'After the war is over, a radioactive cloud begins to sweep southwards on the winds, gradually poisoning everything in its path. An American submarine captain is among the survivors left sheltering in Australia, preparing with the locals for the inevitable. Despite his memories of his wife, he becomes close to a young woman struggling to accept the harsh realities of their situation. Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from the United States and the submarine must set sail through the bleak ocean to search for signs of life.'
Source: Publisher's blurb (2009 Vintage ed.).
Set five years in the future (in 1964), On the Beach explores the lives of several Australians and some crew members of an American submarine following a nuclear war that has wiped out the population of the northern hemisphere. The submarine finds temporary safe haven in Australia, where life as usual covers growing despair that the winds will inevitably spread radiation to the southern hemisphere, bringing about the end of mankind. The principal characters are the submarine's commander, Captain Dwight Towers, who is in denial about the loss of his wife and children in the holocaust; the careworn but gorgeous Australian woman, Moira Davidson, who begins to fall for him; Julian Osborne, a conscious-stricken scientist whose dream is to win the Australian Grand Prix automobile race; and Lt. Cmdr. Peter Holmes, who is as concerned about his wife and newborn child's future as his own. All cope with the inevitability of death in their own way, but also with love, dignity, and affection. When a Morse code signal is picked up from San Diego, the submarine travels back to the United States' west coast.
'Australia is the last place on earth still unaffected by the nuclear fallout of World War II. As the people of Melbourne await the deadly radiation clouds southerly drift, a few survivors from the northern hemisphere, including the US submarine SSN Charleston commanded by Lt. Commander Dwight Towers, make their way into the last safe port of call.'
Source: Screen Australia. (Sighted: 2/8/2012)
Epigraph: Stanzas from T. S. Eliot's 'The Hollow Men', including the final two lines:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
'This article examines the textual rendering of space in Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957) and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), two novels depicting the ancient trope of apocalypse. Contributing to the study of geography in literature, it argues that these authors manipulate perspective, language and content to distort the familiar shape of spatial units, creating story worlds that resonate with a crisis of scale. Inverting the spatial enlargement produced by globalisation, they depict societies ruined by a global network they cannot “cognitively map.” The consideration of scale is crucial to fully understanding the sense of crisis apparent in contemporary apocalyptic fiction, which manifests, in our era of global connectedness, as an anxiety about the extent of human activity.' (Publication abstract)
Stanley Kramer’s fizzingly apocalyptic On the Beach (1959) dominates and defines popular understandings of Melbourne’s cinematic representation in the 1950s. Shot in the city and its surroundings from January to March 1959, and released internationally towards the end of the year, both the film and Nevil Shute’s source novel have been highly influential in reinforcing and promoting specific understandings of 1950s Melbourne as a staid, sleepy, uneventful and architecturally conservative metropolis. This hard-to-shake view of Melbourne has been further compounded by the lack of comparative feature film images of the city (a brief view in 1952’s Road to Bali excepted) and its appearance in such international documentaries as The Melbourne Rendezvous (1957). But Melbourne does appear more dynamically in a range of less noted and disparate short films, mini-features and documentaries produced by government funded entities like the Australian National Film Board and the State Film Centre of Victoria, small production entities formed around the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Melbourne (often made by major Melbourne architects such as Robin Boyd and Peter McIntyre) and the Melbourne University Film Society, and such maverick independent filmmakers as Giorgio Mangiamele. Many of the works also provide a more critical, though at times celebratory, view of the changing cityscape of Melbourne (height limits for buildings were “exploded” by the completion of ICI House in 1958), the tentative embrace of modernity and internationalisation (e.g. the impact of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics) and the changing ethnicities of the inner city and suburbs. This essay maps and challenges broader understandings of Melbourne’s filmic representation in the 1950s by exploring the various ways in which the city is figured in unjustly forgotten or marginalised films like The Melbourne Wedding Belle (1953), Your House and Mine (1954) and Sunday in Melbourne (1958).