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  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

The Dry:"Behind the scenes--real towns, real lives, real people"

Bear with me while I spin a yarn for you. Many years ago after driving 10 hours through searing summer heat and bushfires from Canberra to Hopetoun—a 20 minute drive from Beulah—in the Mallee district of Victoria, I sat at the bar of the Community Hotel in Hopetoun enjoying a glass of refreshing, ice-cold beer.

An older bloke sitting next to me turned and asked if I was a local. I considered for a moment and thought about my personal connections with Hopetoun and how long I’d been coming to Hopetoun and replied, “ I guess I could say I’m a local. I’ve been coming here for several years.”

The older bloke sipped his beer, pondered awhile, then slowly and calmly replied, “Maybe when you’ve been coming for 30 years you can call yourself a local”.

We both smiled and continued drinking our ice cold frothy. We had reached a mutual understanding. All these years later, I can happily say that I’ve become a local. That’s according to the older bloke's reckoning of how long it takes.

Beulah & The Mallee District

Beulah & the Mallee District

Canola crops, field bins, wheat fields, stunning sunsets & historic buildings

Photos © Eclectic Stefan

The point of the story is that small town life in country Australia, and specifically, in my instance, the small town communities of Hopetoun, Beulah, and Rainbow in the Mallee district of the state of Victoria, are communities with a vibrant life around friends, family, agriculture, local businesses, crops, and farming that belie their quiet, subdued exteriors. Tourists, travellers and casual visitors may describe these towns as sleepy with little to do. But people who live, work and raise families are dependent on and supportive of their fellow townspeople who thrive in these communities.

These also are the communities that grow the crops and livestock that produce the food that each and every one of us rely on to live. Dramatic films depict fictional characters living fictional lives in fictional towns. The real locations of fictional towns have a history and a reality that exist as a foundation for their fictional counterparts.

On location with The Dry

Shops in Phillip Street, Beulah (featured in the poster for The Dry ©)

The Primary School house, Hopetoun

Photos © Eclectic Stefan

When you’ve been coming to these communities for a considerable time you learn about the heart of a community. Venues such as Hopetoun’s Community Hotel and Bon Bon cafe, Minyip’s Club Hotel, IGA grocers, and Beulah Medical Supplies cater to the everyday needs of the locals.

And the names of Mallee locals can be another matter altogether. For a start, there’s Mule for Johnny (he’s stubborn as a…), Undertaker for Mills (always lets people down), Skin for Tony (he wasn’t fat), Harry for Russell (because his brother was Harry), Sav for Roy (for savaloy, a highly seasoned bright red sausage, fried in batter, and available in fish and chips shops—have a look at his “ole boy” is the explanation) and Creature for Anthony (ant is a short form of Anthony and ant is a creature).

Then there’s Sliprod for Neville (Nev) and Tony is Snow, although the king of nicknames has to go to Scorcher. When asked, Scorcher claimed, “When I played cricket, I always hit the ball so hard it was a scorcher”. To top it off, Scorcher, obviously, wasn’t Scorcher’s real name. Locals called him Bill. Wrong if you thought that’s his real name. Bill is short for William? Wrong again, if you think that’s his birth name. His actual name is Brendan. There was also Brian, known as Dagger. No one seemed to recall why he was called Dagger. One unkind comment indicated it has to do with dags on sheep.

These are the lives of the people who make the communities alive in small country towns. Their personalities are as vibrant and their stories as full of joy, sadness, hardships, laughter, tears, passion and determination as anything you will see in any movie.

“Somehow, the Mallee and its people get under your skin”

from the 'Forward' by Heather Ewart to the book The Mallee, A Journey through north-west Victoria



On location in the real Beulah that became the fictional town of Kiewarra

Hopetoun Courier & Mallee Pioneer courtesy of Lisa Magee, Editor/Manager, Hopetoun Courier and Mallee Pioneer

That was all by way of introducing the real town Beulah. In The Dry, Beulah and Minyip were combined to become collectively the fictional town of Kiewarra. As happens in films, reality is co-opted to imagine fictional locations. There's nothing unusual about that. Beulah and Minyip were amalgamated to create the illusion of Kiewarra in The Dry.

In reality, Eric Bana’s character Aaron walks out of the doctor’s office in Beulah onto the footpath of Minyip.

The summer temperatures in the Mallee can sear the body and send the thermometer into the mid to high 40 degree Celsius range. The tinder dry conditions featured in The Dry became a physical manifestation for the emotional tensions that arise in The Dry.



Window display, Beulah Medical Supplies

Photos © Courtesy of Donna Marshman, Beulah Medical Supplies



The Dry On Location: Constructing the set for a doctor's office

INTERVIEW with Donna Marshman, Beulah Medical Supplies

Another part of recreating reality into fiction is the physical rebuilding of interiors as movie sets. Donna Marshman of Beulah Medical Supplies recounts how the storeroom at the back of the pharmacy and medical supplies business was converted to the doctor’s office in the movie.



The Dry On Location: Scouting for a pub at the Mallee town of Rainbow

INTERVIEW with Neville Petschel, retired primary producer/former shire councillor

Not all locations were selected for The Dry. Eric Bana scouted many locations in several towns in the Mallee, including the pub at Rainbow. Rainbow local Neville Petschel shared his impressions of Eric Bana when Bana walked into the pub to the amazement of the locals.



The Dry On Location: Transforming the main street of real town Beulah into the fictional town Kiewarra in The Dry

INTERVIEW with Kaye Hutton, Beulah local and long-time Mallee resident

Exterior locations can involve large scale alterations to their appearance to suit the nature and thematic concerns of a film. Kaye Hutton, a Beulah local, recalls the truckloads of sand that filled the main street in Beulah for The Dry.


The Fire & the Film Crew

Hopetoun Courier & Mallee Pioneer courtesy of Lisa Magee, Editor/Manager, Hopetoun Courier and Mallee Pioneer
In some cases, stories about perceived events during filming can become part of the myth surrounding actual events, such as stories about the fire that supposedly burned down the farmhouse in which The Dry's film crew were staying. As this newspaper story from The Hopetoun Courier & Mallee Pioneer reveals, the fire damaged the original newsagency & damaged substantially the historical society in Hopetoun. The fire occurred in March 2020, months after the filming for The Dry had concluded.
The mystery surrounding the fire and the film crew would make a good movie.

Interview with Hopetoun local Patti Thomas as she recounts the rumours about the fire

Real towns and real communities exist before, during and after a film crew arrives and departs. Locations, buildings, film crews, services and production processes that are used during filmmaking contribute and provide complementary energies to the spirit, memories and excitement of life in towns such as Beulah and Minyip.



THE BOOK: The Mallee, A Journey through north-west Victoria

Between 1880 and 1930, a series of schemes brought thousands of settlers to Victoria's Mallee region. At the same time, a number of railway lines were constructed through the area, with towns constructed approximately every 10 miles. Now, almost a century after the settlement schemes ended and the depopulation of the Mallee began, a team of Australia's best rural documentary photographers, along with writer Adam McNicol, who grew up in the Mallee town of Manangatang, retrace the railway lines to see what remains. The result is a stunning photo book, containing over 150 full colour images. The Mallee: A journey through north-west Victoria is a portrait and celebration of the small communities that dot north- west Victoria and the people who call them home. The book captures life in the small towns of the Mallee and on the farms that surround them. One particular focus is the growing interest in the area from tourists, who in recent years have flocked to the Silo Art Trail and Lake Tyrrell, breathing new life into a region becoming famous for its brilliant sunsets and hospitable locals.

”…we met countless remarkable characters and enjoyed many evenings of convivial hospitality…to confirm something I had long suspected: Victoria’s Mallee region is a truly fascinating place with a great story to tell.”

From Ode to the Mallee by Adam McNicoll in the book The Mallee, A Journey through north-west Victoria

Special thanks to Donna Marshman for sharing her memories about the filming of The Dry in Beulah and providing her personal photos; Lisa Magee, Editor/Manager, Hopetoun Courier and Mallee Pioneer, for providing copies of the Hopetoun Courier and Mallee Pioneer featuring stories about the filming of The Dry and uncovering the facts about the mysterious fire; and to Mallee locals Kaye Hutton, Neville Petschel and Patti Thomas for their impressions about the filming of The Dry.


Russell Gale
Russell Gale
Oct 18, 2021

Great collage of memories, photos & interviews. Thanks Stefan 🙂

eclectic Stefan
eclectic Stefan
Oct 18, 2021
Replying to

Thanks, Russell. My pleasure and truly heartfelt.

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