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.
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).
'The Australian beach has often been considered in academic approaches as a place of binaries – focusing on either the mythic (Fiske, Hodge and Turner 1987) or the ordinary (Morris 1998). An edge to the Australian continent, the liminal space of the beach is one that has received some attention. Using Edward Soja’s (1996) ‘Thirdspace’ concept allows the beach to challenge the space as a liminality and emerge as a more complex beachspace, both mythic and ordinary and more all at once. The Australian beach is a place of significant beauty, while simultaneously a place of risk and danger. Visitors to the space are immediately warned to only swim between the flags, and many beaches are patrolled for the majority of the day all throughout the year. Technology has been employed to identify risk despite the inherent unpredictability of the beach (such as shark sighting technology, weather predictions, and wave cameras), with an aim to provide a safe, everyday space available to all Australians to use. The potential risks of accidental death are high on the beach; however, many representations of death tend to include homicide or suicide. ‘Facing death’ is interested in examining how Australian writers of the beach portray death. Classic texts like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957) are discussed alongside more contemporary texts, including Fiona Capp’s Night Surfing (1996), Tim Winton’s Dirt Music (2001), and Romy Ash’s Floundering (2012). These writers portray death as an inevitability or a continual threat. Films such as Newcastle (2008) represent accidental death in a tight knit local community; in comparison Blackrock (1997) deals with both murder and suicide. This paper illustrates how examining the beach as a more complex space by interrogating Australian writing on the subject allows for an interesting understanding of how death is represented on the Australian beach.' (Publication abstract)