Drought, no pub and a burnt-down store: movie changes town's luck

7:52 pm on 16 January 2021

It has been a rollercoaster two years for residents of Beulah, Victoria.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MAY 02: Eric Bana speaks during the FYC panel of Bravo's "Dirty John" at Saban Media Center on May 02, 2019 in North Hollywood, California.

Eric Bana has made a name for himself in Hollywood but was on home turf for The Dry. Photo: 2019 Getty Images

In that time, the town has seen its general store burn down, and a local drought break, received treated drinkable tap water for the first time and made international headlines when occupants of a house in the town flew a flag with Nazi symbolism on it.

But it seems a new Australian film will give the town of 300 people, located four hours north-west of Melbourne, a lasting reason to smile.

Not long before the rain and drinking water arrived, Beulah was one of 17 regional Victorian locations in which The Dry was filmed in early 2019, to create the fictional town of Kiewarra.

Released on New Year's Day, the screen adaptation of Jane Harper's bestselling novel is about to crack the top 50 Australian films of all time for box office takings, grossing just under $A7 million ($NZ7.5m) in its first 11 days.

The film, directed by Robert Connolly, stars Eric Bana alongside a cast of familiar Australian actors, including Jon Polson, Julia Blake and Bruce Spence.

Making the most of movie magic

Beulah Historic Learning and Progress Association secretary Barb Moore said community members had noticed people taking photos of some of the shops that were used in the film since its release.

She was determined not to waste the momentum.

"We have put up a sign at the outskirts of town saying 'Town of The Dry', and we've set up a window in the chemist shop with a video slideshow, some posters and bits of memorabilia from the film," Moore said.

"There are pamphlets from the funeral [in the film] and various things like that.

"We have got the little outfit that Charlotte, the baby, wore in the film. She happens to be my granddaughter, Audrey.

"We also want to put the footprints on the road approximately where Eric Bana stood for the photo on the film poster, so people can recreate that."

Eric Bana in The Dry

Eric Bana stars in The Dry, a film adaptation of a bestselling novel by Jane Harper. Photo: Supplied/AEM

$1m boost for region

The Dry was a boon for Beulah, Minyip and the other towns it was filmed in, even before its release.

Film Victoria, whose role is to attract productions to the state, estimated the project employed 90 regional workers - including 44 extras, engaged 120 local businesses and injected $1 million into the regional economy during its production phase.

Chief executive Caroline Pitcher said while they already had Victoria's north-west in mind when Connolly first approached them, the warmth with which the small towns treated cast and crew before and during the filming helped seal the deal.

"People opened their doors to give the crew places to stay, and local cafes provided food," she said.

"But also it makes everything so much easier when the crew need to troubleshoot. Say if they need an extra ute or piece of equipment, the community [was] there to work with the production, hand-in-glove."

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Photo: Film Victoria

Len "Squatter" Coffey, who works on Beulah's grain silos and owns a bush horse-riding business, was one of the town's residents cast as an extra in several of The Dry's scenes.

It was not his first experience with the film industry.

With three of his brothers, he set up racing scenes for The Cup when it was being filmed in Swan Hill about 10 years ago.

"We were on really good food and money there," he said.

"This was different: any money made was paid into our little town - and that's the way it should be.

"[The producers] liked that. They said if they were working in Sydney, the extras would be demanding cash that day!"

Coffey said the town would be "quite happy" to have another movie filmed in the region.

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The main street of Beulah. Photo: Wikipedia.com

Old challenges, new chances

Moore was born in Beulah to a farming family.

While she is hopeful of an ongoing boost to tourism, she said the town was still on the backfoot after the general store fire in July 2019, only months after the film crews left.

The money Beulah's business centre received from the production company for the use of its grounds and building is going towards maintaining a temporary store.

"Local farmers are buying shares and giving donations [to put towards a new permanent store], and there is also a GoFundMe page," she said.

"We are thinking of putting up a sign on the old store site to show people where it was, and point them to the crowdfunding page.

"We are in the throes of raising money to build a new one, [but] we are sort of struggling with takeaway food and things like that.

"It would be great if someone could come in and do a cafe - we would love someone to take it on."

The town's one pub closed soon after the start of the first coronavirus lockdown in Victoria in March last year.

Pitcher said residents' hopes for more productions to be filmed in their towns could soon be realised.

"So much has been filmed in Clunes [a nearby town] since Mad Max in 1978," she said.

"Almost every year a production shoots there, so that's an example of another film-friendly town that productions know - The Dry was partly filmed there too.

"So once a town positions itself like that, it becomes very easy to attract the second and third productions."


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