“Kick it in the guts, Barry.”
With that brief, brilliantly Australian, matter-of-fact aside, actor Steve Bisley – The Goose – introduces both fellow Main Force Patrol officer Max Rockatansky and the audience to the magnificent, deadly Pursuit Special in the original Mad Max film.
The vehicle, based on the 1973 Ford FB Falcon GT351, is super-charged and modified, and to this day is equally adored and argued by fans of the film over whether the supercharger and modifications (which was a prop in the film) could have actually succeeded.
Look, we’re not going into the pros and cons of nitro, Weiand 6/71 blowers, Scott fuel injection hats and whether a 351 Cleveland could deliver 600 horsepower through the wheels with that set up in this article.
As Goose says: “You’ve seen it, you’ve heard it – and you’re still asking questions?”
Now 40 years on, Mad Max is an iconic Australian masterpiece, as much a classic as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Stone or The Getting of Wisdom, and arguably more responsible for bringing the Australian film industry to the attention of the world.
Despite being panned at the time – critic Phillip Adams wrote it had ‘all the emotional uplift of Mein Kampf’ – Mad Max was a phenomenal success, making over over $5 million at the box office in Australia and grossing over $100 million worldwide. It held the Guinness World Record for the highest box office-to-budget ratio of any motion picture. And it cost just $350,000 to make, says Steve Bisley.
The veteran Australian actor, known to the country for his many roles for film, television and stage over 40 years, says he got his break while still at the National Institute for Dramatic Art (NIDA).
He and fellow student Mel Gibson were approached by the Mad Max director George Miller with the script and asked to audition.
“He asked to see both Mel and myself… we had to screentest for the roles,” Steve Bisley says.
“And the screentest was you had to tell a joke… which I think is a really good way to screentest someone, because nobody likes (screentests); you feel like you’re being judged.”
Mr Bisley says the experience of making Mad Max was ‘guerrilla film-making’.
“So many people were brand new, too – not only Mel Gibson and myself. George Miller and Byron (Kennedy) … it was their first feature. You have Hugh Keays-Byrne who I think had toured with Peter Brook’s Shakespearean company, fell in love with Australia and stayed… I think it’s Hugh’s first film.
“Most of the other actors – it’s their first, you have all these sort of newbies; and I think there’s a wonderful naivete about Mad Max I, and a sort of sense of innocence in it that counters that sort of apocalyptic sense that we were trying to achieve, that there’s been some upheaval and society is in decay.
“No CGI, no computerised stuff. All the stuff that happens on screen, we did it or the stunt team did it, and I think the rawness of all those ingredients combined give it this great… freshness… There’s no blood and guts in Mad Max but you think you’ve seen a lot when you come out of the film at the end of it.”
This weekend will see one of the biggest cast reunions of the film take place in the region where some of its memorable scenes were shot, around the town of Clunes.
It will involve a massive procession from the tiny town’s National Hotel to the Maryborough Harness Club in Carisbrook, where a day of festivities are planned.
Organiser Mark Burke says the planning of Saturday’s event has taken two year’s work and has involved over 300 volunteers.
“We’ve got 70 professional character actors coming from all around the world to take part,” says Mr Burke.
“They’re going to be in the procession and I can tell you they look bloody sensational. We’ll head from Clunes to Maryborough with the anticipation that people will be lining the sides of the roads cheering.
“It’s the first time since 1979 that all these actors have been in the one spot.”
Mr Burke says the help of the actor Paul Johnstone, who played the gang member Cundalini in the original film (and loses his hand), has been essential to the anniversary coming together.
Mr Johnstone will take a central part in the day’s reminiscences, including paying tribute to those actors and crew who have died since the film’s release in 1979, such as Sheila Florance, Reg Evans and Jonathan Hardy.
There will also be a ceremony where those members of the cast and crew present will imprint their hands into cement, to make a permanent memorial at the Carisbrook venue, says Mr Burke.
There will be media opportunities and the greater part of the day will be an opportunity for fans of Mad Max to get autographs signed and photographs taken with stars including Steve Bisley, Hugh Keays-Byrne (The Toecutter) and Roger Ward (Fifi).
Mr Burke says it will be a day ‘of great surprises’.
The Mad Max 40th anniversary begins at the National Hotel, Fraser Street, Clunes on Saturday February 2 at 9:00am. Z-owners Australia will be escorting Mad Max actors, chaperoned in Mad Max vehicles, to Maryborough and the Harness Club at Carisbrook. Tickets are $70.