Mad Max | 1979
Now we’re familiar with the two sequels, the original Mad Max starts to look like what we’d now call an origins story. The unknown Mel Gibson shot to fame as futuristic, leather-clad cop Max Rockatansky, unhinged by a vicious attack on his wife and child, in George Miller’s low budget, high octane actioner, which leaps dizzyingly from location to location around Melbourne, Victoria.
It begins as furiously as it means to go on, with cops chasing the wacked-out Nightrider on roads about 20 miles west of the city.
In over 30 years since the film was made, many locations have changed dramatically or disappeared completely. One that’s gone is ‘Fat Nancy’s’, the roadside diner from which Goose (Steve Bisley) takes off to join the pursuit, which was the Pretty Sally Roadhouse at Pretty Sally Hill, a dormant volcanic cone between Wallan and Kilmore. The place already seems to have a history of vehicular disasters. The story goes that Sally Smith, known locally as Pretty Sally, operated an unlicensed hotel on the site in the 1840s, before dying in an accident when her cart hit a stump and she fell under its wheels.
Away from the rampant anarchy of the dusty highways, Max lives peacefully with his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and young son, in a beachfront house at 310 Great Ocean Road in Fairhaven, on the B100 coast road 60 miles southwest of Melbourne. It’s a private home, so all the usual reminders about not disturbing residents obviously apply.
The famous shot of the ‘Halls of Justice’, dilapidated headquarters of the ‘Bronze’, the Main Force Patrol (MFP), is the South Melbourne Gasworks in Port Melbourne.
After natural gas reserves were discovered around Australia in 1960, the site closed down and, at the time of filming, was abandoned. Since then, the complex has been redeveloped as Gasworks Arts Park, occupying eight acres of parkland – the heritage industrial buildings now housing theatres, art galleries, studios and workshop spaces. The official address is 21 Graham Street, Albert Park, though the remains of the old gasworks buildings stand on Beach Street at Esplanade West.
The interiors of the MFP were also filmed here, but the rest of the buildings and the courtyard are the old Spotswood Pumping Station, on Douglas Parade, Spotswood, about five miles south-west of Melbourne's central business district. In the background of some shots you can clearly see the curve of the raised West Gate Freeway, M1, which runs into the heart of the city. The building complex (which also featured as ‘Blackmoor Prison’ in cult TV series Prisoner: Cell Block H) is now Scienceworks, part of Museum Victoria, entrance at 2 Booker Street.
The MFP’s strangely vaulted underground garage, in which Max is seduced by the souped up Interceptor, is South Lawn Car Park on the campus of Melbourne University.
Fraser Street, the main street in Clunes, on C287 north of Ballarat, became the town of ‘Wee Jerusalem’, which the oddly theatrical band of nomad bikers led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) invade to collect the body of Nightrider from the rail station. A one-time gold rush town, Clunes has recently been relaunched as a booktown, now lined with bookstores and hosting a book festival in May, bit it’s still surprisingly recognisable. You can see the town again in the 2003 version of Ned Kelly, with Heath Ledger as the tin-headed outlaw.
When not terrorising small towns, the gang passes time taking potshots at a shopwindow mannequin by the wooden Seaford Pier on Seaford Beach, at Station Street off Nepean Highway. Seaford is about 20 miles south of Melbourne, near to Frankston. Take a moment away from the mayhem to relax in the Beach Café, conveniently alongside the pier.
In Melbourne’s southeastern suburb of South Yarra, the ‘Sugartown Cabaret’, outside which Goose’s bike gets tampered with as he ogles the singer, was the Warehouse Nightclub, which stood at 14 Claremont Street, since demolished. He seems to spend the night there, roaring off south along the much-redeveloped Claremont Street, watched by the psychotic Johnny (Tim Burns).
Goose becomes a target for the bikers, and it’s after visiting his horrifically burned friend at St George's Hospital, 283 Cotham Road, Kew, east of downtown Melbourne, that Max finally follows through his threat to quit the force.
Taking his wife and child, he hits the road for a romantic countryside idyll but, as the music goes all dreamy and the family buys a cute doggy, you know things are about to turn nasty.
The scrapyard Max calls into with a blown-out tyre was in Craigieburn. The yard is now gone but still there, just to the north of Craigieburn, is the rather nice farmhouse, in which they’re staying with May Swaisey, on Mount Ridley Road, west of the Hume Freeway (M31).
Being north of Melbourne, Craigieburn is nowhere near the coast, so when Jessie pops off to get ice cream for the kid at a “shop just down the beach” from the scrapyard, she has quite a drive. The shop is at the eastern end of Avalon Beach, a narrow strip of land reached by a causeway on the coast between Werribee and Geelong, west of Melbourne. Although the store is now a private home, the location is amazingly unchanged. Jessie is hassled by the Toecutter gang but gets away – unwittingly taking a souvenir with her.
While Max fixes the car’s fanbelt at May’s farm, Jessie heads off for a dip in the ‘nearby’ sea. The rocky cove, where she’s spotted by the bikers, is almost as far away as Avalon, though this time on the east side of Port Phillip Bay. You’ll find it on Beach Road (State Route 33) at Potter Street, just north of Half Moon Beach, in Black Rock, between Melbourne and Seaford – and it’s not nearly as secluded as it appears in the film.
When the gang descends on May’s property, Max is powerless to prevent the tragic outcome.
Picking up his motor from the South Lawn Car Park, Max heads west from Melbourne. Just south of Melton, he waits on Exford Road, spotting the gang as they siphon petrol from a tanker heading west on Greigs Road, over the Werribee River.
After disposing of the other gang members, it’s about 20 miles to the northeast, near Sunbury that Max comes across Johnny by the roadside, casually relieving a dead body of its boots.
On Gellies Road, at the bridge over Emu Creek less than a mile east of Sunbury, Max cuffs him to the burning car and leaves him with the hacksaw option that many years later would be taken up by the Saw movies.
If you want to follow the detailed travels of Max, there’s an unbeatable Mad Max Movies fan site which painstakingly charts about every stretch of road seen in the film.