The Birdsville Track is over three hundred miles long and, in terms of physical and mental isolation, it is probably without parallel. It joins Marree in South Australia to Birdsville in Queensland, and is the main stock route for cattle moving south from the stations of Western Queensland and the East of the Northern Territory. It crosses deserts of sand and stones and endless gibber plains, and passes through the notorious channel country which, in a few weeks, can turn from a dry maize of wide bare channels to an inland sea forty miles wide.
To make “The Back of Beyond”, an impression of life in the inland, in which the Birdsville Track is the stage and the people along it are the actors, the Shell Film Unit, under John Heyer, travelled over six thousand miles and lived for three months in almost complete isolation in Central Australia.
The main until consisted of four vehicles to carry the ten members of the Unit, their food and supplied, plus an electric generator, wind machine, the camera and sounds equipment. Once the Unit left Maree, it had to be entirely self-supporting. This meant carrying food, petrol, water, medical supplies, camping gear, and adequate supplies of technical equipment and replacement parts.
The Shell Film Unit has produced over 300 films and completes about 25 new productions a year. Of this annual output approximately 15 productions are made at Shell’s London headquarters, six in Australia, and the remainder in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada, America and Egypt.
In 1949, John Heyer, who was then producer for the Australian National Film Board, was appointed producer of the Australian Shell Unit in charge of production, distribution and exhibition. His other films include: “New Pastures”, “Knowledge Unlimited”, “Journey of a Nation”, “Born in the Sun”, and “The Valley Is Ours”. —Melbourne International Film Festival