When the quest for HMAS Syd­ney was launched, there was no guar­an­tee that the re­mains of the ship would be found. The search, writes Vic­to­ria Lau­rie, was quite an ad­ven­ture in it­self

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

THE fa­tigue in doc­u­men­tary pro­ducer Andrew Ogilvie’s voice is al­most pal­pa­ble as he de­scribes the ex­haust­ing job of chas­ing a story whose end­ing was un­known al­most un­til the fi­nal hour. Since his com­pany Elec­tric Pic­tures signed up with Film Aus­tralia last Oc­to­ber to make a doc­u­men­tary about the hunt for HMAS Syd­ney, he has grap­pled with two sce­nar­ios. If the search team, led by Bri­tish ship­wreck hunter David Mearns, found the ill- fated fight­ing ship and solved a 66- year- old mys­tery, well and good. But what if they didn’t? The film­mak­ers would still need to come up with 52 min­utes’ worth of cred­i­ble — and watch­able — television. And in ei­ther even­tu­al­ity, there was an im­per­a­tive to tell the story in a way that con­sid­ered the feel­ings of rel­a­tives of the 645 crew­men who died in Novem­ber 1941.

‘‘ In 20 years of mak­ing TV, it’s been one of the most chal­leng­ing projects I’ve been in­volved in,’’ Ogilvie ad­mits. ‘‘ Now it’s the time fac­tor, work­ing around the clock with three edi­tors and two direc­tors.’’

With only days to go be­fore the air­ing of The Hunt for HMAS Syd­ney on the ABC next Tues­day, the cru­cial fi­nal images of the sub­merged Syd­ney were still be­ing cap­tured by a re­mote cam­era low­ered 2500m be­low the sur­face. Mean­while, the com­pany’s Fre­mantle­based edit­ing suites have op­er­ated 24 hours a day since the ship­wreck was lo­cated about 10am on March 16. The mo­men­tous find came only 13 days af­ter the search team had left the mid­west port of Ger­ald­ton on their 60m search ves­sel SV Geosounder. It was a mere two days af­ter Mearns’s team had lo­cated the seabed hulk of HSK Kor­moran, the Ger­man raider that en­gaged the Syd­ney in the wartime clash that led to the sink­ing of both ships.

The Hunt for HMAS Syd­ney cov­ers two dra­matic events: the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Royal Aus­tralian Navy’s most pow­er­ful fight­ing ship and the hunt that solved the mys­tery.

‘‘ We started pre­par­ing what we call the back story straight away, find­ing peo­ple with con­nec­tions to the ship, then sto­ries about when their men went to sea and didn’t come back,’’ Ogilvie says. ‘‘ We traced the his­tory of the two ships and the bat­tle it­self, and we’ve made a de­tailed re­con­struc­tion of the bat­tle us­ing com­puter an­i­ma­tion, which is a first. The dif­fi­culty has been how con­tro­ver­sial this topic is, more than any I’ve worked on. There are so many con­spir­acy the­o­ries, some of which we ac­knowl­edge and talk about. One is that the sur­viv­ing Ger­mans didn’t tell the truth about what hap­pened, but so far ev­ery­thing they claimed stacks up: the ships are more or less where they said they were.’’

As two cy­clones hin­dered the Geosounder’s search and its re­turn to record last- minute un­der­sea footage, the film crew on board worked stren­u­ously to send images back to shore.

‘‘ The dis­cov­ery ship has been op­er­at­ing be­yond the safe ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the lo­cal fish­ing fleets, so we couldn’t use them ( to ferry dig­i­tal film ashore) and had to use satel­lite to trans­mit the footage,’’ Ogilvie says.

Fifty hours of live footage was trans­mit­ted from the ship, adding to hun­dreds more hours of film shot on land. For five weeks, a cam­era­man, di­rec­tor and sound recordist stayed on the ship. A cam­era was fixed in the ship’s op­er­a­tions room to film non­stop, ‘‘ but our cam­era crew was up and about at crit­i­cal times’’, Ogilvie says.

Luck­ily, the film crew was present to cap­ture the ex­cite­ment each time tell­tale blips ap­peared on the ship’s radar screen, first when the

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