TAKE A DEEP BREATH
Because Denmark and its surrounds, setting for a new Australian movie, are about to wow you
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
Denmark had all the magic Simon Baker (left) needed to bring Tim Winton’s novel to the screen.