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Buddies, friends and lovers... sapphire set secrets revealed

By DI STANLEY

BUDDIES was supposed to open with a love scene.

Raw, earthy passion between Colin Friels and Kris McQuade; lust in the dirt and dust of the Gemfields that ended in a fiery climax& well, it did, at the third attempt.

"The first time we shot it, it was too hot, then we decided to do a softer version," laughs Kris, one of the country's best-known character actresses.

"The third time was the one I think they actually went with and it was a very funny scene; I must say it was great.

"You don't know what's going on, it's dark and eerie and all of a sudden a keroscene lamp is knocked over and the mosquito netting is on fire and there we are with Colin in the heat of passion trying to put it out."

The fire that is.

Only a smattering of Brisbane cinemagoers ever saw the scene, including Kris' mum and auntie, which was cut so Buddies could keep its 'G' rating.

Kris says she, Colin, Harold Hopkins, Dennis Miller, Bruce Spence and the rest of the film's cast were feted "like Hollywood stars" by locals when the film was shot here 25 years ago.

Writer/producer John Dingwall was a former Rockhampton journalist who, with the mayor of the day, Rex Philbeam, drove around the Central Highlands selling the script to investors.

"A lot of investors in Buddies were coal miners, not gem miners," recalls Kris from her Sydney base.

"John got Rex into a car and drove out west and sold the idea of investing in the movie.

"We had the world premiere in Rockhampton for the investors and a lot of them came from Blackwater.

"We had 450 investors and it made this movie even more unique and so very Australian because everybody could own a piece of it."

Sadly, nobody made any money because Buddies couldn't attract a distributor, so Dingwall hawked it around country cinemas himself.

He wrote the script about two knockabout sapphire miners (Friels and Hopkins) taking on a claim-jumping monied newcomer (Miller), he said, as a story about the "essence of freedom".

"The community around Emerald is shown as comically lawless, and the movie defines this as a kind of freedom," one on-line film curator notes.

"They drive too fast, ride their horses into the bar, drink all day when it rains and don't much care if they're rich or poor."

The props department built a pub for the movie, which was later relocated to become Buddies bar and restaurant, a popular Friday night haunt on the 'fields before it closed many years ago now.

"The joke with the film was we chose the location for digging for sapphires where there were none and we chose a place where there was no pub so we had to build that too," laughs Kris.

"The locals got a shock when they went to the post office and looked across and saw a pub that looked like it had been there for 100 years.

"They scratched their heads and looked and thought something had gone wrong since they were last in town.

"These guys walked in and asked for beers on tap.

"It certainly fooled the locals, but the props guys went to Anakie and kept buying beer and giving it away.

"Look, I love any location film and with Buddies I thought it was the biggest adventure to a part of the world I'd never seen."

They filmed from October to December in oppressive conditions, with Kris starring opposite Friels as Stella, described as 'anti-social but sexually accommodating' in the film notes.

So many locals were cast as extras, and if they weren't, they were there to pass on their expertise or just have a sticky beak.

"We created our own little environment just out of Emerald but I remember it was so hot at the Gemfields and everyone was dehydrating," recalls Kris.

"Old Dutchie, a local, was in the movie with us and I remember we bought him in to put in the hotel and he couldn't cope with the air-conditioning and drinking freezing cold water.

"He said it was the worst thing you could do in the heat, but within a couple of weeks, there was Dutchie drinking the cold water.

"He'd changed his mind and gotten quite used to being spoilt!"

The heat was there too for Kris when she fell for an Emerald local station agent.

"I ended up falling in love with a local and we went to sea together with Ron and Val Taylor over Christmas because he knew the captain of the ship," she recalls fondly.

"For the wrap party, we had it at his house, an old Queenslander he'd recovered from the area where the (Fairbairn) dam was built.

"As well you know in the movie world, I think there were a few romances on that film and that happens when you head into town, then out and back to another life.

"It was difficult, but I came back to Sydney and he fell in love with someone else and I got on with my career.

"I couldn't have imagined myself living in Emerald and continuing my career.

"There are love affairs as you travel around and get to know people.

Then you leave with a lovely memory."

Kris is the special guest of Gemfest Festival of Gems.


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