Albe Falzon: 'Morning of the Earth' Fifty Years On
Fifty years ago, Australia was a very different country. On the cusp of electing the Whitlam government which pulled Australia out of Vietnam, bought the environment to the forefront, and ushered in reforms which transformed the country away from being a conservative colonial outpost tacked onto the bottom of Asia. No film symbolised this newfound sense of freedom, egalitarianism, and living in harmony with nature more than 'Morning of the Earth'.
It was filmmaker and Tracks founder Albe Falzon's first film, a huge hit and a statement that has resonated down through the decades, even if as a potent message from the past about what has been lost.
However, could we go back?
Could we accept the hard turn to professionalism and commercialisation was a wrong turn and we need to go backwards to go forwards?
Over an uncompromising chat with Albe on his Mid North Coast property dodging bandicoot holes in his garden, he makes a strong case for just that scenario.
Steve Shearer: Can you give me an overview of the fifty year anniversary of 'Morning of the Earth'?
Albe Falzon: Did you see the film Spoons?
No, I didn't, heard of it though.
The director of that film, Justin Mische, came out three years ago and I hooked up with them because they wanted to meet up with George [Greenough] and we went surfing down here together and became really good friends. He'd studied filmaking at Santa Barbara and was really into traditional filmmaking.
During the course of our time together he asked me, “What are you doing with Morning of the Earth?” and I said, "Nothing”.
He then asked if I was interested in allowing him to have a go at restoring it from the original 16mm camera takes. Those takes were being held at the Film and Sound Archives in Canberra.
I said, "Yeah, that'd be fantastic". They'd been restoring old footage for Spoons.
We got release of the master camera takes and sent them to LA where he spent the next two-and-a-half years cleaning and restoring the film back to its original shape and size from when it was first shown. He wanted to show the film the way it was originally shown when it was first released.
Now we have a film that's really close to the original footage and super clean and absolutely beautiful with colours that haven't been messed with.
Do you think the sense that we can live in harmony with nature that Morning of the Earth evoked still has a resonance today?
I think everyone has a heart. A beautiful heart. But it gets buried. It gets buried in illusion: Life's gunna be better if you've got a better car, or if you've got more money, or if you are this or that. They paint this illusionary picture of glamour. You're life's gunna be better if you've got stuff.
It's just the materialistic approach to life that turns the wheels of business and the economy - it has nothing to do with the reality of living. If you can put a mirror on to people and take away the blinkers, even if for a minute or two so they can see who they are and start to think differently perhaps the dance will be different.
I think Morning of the Earth is a mirror and it just reflects something really basic: It just gives us a look, as surfers, at what we've got and what we should be caring for.
Nat Young has often referenced this idea of surfer consciousness and thus if more people surfed the world would be a better place. Do you have a view on that?
I think thats old world thinking. It's like a bigger car is a better car, a bigger house is a better house, more money in the bank is going to make your life better and you'll be happier. It's a great illusion. It's not more, it's actually less. We have to scale down, not scale up. For the last forty or fifty years the mantra has been scale up. As a result of that we've paid an enormous price which is now coming back to bite us on the arse.
What's really important now is to tread lightly. Only use what you need and only need the essentials in life. You don't have to go without. Just scale down to the essentials of what you need to live on this planet without hurting it or harming it.
You moved up to the Mid North Coast just after Morning of the Earth was made, what drove that?
We were looking for a rural property on the North Coast. At the time I was driving up and going to Crescent a lot to surf. You don't get to the North Coast until you get to Crescent; once you get to Crescent you are moving into that sub-tropical area. We didn't get much further than Grassy Head which is only twenty minutes past Crescent. We just stumbled on it; it was the first place we looked at. 135 acres for $21,000.
Oh my god, thats heartbreaking. A chunk of land here will set you back multi-millions now.
It's amazing the value of real estate in this country when you think about it. It's inflated to such a point and it's all based on selfishness and greed. If you look at this country and you look at the land. When people grow up and get married have kids, we have enough land in Australia to give young people a block of land free when they get married. They did that for the returned soldiers after the Second World War.
Now, with the selfishness in our society it's priced to an extent that is beyond comprehension. It's incomprehensible thats it's actually got to this point. It's mind boggling.
Yet, here we are.
I stay away from that world. I think you are in the world but you are also travelling through it so you become more of an observer as well as a participant. You can watch what unfolds and as you see it unfold you realise the people making decisions on our behalf – you wonder where their heads are at.
Nowadays, it's the top 1% of the population that control the money and they keep buying up all this stuff and keep prices up and they just trade it off between them. In most cases they just put bulldozers and chainsaws through it and cut everything down.
We've tried to regenerate this place.
It comes back beautifully, doesn't it?
Thats our responsibility as custodians of the planet. The Aboriginals knew that. We, in our arrogance, and selfishness and false sense of power have just come in and bulldozed everything. Now we are facing an international crisis because of the abuse of the raw materials of this Earth. There's going to be a big comeback on that.
I'd love to see the next generation get their hands on this land and regenerate it.
You do what you can in your own backyard. This place I bought was derelict; it was absolutely abused. All the trees were cut out, then the cattle compressed all the soil down, then they doused it with chemicals. It's not that they didn't care, they were ignorant and they had no foresight. It was just a broken down, dilapidated property. Bit by bit we've put care into it and now it's a really healthy vital property.
That's good to hear.
We can be responsible for our own block of land. If this is a microcosm, if more people were conscious of it then they would leave the place better off for being there. Most of them don't, they walk away from it, having destroyed it in the process. Thats the reason we are releasing Morning of the Earth again. It has a spark to it and hopefully it reminds people how beautiful this place is. Most people don't realise the value and the opportunity they've been given on this planet. All we can do - you, me and those who are conscious - is work where we are and try and contribute to where we are and make that spot better off as a result. That's what we've done here.
Morning of the Earth came out in 1972 and represented a peak in the idea of surfers living in harmony with nature. Why do you think four or five years later the surf culture made a hard turn towards professionalism?
Greed, in a word. Because we've been programmed from the day we've been born, part of that program was to be part of economic development and growth. In the post-war world our society was built on the idea that we had to develop our resources and have a better house and a bigger car and make sure everyone's got refrigerators. That entered into the surfing culture as well. So the people in that system made wetsuits and thought we can make more wetsuits and get bigger and better and that took over. At the same time they developed this competitive arena. It was developed for two reasons.
One was to develop it as a sport to see who was best. You have to realise that there's a lot of losers in that system - it's a divisive approach to life.
That then became the platform for the corporations to utilise surfing to sell product. Therein lies the beginning of the end. Once the international surf contests got started it was all over. It shifted into selfishness, greed, development, and more money. That, for me, was the beginning of the end of the era. The era of what we attempted to do in Tracks which was then taken over by corporations who saw an opportunity to make huge amounts of money and they did. Ten years went by and surfing went down a hole.
Has it come out again?
Well, it hit bottom. As it always does because it was based on the wrong premise and the wrong reasons. Sooner or later it's going to breakdown because it's not based on truth. It was based on greed and selfishness. Well, that's all over now and you get these home brand companies that are surfacing because there is a consciousness there that people want to have a sustainable life. They realise that surfing has provided them with great opportunity and they are utilising that as a way to change people into a positive approach to living and to tread lightly on the planet.
Do you have a favourite scene from Morning of the Earth?
It's gone full circle for me and I can look at it from a two-fold point of view. I like to look at the whole because it's my first film and was my baby, but if I break it into parts there are obviously high points and the high point of the surfing is obviously Michael [Peterson] surfing up at Kirra. The other high point apart from the surfing is the introduction of the beautiful Balinese culture into the film.
Now that we are releasing it again there's been a big shift when I look at it. Now I think what's important in the film is the flash and the flare that opens the film because that's the birth of the world. Not only the birth of the world in our solar system, it's the rebirth of consciousness, and you can interpret that any way you want.
It's not the content in the film that is important to me now, it's the consciousness behind the film and it's reflected perfectly in that image at the start of the film.
Is there extra footage in this remastered version you are about to release? Something that hasn't been seen before..?
Not in the film. The film is absolutely identical. It's beautiful.
What we found last year was ninety minutes of outtakes. I knew they existed but I'd given up hope of ever finding them. Then I got a call one day from Adam Eden who is the son of Jack Eden – who was a photographer in that period of time. Jack died two years ago and Adam was going through his estate and amongst all this footage found three cans marked 'Morning of the Earth', and he called me up to let me know he had something that might interest me.
He sent them to me, I sent them over to America to Justin and we put together a thirty minute outtake film called RE-MOTE. It's raw footage from the making of Morning of the Earth. It's a thirty minute plus add-on.
So is this having a cinematic release? Whats the plan..?
Well, you wanna make God laugh? There is no plan. We kind of think, stand back and let the film take its own direction (laughs).
We're going to let Tracks mag, which was there in the beginning and it's gone full circle and is now in the hands of people that really love it - it's not a corporate magazine anymore. They are going to set up a screening for us early next year along the East Coast.
What we're also going to do is open it up to the audience and the viewer. If they want to screen the film we'll give it to them to screen. We want to give it away to people to show to clubs or family or their community and all we ask of them is to make a contribution to an environmental issue that would be of value in the area or nationally.
There's also a book that'll be going out alongside of it. That was done by Justin and his friend in Los Angeles.
So there are two films and a book for the Morning of the Earth fiftieth anniversary.
Thanks for your time, Albe, I can't wait to see the remastered film, the extra footage, and the book.