We recently came across some interesting correspondence from the Museums’ pioneering filmmaker Howard Hughes, which reveals just how dedicated he was to getting the job done. Writing to a colleague in 1968 he was still clearly feeling the effects of his latest film shoot.

M1601-002 Howard Hughes filming
M1601-002 Howard Hughes filming, Coxs Creek, Mullaley, NSW, c1980 Image: John Fields
© Australian Museum

“I have not been too happy lately myself, and I don’t know whether it is just more or still the effects of my three and a half months away with Basil on the tiny island in Spencer Gulf with only him and the seals.”

In July 1967 Hughes and the Museum’s Mammalogist Basil Marlow had been put ashore on the alarmingly named Dangerous Reef. It was an island 330 yards long (about 300m), 150 yards wide (140m) and twelve feet (3.5m) high -17 miles (25km) off the coast from Port Lincoln in South Australia.

Hut and Lighthouse on Dangerous Reef
Hut and Lighthouse on Dangerous Reef Image: Howard Hughes
© Australian Museum

Armed with tinned food, a two-way radio and a container for collecting rain-water the valiant pair camped there for 94 days. Marlow was studying the Australian Hair Seals which bred on the island, Hughes was filming them and their sanitary arrangements hardly bear thinking about.

But the result was well worth it. At the time there was a noticeable shortage of film material made about the Australian environment, by Australians. In 1971 leading the way - with sponsorship from BHP - the Australian Museum announced the launch of ‘Dangerous Reef ‘. It was one of four 15-minute full colour educational films in a series about Australia’s unique environments.

Scarred but not beaten by his mind altering adventure with Basil Marlow - the Museum’s dedicated filmmaker went on to shoot over 20 more works. He was obviously a man on a mission and committed to the Museum’s higher educational role, “The Australian Museum styles itself an ‘every mans museum’ and is constantly exploring new ways to communicate its work and material to the public."