McLEOD'S DAUGHTERS SET- and the historic homestead "Kingsford"
The winter-green hills rolled down to a gleaming river on "Drover's Run", the station owned by "McLeod's Daughters" - the new hit series on the National Nine Network. In reality, however, the pretty rural scene before us was only a few minutes up the North Para River from Gawler and the northern suburbs. The set of "McLeod's Daughters" and historic "Kingsford" homestead are one and the same, and the Postcards team spent a fascinating day to put together a behind-the-scenes look for our viewers.
In the first episode city-girl Tess paused on the road above the beautiful homestead to get her first view in many years of her estranged and late father's home. You couldn't build a set to match it - with its solid stone outbuildings, walled garden and two-storey Georgian homestead - even if you had millions to spare. The lead characters, Tess and her country-half sister Claire running the property, are fast becoming household names, but the silent star of the series is Kingsford itself. Its history goes back to 1838 when a young Lincolnshire immigrant took up land on the North Para River. By the 1850's he was moving from a hut by the water up to his new spacious mansion built of Scottish sandstone brought out as ballast in sailing ships.
In the TV series, McLeod's daughters are struggling to hold onto the property. In real life, its builder, Stephen King, was to enjoy less than a decade of the good life, because he soon lost the lot when drought hit his vast sheep tracks out east. His home, however, is to become famous around the world, as the program has been sold to cable TV for showing in more than on hundred countries.
The second episode of "McLeod's Daughters" called for a dinki-di shearing shed for their outback wool clip. On a hillside close to the homestead, we wandered into what can only be described as the real thing, so authentic and aged that it looked like Tom Roberts could have painted it. Its white-washed rough field-stone walls were brown up to waist high, a patina of wool lanolin from thousands of sheep in from the shearing. The Kingsford property is providing almost every "outback" setting for the series, and it's well under an hour from Adelaide. In the shed, it was a case of just adding sheep and actors and calling "Action!"
One more vital ingredient for any sequence of course, is the production crew behind the camera. On site every day there are fifty or sixty people in the paddocks and around the house of what is now a hobby farm in size.
But they make it look like a vast inland holding; sound, camera, grips, makeup, lighting, stunt-doubles and more are gathered to the fray. It all builds a powerful hunger, and so at lunch break one end of the wool shed becomes McLeod's Café. Long lines pass the trestle table feast as the full film-set catering gets them set for a long afternoon shooting schedule.
The focus soon moved to a scene with the heroines on a tractor - and the backdrop was the genuine old farm vehicle shed. It doubled as a good spot for the shearers' breakfast in the second episode, with morning light shafting through a gap in the back wall. That's been knocked through for just that effect - and to let the camera lens in.
For more than one-and-a-half centuries, Kingsford has sprawled as an agricultural property under an hour these days into the mid-north. As Drover's Run, it's hundreds of kilometres into the bush. And it is hard to spot the real thing from the introduced film sets. The 1950's shearing shed, faded by the weather, was in fact built just four years ago for the successful telemovie that acted as a pilot for this 22 week series. And the cattle yards nearby? They're only a few months old, constructed for the shoot to begin at Easter time. But the Barossa Ranges poking over the foreground hills is surely timeless.
The wranglers, Bill Willoughby and three stockmen are film and TV veterans, and real horsemen. There are 15 steeds living on the property, a mob of sheep, and a herd of Hereford cattle down from Parachilna in the Flinders, and art imitates life again.
Kingsford became a famous Hereford stud run by John Howard Angas, of the founding family and quite by chance a new prop on the wall of the office is an old show photo of one of his prize cattle. The Light Regional Council is friendly about providing tree-lined back roads for a riding scene, and the neighbours lend a paddock or two for some widescreen action.
Most of the episodes, however, stick close to home - Kingsford - and we borrowed Bridie Carter (who plays young city-slicker sister Tess) after she'd finished a scene round the thick stone dairy behind the house. She showed us around her new home, at least on the telly.
"It's beautiful isn't it? and it feels like a long time since I knocked on the front door there for the first time".
"Where do you live in here?"
"My bedroom's upstairs at the other end - a bit different, with some of my ethnic hangings and cushions from my city days. Up above us is Jack's (my late father's room). Claire, my older sister moved in - and so she's scored the balcony with the turrets!"
"What are your favourite rooms?"
"Well", she chuckled,
"we spend a lot of time in the big farm kitchen. It's good for the characters to have a natter".
(We overlaid this part on Postcards with a wide shot of several cast members having a yarn over the washing up).
"And it works - the kettle boils on the stove, the taps, everything".
We let Bridie go as the next scene was about to be shot. The schedule is demanding, with two episodes completed in each twelve-day block. They aim for seven or eight minutes of TV time every day. The high quality "look" of the show comes through meticulous detailing and is being shot on film. It's then transferred to digital widescreen format for broadcast.
Inside the homestead, the high ceilings and generous rooms that Stephen King built are perfect for its use as a "hot-set", that is, they use everything and everywhere. The broad slate-floored hall and cedar staircase, for instance, serve often for transitions between inside-room scenes. The property office and dining room, meanwhile, are ready to go when needed.
We wrapped up our Postcards tour with me talking to Jeff Clayfield's camera in front of a final rehearsal featuring several cast members and a beautiful Spring backdrop of sunlit stonewalls and towering almond trees in blossom. It all looked very much like the series creator Posie Graeme-Evans, imagined it. She was inspired by Hans Heysen landscapes and photos of cheerful, country girls' faces under RM Williams' hats. And sure enough, what we could see being realised will now be seen on TV screens around the world.
As Claire McLeod (Lisa Chappell) says to her young sister Tess as they survey a broad vista of Kingsford,
And it's ours too. As the end credits on each episode say, it's "filmed entirely on location in South Australia" - the home of McLeod's Daughters.
If you would like to visit the “Gungellan Hotel” set shown in Macleod’s Daughters, drop into the Railway Hotel at Freeling. The Railway Hotel is transformed into the Gungellan Hotel for the filming of the program. And you can see were all the action between the Macleod’s and the Ryan’s is played out when they visit town. Freeling is an hours drive North of Adelaide via the Main North Road to Gawler, follow the bypass to the Northern side of Gawler and then turn to the left at the Freeling sign and continue to Freeling. The Railway Hotel is in Grey Street and you cannot miss it. The Gungellan Girls, Kerrie Price and Sally-Anne Walker the hotel’s hosts will give you all the low down on the making of the program and its stars. You can even pick up a great Gungellan Hotel T shirt or cap to remember your visit. For more info please call the Hotel on 61 (0)8 8525 2009.