-winning script for Christopher McCulloch's Paddington Lace (1970) which attracted my attention when I was looking for a scriptwriter to adapt Caddie, the autobiography of a woman forced to take menial jobs, at the height of the depression, including that of a barmaid, to support her children. She protested, "I've never written a feature film." I replied, "I've never produced one." And so began a long and trusting professional and personal friendship.
Caddie was a baptism of fire for all of us. We had enough money for six weeks of filming and a script which should rightfully have been given eight weeks. Each week, after six days of shooting, the seventh day would be spent by the director, Donald Crombie, and Long tearing pages out of the script to fit the shooting schedule we could afford. She described each weekend as like having one's right and left arms being taken off simultaneously.
The result, premiered in London in 1976, with Caddie superbly played by Helen Morse, caught the public imagination in a way no other Australian film had done before.
The success of Caddie encouraged Long to take on the dual roles of writing and producing. She was only the second woman to do so in Australian feature films in more than 45 years. In this dual role she made The Picture Show Man (1977), which celebrates the life of the touring showmen who took movies to the bush with portable projector and screen. It was made with great affection for its central character and earned a place in the history of our industry whose pioneers were mainly forgotten. Then came the 1981 box office success Puberty Blues, which she wrote and co- produced with Margaret Kelly.
More and more, however, her attention was being attracted to the difficult role of producing; her next feature was Silver City (1984). It was the first film to deal with the human side of Australia's first post-war migrant intakes. This was followed by David Williamson's Emerald City in 1989.
Long's feature films received a total of 23 AFI nominations and won in seven categories. Her documentaries were equally acclaimed. The Pictures That Moved and The Passionate Industry were screened in official selection at Cannes and, in Italy in 1981, she won the prestigious Vittorio De Sica Award for scriptwriting.
In writing narration for my film on the life of the cameraman Frank Hurley, she described Hurley as "that stubborn, tireless man". The adjectives also described herself: Joan Long's tireless commitment to the renaissance of the Australian film industry in the 1960s and 1970s is legendary.
Long was a natural activist. As president of the Australian Writers Guild, she gave evidence to the 1972 inquiry into the Australian film industry. Of the 99 witnesses, she was one of only two women. The man sitting next to her thought she was a secretary - the inquiry chairman knew otherwise.
Her sense of history made her the ideal choice to be appointed the first chair of the National Film and Sound Archive in 1984. She was awarded the Order of Australia (AM) in 1980 for her services to the Australian film industry and received the Australian Writers Guild's Dorothy Crawford Award in 1991. Her long and distinguished career was further recognised in 1997 by Women in Film & Television with the first Venus Award.
Until the illness that caused her death, Joan Long had been working on her screenplay for a docudrama on the life of her famous counterparts, the McDonagh sisters, Australian pioneer film-makers of the 1920s and 1930s.
Joan Dorothy Boundy, film producer and screenwriter: born Rushworth, Victoria 20 July 1925; AM 1980; married Martin Long (one son, one daughter, one stepson and one stepson deceased); died Sydney, New South Wales 2 January 1999.
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