When I was a teenager growing up in the middle class Sydney suburb of Gymea during the
late 1970's the most famous Australian film was without any doubt Stone. Five years after
its 1974 release and in the same year Mad Max hit suburban cinemas and drive-ins, Stone
always seemed to be playing somewhere. I have vivid memories of ads in The Daily Mirror
and The Sun (remember afternoon newspapers?) as this durable film was sent out on the
'ozoners' circuit on wild double and triple bills with exploitation gems such as 'Girl On
A Motorcycle', 'The Losers' and, best of all, the notorious Italian cannibal gore-shocker
'Man From Deep River'.
"the Stone Feeling"
I was too young to sneak into Caringbah drive-in and saw it for the first time on
Channel 7 when it aired the AO Modified TV Version in 1980. Even without the final scene
which made sense of the whole film and minus the famous decapitation, Stone left an
indelible mark on my consciousness as the first Australian film I could relate to. I
wasn't into bike culture and didn't aspire to be but we had The Rat Pack MC in Gymea and
here at last were representations of these scary Australian dudes up there on the big
screen. It had something to say about the real Australia which historical dramas popular
at the time simply didn't. Everyone watched the same broadcast and it was the main topic
of schoolground discussion for weeks afterwards. Those with older brothers who'd seen it
on the big screen held court with painstaikingly detailed descriptions of what 7's censors
hadn't let us see.
I had to wait until 1994 and Stone's 20th anniversary re-release to see it in a cinema
and sure, some of the dialogue's dated and Ken Shorter's white suit looks totally daggy
but the shortcomings were completely forgiveable because it still had the same compelling
force. 1994 was also my first contact with Stone's executive producer David Hannay and
director/ producer/ co-writer and The Undertaker himself, Sandy Harbutt. I asked Sandy and
Hannay to round up the Gravediggers for a story on the film for SBS Television's The Movie
Show (which I still produce). Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toad), Vincent Gil (Dr Death), Roger Ward
(Hooks) and Peter King (Ferret) turned up and we jumped the fence guarding the old
Gravedigger's hideout location at Middle Head. A park ranger asked questions and started
talking about trespassing before I mentioned it had something to do with Stone.
"Well, that's OK then" came the reply as I encountered for the first time what
can only be described as the "Stone Feeling".
"I deliberated for about three seconds"
I didn't know it at the time but that was also the start of Stone Forever which
formally went into production 4 1/2 years later, on December 12 1998, when 34,000
motorcyclists gathered on the Newcastle Freeway to mark the 25th anniversary of
the day 400 motorcyclists turned up to take part in the famous funeral procession scene in
When David Hannay and Sandy Harbutt contacted me in June 1998 with details of the 25th
anniversary run and the potential for a documentary to be framed around it I deliberated
for about three seconds and agreed to take it on after being guaranteed complete editorial
control. The idea didn't win favour initially at SBS but the incredible support of
Margaret Pomeranz (also my Executive Producer on The Movie Show) made the difference and a
modest sum (which I dare not reveal here) was allocated to what became known around the
building as 'that bikie doco'. Spectrum Films in Sydney threw its support behind the
project with post-production facilities and we were ready.
"the film they couldn't hang"
What I wanted to explore was the staggering following generated by a film written off
by most critics of the day, why it remains the only film directed by Sandy Harbutt and how
it fits into the 1970-75 period in Australian cinema. These were the days before Picnic At
Hanging Rock launched the "official" local film revival; a by-product of which
was a growing sense that films like Stone and The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie (1972),
both box-office blockbusters, were somehow culturally embarrassing now that a
"quality" success had emerged and these were not the sort of films we should be
making if we wanted to present a neat and tidy image to the rest of the world. Abandoned
by film officialdom but never abandoned by the audience, Stone represents to me "the
film they couldn't hang" and is the closest our cinema has come to capturing the
Australian anti-establishment, outlaw spirit. Riding with the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle
Club for a day before the anniversary run and standing in the middle of 10,000 fans who
turned up for the 24-hour party after the ride confirmed the idea - one rider summed it up
as being "like Ned Kelly had come alive for the day".
The "Stone Feeling" made this documentary possible; what was lacking in
budget was made up for by the goodwill generated by a film with support which has always
extended way beyond the motorcycle community. Companies supplied everything from stock
footage to music rights and camping gear at amazingly low rates because the subject was
Stone. Everyone connected with the film agreed to interviews, including the fabulously
candid Rebecca Gilling who was 19 and had only done one shampoo commercial before landing
the role of good girl turned bikie moll Vanessa. Almost 20 different camera operators
contributed to the finished product and unlike David Hannay back in 1974, I didn't even
have beer or anything stronger to offer as payment to anyone.
"I hope Stone Forever sheds some light on this amazing
Stone screened with Stone Forever in front of a full and appreciative (phew) house at
the Sydney Film Festival in June 1999, marking the first time Sandy Harbutt's film had
ever been shown at an official Australian film event. The advertising line for Stone was
"Take The Trip" and 25 years on I hope Stone Forever sheds some light on this
amazing trip and the times in which it was made.