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Young Ramsay – Natural Selection 1979

Actress Louise Howitt comments on 'Young Ramsay’

I remember being so very stunned and pleased that I was asked to audition with John Hargreaves and Serge Lazareff for the role of Cassie McCallum in the second series of Young Ramsay. After all, it was film and not video and that meant it was a lavish production with lots of location work. I later heard that George (‘Noddy’) Miller had seen me in the canteen at Crawford’s studios and asked Helen Rolland who had cast me in a cop show, if I could act. Guess she must have said ‘yes’.

After the first audition, it was down to two actresses and they wanted to see if we could ride horses. I remember being flown down to Melbourne and driven to a nearby paddock, shoved on a horse and did some cantering and the like … this was filmed. Geoff Burrowes, who later produced The Man from Snowy River (1982) with George Miller, then asked if I could jump a rather large log. I looked at Geoff and asked him how I do this. He very carefully told me the technique and when I was getting ready to do my first show jump, he laughed and said I had the job! I have never jumped a log on a horse in my life.

Lots of publicity preceded my arrival in Melbourne. When filming, particularly on location, mornings started at 4:30 am and at 5 am or thereabouts we’d be traveling to location which was usually about an hour or so out of the CBD. I remember it being very cold as we filmed May to September. Locations in and around Melbourne are easily accessible as their country is very close to the city. The variety of locations was impressive and also the farmers/graziers and the like whose farms/properties were used. John H. was very inquisitive and asked questions of the owners, getting background knowledge for the show and also his own edification. I would often tag along; it was informative and fun.

John H. was not particularly happy during that shoot, as he had to sacrifice the role which made Bryan Brown famous in Breaker Morant (1979). He was under contract to Crawford’s, and Young Ramsay and Breaker Morant were to start shooting at the same time. John was forced to honour his Crawfords contract. However, John was a true professional and of course gave his all to the role of Peter Ramsay. He was a superb teacher and when I was having initial problems with continuity, he merely said, ‘Do what [John] Meillon told me to do when I first started … sit on your hands and think through your eyes!’ It seemed to work and as the series progressed I became braver and by the end of filming the series was giving myself challenges, just as Serge and John did. ‘Busy’ was the catchphrase! The series was such fun, but hard work as well.

Each episode read like a Who’s Who of the Australian television and film industries. Peter Sumner, whom I knew from doing numerous voice-overs in Sydney; Michele Fawdon, who was not only a fantastic actress but also a great gal. It was good having another woman around my age to talk to on set. Diane Craig and David Gulpilil doing location work at Hanging Rock. Lewis Fitz-Gerald and 'Teddy’ Edward Howell and Queenie AshtonNatural Selection was such a funny episode – we had a ball making it … Sam Neill was incredible and a memory just flooded back, remembering John being most impressed with Sam and his use of a nose vapouriser … such ‘business’ for his character. Very clever, thought John. We all knew that Sam Neill would go far. John Howard was just out of NIDA and this was his first television gig. He was lean and very ambitious and would do any amount of business … he even bit the head off a plastic doll from the wedding cake in the final episode … Serge, John and I sat there in amazement, dumbfounded that he would go that far for a laugh. He sure got a good reaction from the three of us.

There was Bill Hunter and Miles Buchanan who were sensational as always. The weekend that Billy was in town we got together with some of the old crew, Joey Samuel and a few others and had a great time. Graeme Blundell was a friend of John’s – don’t think I even had a scene with him … was good to see his work though. Judith McGrath and Patricia Kennedy were a great combo … such fine actresses and I got to know Judith as we travelled to location together. Of course there was Frank Gallacher and Les Foxcroft who I later worked on a film with. The episode with Harold Hopkins and Vera Plevnik was gorgeous and I made friends with Vera … so sad that she died not long after Ramsay. I remember John saying to Vera how wonderful her episodes of The Sullivans were … she was extremely vulnerable and magic on film. My old mate Willie Fennell and dear Peter Gwynne whom I knew from voice-overs in Sydney. There was an episode with Alan Hardy and we kinda played Cowboys-girls and Indians – he remembered me from this and I later worked on The Henderson Kids which he produced. So many more wonderful actors and each episode felt like a separate film.

The animals were always a constant bonus for me. I felt I was doing a Disney film and all my Christmases had come at once. Horses, dogs, all sorts of animals and the cranky koalas! A male kangaroo kicked John in the stomach with his spur and, had he not had the thick sheepskin coat on, he would have died.

The energy between John, Serge and me seemed to work and at lunch and breaks we usually sat together and chatted. John was particularly knowledgeable about many subjects and always kept us entertained about the night before. It was quite a learning curve for me in many ways. What a tragic loss it was when John Hargreaves died so very young. There was also great camaraderie between the cast and crew and we socialised a lot. Like most productions back then, it was a very tight family.

Louise Howitt Actress

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