TAKE A DEEP BREATH

Be­cause Den­mark and its sur­rounds, set­ting for a new Aus­tralian movie, are about to wow you

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION | WESTERN AUSTRALIA - KATY HALL

Ru­mour has it in the re­mote West Aus­tralian coastal town of Den­mark that a non­de­script beach shack on a hill over­look­ing Ocean Beach was the birth­place for Tim Win­ton’s award-win­ning novel, Breath. It was there, a lo­cal tells me over a pint at Al­bany’s White Star pub late on a Satur­day night, that the story of Loonie, Pikelet, Eva and Sando came to life.

It’s folk­lore with an air of be­liev­abil­ity. Hav­ing spent much of his life liv­ing and hol­i­day­ing along the West Aus­tralian coast, it’s no co­in­ci­dence Win­ton’s com­ing-of-age novel should be set against its rugged shores. “I was a teenager on the south coast of WA in the ’70s, so I was just writ­ing about what I knew. The surf, the forests and the cliffs and all. It was a wild, lonely place back then, and it’s still a wild and beau­ti­ful bit of the world,” Win­ton says.

Five hours south of Perth and 20 min­utes out­side Al­bany, Den­mark has a cer­tain type of un­bri­dled magic. Pop­u­la­tion 6000 – diehard surfers, tree-chang­ers and life­long lo­cals – the area is a com­pact mix of farm­ing land, rugged coast­lines and jaw-drop­ping beaches all within a 20km ra­dius. I hear the same thing over and over again from lo­cals and in­ter­state vis­i­tors alike: “It’s like the bet­ter, un­touched ver­sion of Mar­garet River.”

Even with its phe­nom­e­nal food and wine scene – a topic on which Win­ton could speak all day – it has some­how re­mained off the global tourism map. But with Win­ton’s ac­claimed novel hav­ing now been adapted to screen by ac­tor and di­rec­tor Si­mon Baker, and filmed in and around Den­mark, all that’s surely about to change.

Given that Breath was writ­ten in and by a West Aus­tralian, and that its land­scape was the back­drop for the story, you’d be for­given for think­ing it was al­ways a given the film adap­ta­tion would take place some­where along its coast­line. But ac­cord­ing to Baker, that wasn’t the case. “At one point Tim was jok­ing about film­ing it in Cal­i­for­nia so the lo­cals didn’t have to give up their surf spots, and we were con­sid­er­ing the idea of some­where on the east coast, but it just wouldn’t have worked,” he says.

So to find the place they were look­ing for, Baker spent four days driv­ing up the West Aus­tralian coast with the film’s co-pro­ducer, look­ing at ev­ery beach, in­let and es­tu­ary along the way, no dune left un­turned. And as if by some di­vine in­ter­ven­tion, Baker found ex­actly what he was look­ing for in and around Den­mark.

“I knew this was it,” Baker says, adding, “I spent hours try­ing to fig­ure out the best an­gles to shoot so it didn’t feel like ev­ery tourism com­mer­cial you’ve ever seen. Which is ac­tu­ally not that hard, you just have to go off the beaten track a lit­tle bit.”

Vis­it­ing lo­ca­tions from the film – Cru­soe Beach, Poi­son Point track, Con­spic­u­ous Cliff, and back­streets that make up Pikelet’s child­hood home – it’s im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine the story tak­ing place else­where.

Sit­ting on the rocks at Ele­phant Bay with the af­ter­noon sun beat­ing upon us, Baker points from one sec­tion of the in­let to an­other at a rapid-fire rate, high­light­ing the film­ing po­si­tions used within the one lo­ca­tion. “Heaps of scenes were ac­tu­ally filmed within the same area, but be­cause they were shot from so many dif­fer­ent an­gles it’s im­pos­si­ble to tell,” he says proudly. Win­ton, whose lat­est book, The

Shep­herd’s Hut, was re­leased last month, gets to the Den­mark re­gion ev­ery chance he gets. “That part of the world is un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated. It doesn’t have the glam­our of Mar­garet River, but that’s it’s chief charm. Den­mark, in par­tic­u­lar, is very dif­fer­ent to what it was in the ’70s,” he says. “It’s trans­formed it­self from a back­wa­ter to a thriv­ing hub for food, wine and na­ture-based tourism.”

I pluck up the courage to ask Win­ton about the ru­mours about the house on the hill over­look­ing Ocean Beach, and if it’s true Breath was writ­ten there. He won’t ex­actly con­firm or deny, in­stead, giv­ing me a cagey smile and ask­ing if I had got a chance to try the am­ber ale at one of the screenings. He’d heard it was brewed lo­cally, just the way he likes it.

THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF VIL­LAGE ROADSHOW BREATH IS IN CIN­E­MAS NOW

PIC­TURES: TOURISM WESTERN AUS­TRALIA, YOUTUBE

Den­mark had all the magic Si­mon Baker (left) needed to bring Tim Win­ton’s novel to the screen.

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