Age of Consent by Alan Lucas - The wharf scene where artist James Mason (in blue shirt) collects his supplies: Director Michael Powell is bottom left in white cap.  The date on the clapboard is 1-4-68.

Early in 1968 I delivered a yacht to Sydney after leaving my own vessel in Townsville for the duration. Chandleries north of Brisbane were unheard of in those days, making it a vital exercise to shop till I dropped in Sydney. Then, overburdened with nautical necessities and unable to fly, I phoned Eric McIllree, founder of Avis Rental Cars, to see if he had any ‘returns’ going north (I had met Eric when he bought Dunk Island in 1963).
To my surprise, he not only had a vehicle destined for Townsville, but hoped, after driving it there, I would operate the island’s small boats for a film crew about to start work on The Age of Consent, a story loosely based on Norman Lindsay’s well-known book of the same name.
The vehicle in question was not quite the flash Ford I imagined, instead, it was a dilapidated old VW Kombi wagon intended for knock-about retirement on Dunk Island. On its roof was racked an enormous tinnie, also destined for the island, so between the Kombi constantly breaking down and the tinnie trying to tear the roof off in periodic escape bids, the drive back was memorable for the vows I took to never again seek a cheap transport solution. Nevertheless, Townsville was reached in time to fully recover before sailing north.
Dunk Island had been cleared of itinerant tourists for the duration of the film, inspiring muffled anger from the island’s manager who became irrationally dismissive of his new guests.
In fact, his behaviour was not unusual for the era, many Queensland tourist operators making Basil Fawlty seem overtly welcoming by comparison. As for me – the island’s boatman and owner of the only yacht in the anchorage, I enjoyed being part of a high-energy team and discovering that thespians, regardless of their publicly perceived station in life, can be the friendliest and most interesting of folk.
Unaware that she had been modelled in sand by Mason (actually by an Australian artist) while sleeping on the beach – according to the script, Helen Mirren prepares for a shot while the background is swept free of footprints.James Mason, co-producer and star of the film, often escaped with me to Bruce Arthur’s wonderful weaving studio on neighbouring Timana Island, and Jack MacGowran, an Irish actor who had worked with Mason on a number of earlier films, such as Lord Jim, was just plain fun to be around.
Then there was young Australian actor Harold Hopkins doing his first film and practising a level of clean living inspiring to us all; and Neva Carr-Glynn was as sweet a lady as you could ever hope to meet.
But the biggest surprise of all was Frank Essien, James Mason’s lifelong friend and secretary who quietly beavered away in the background organising the great man’s business affairs. Frank wore Bermudan shorts, had a gentle nature, a delightful sense of humour and an accent suggesting high breeding in the best of English schools: nothing world shattering here except that Frank was a black African.  
At the other end of the colour spectrum was blonde Helen Mirren, a young woman straight out of English theatre doing her first film in the alien environment of sun, sand and coral reefs. In adapting to Queensland and its frontier-like folk, she not only succeeded, but impressed us all with the way she swam and dived like a pro. It’s true that Australian, Kathy Troutt stood in for many of the shots, but Helen learned quickly and did more than her fair share of the real stuff (underwater photography was by Ron and Val Taylor around reefs further north).
Kathy Troutt was Helen’s perfect stand-in, being blond, familiar with the film industry and a leading deep diver. Just four years earlier in 1964 Kathy, aged sixteen, set a world record by diving on compressed air to a depth of 320 feet off Sydney Heads. She would later shrug this extraordinary feat off as being a rather dumb act but her multiple talents nevertheless inspired a special episode of Skippy to be written around her.
James Mason prepares for a beach shot with his stand-in, Alex Mozart, left.  Purda Boi Islet, off Dunk Island, over Mozart’s hat, was the site of nude scenes where artist Brad (Mason) convinced Helen Mirren to drop her gear in the interest of art.The director and co-producer of Age of Consent, Michael Powell, was always patient and pleasant with his actors, but had an imperious attitude towards us lesser beings giving a real sense of what life must have been like under English colonial rule.
I made the mistake once of suggesting that he had been very lucky with the weather, to which he haughtily replied:
“It isn’t luck. We chose this time of year because we knew exactly the weather we needed.”
And I must admit, his proof was large because every type of weather turned up right on cue. I don’t recall a moment’s waiting time – nor did I bother with idle chitchat again.
Powell was as sharp as he was abrupt, his shining moment occurring during an evening’s film rushes with everyone in the special tent watching various ‘takes’ processed by a laboratory in Sydney and returned poste haste. The island manager suddenly burst into the tent and demanded that all the chairs be returned to the lounge for his imaginary ‘local guests’.
Powell faced him down and said, “Sir, I trust at six hundred dollars a day, we are considered guests,” and summarily dismissed him. This moment is a reminder that in 1968 an entire island could be booked for what today would be a night or two for one person.
Powell may have irritated his crew occasionally, but he was genuinely passionate about film and had a long history in the industry, reaching his peak with the famous Red Shoes. But I suspect he was at the end of the road with Age of Consent because, to me, many of the film-rushes were below par, as if he hadn’t squeezed the best out of his actors, even James Mason seeming wooden at times as he sacrificed his magnificent voice to poorly executed Strine.
My activities revolved around a fleet of hire runabouts and their respective Mercury outboards, predominantly driving a very functional De Havilland Hercules delivering food to film sets wherever they might be and transporting actors and crew to rare picnics on neighbouring islands.
I also tutored Helen and Harold in handling a runabout, both proving so naturally proficient that I felt quite redundant: but Jack Macgowran couldn’t get the hang of it and some of the films’ funniest footage was of his unplanned mishaps. Had they been edited in I feel sure they would have been highlights.  
The film crew check focal length, lighting etcetera using James Mason’s stand-in, Alex Mozart. Mason’s dog Godfrey’s stand-in is a toy.In one runabout scene Harold, acting the part of a nautical rouseabout, made a pitch for young Helen who responded by pushing him overboard then haughtily speeding off to her island home where she was to ram her runabout onto the beach in a huff of indignation.
In fact, for the actual collision, Helen was taken out of the boat and I did the ramming  – at full throttle – over and over again for various close-ups and sound takes. In this I became the unwitting student because, to my surprise, no damage was done (to the boat that is: I can’t speak for the camera crew who kept tumbling into the bow on impact).
Hardly surprising to anyone who has witnessed the waste of money in film-making, this entire day of beach-ramming went onto the cutting-room floor to be replaced with a very tame shot of Helen idling the runabout into shallow water at low speed and stepping out as the bow gently kissed the beach.
It was during the filming of Age of Consent that news came through of English comedian, Tony Hancock’s suicide. It placed a pall of sadness over the island for those who knew him well. Their shock was palpable despite it being half expected for apparently he suffered from severe depression.
On a happier note, Australian author Peter Pinney and his wife Sunny rolled up one day aboard their motor boat Ocean Splash and fell straight into employment with the film crew. Peter’s first book, Dust On My Shoes, was a classic travelogue, so it was hardly surprising that they were heading north to dive for crayfish in the Torres Strait and perhaps do a little croc shooting up the Fly River – both of which they did.
Except for an initial burst of success in Australia, Age of Consent did not do well at the box office. It had all the elements of a terrific film from the pen of a great Australian writer-artist, but it fell flat. Amusingly, its numerous nude scenes also made it a target for theft, many projectionists throughout the world nicking a frame or two before distributors twigged as to why the film was getting shorter.
After six intense weeks, Dunk Island again became the playground of locals: the manager over the moon. The entire film crew had gone and with them an energy field like no other I had ever experienced, leaving me feeling empty beyond description, shocked that intense involvement in the making of fantasy can be so much more fun than reality. So, to recapture my own reality I took a large dose of cruising by spending the rest of the year sailing to New Guinea, Portuguese Timor and back to Townsville, by the end of which the void was filling and life was normalising.