Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Casey Cardinia and the End of the World - Nevil Shute's 'On the Beach'

Casey Cardinia has a  double connection to the 'end of the world' and the connection is through Nevil Shute and his book,  On the Beach, published in 1957. On the Beach is set mainly in Melbourne after a nuclear war has wiped out everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, however a deadly nuclear cloud is slowly making it's way down to the southern hemisphere killing off all humans and animals as it goes. So what is the Casey Cardinia connection? Nevil Shute lived in Langwarrin when he wrote the bookLangwarrin, used to be part of  the old Cranbourne Shire until the 1994 Council boundary changes when it then become part of the City of Frankston - so as it was written in the Shire of Cranbourne then that's a positive connection to the Casey Cardinia Region.

Here's the proof that Nevil Shute Norway lived in Langwarrin. He is listed in the Shire of Cranbourne Rate Books 1950/1951 as having 47 acres and 30 acres. You might need to click on the images to enlarge them.

The other connection to the area was that when the book was made into a film starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner in 1958 and 1959  scenes were filmed at George Wilson’s property at Harkaway Road in Berwick. This filming took place in January 1959 when the temperature was 106 to 109 degrees (41 - 42 degrees Celsius).  Only four of the nine Berwick scenes ended up in the final cut. Shute Avenue and Kramer Drive in Berwick are lasting memorials to the film location.

You can read about the making of the film, directed by Stanley Kramer, in this account written by Philip Davey, here https://2015.acmi.net.au/acmi-channel/2009/film-essay-on-the-beach/  Philip Davey is the author of the book When Hollywood came to Melbourne : the story of the making of Stanley Kramer's On the beach, published in 2005.

Here are some photos we have in the Archive, donated by a member of the Wilson family, of the filming of On the Beach in Berwick.

Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck

The following account of Nevil Shute's life is taken from Julian Croft's article published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, you can read it in full, here. Nevil Shute (real name Nevil Shute Norway) was born in London on January 17, 1899 and went to Oxford University and became an engineer. He started his working life at de Havilland Aircraft Co. and also learnt to fly. He then worked at Vickers Ltd. During this time he was also writing novels which he had published under the name of Nevil Shute, so as not to compromise his professional engineering career. In 1932 he established his own company, Airspeed Ltd, which was quite successful - however he parted company with Airspeed Ltd, amicably it seems, in 1938 and received a large payout that allowed him to write full time. 

Portrait of Nevil Shute by Ian Hassall, 1962. 
National Library of Australia https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-134347151/view

In 1950 Nevil, his wife Frances (nee Heaton) and their two daughters migrated to Australia, to Langwarrin. A town like Alice which was published in 1950 was written at Langwarrin, other novels followed and it was in 1957 that On the Beach was published.  Nevil died on January 12, 1960 of a cerebral haemorrhage. He was cremated at the Necropolis at Springvale.

Anglican Church of St Thomas, Lanwarrin
Photo from the Parish website http://www.lpac.org.au

Nevil Shute generously left 8,000 pounds in his will to build a new Anglican Church at Langwarrin. The Architects were Wynstan Widdows and David Caldwell. The builders were John Wolt and Staff. The Church Church, named in honour of St Thomas, was dedicated on August 29, 1964. It is quite an interesting design, described as highly mannered Modernist Church design... exhibiting some Frank Lloyd Wright inspired characteristics*  In the end the final cost of the Church was 15, 825  pounds and the parishioners raised the rest of the money.   The 8,000 pounds was a generous bequest for the Church, given that Mr Shute's estate was valued at 100,000 pounds, according to the newspaper report, below, although a report a few years later said the Estate was worth 154, 000 pounds at the time of his death and in the four years hence had grown to 230,000 pounds.

This report was in Canberra Times of May 20, 1961

Canberra Times August 12, 1964

* The information about the Church comes from  the book Church of St Thomas, Langwarrin: a potted construction history - celebrating the centenary of Nevil Shute Norway written and published by David Caldwell in 1999. Mr Caldwell was the Architect who worked on the Church.  The description of the Church being 'highly mannered etc' was from Graeme Butler & Associates from their 1997 Frankston City Heritage Study and quoted by Mr Caldwell.

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