Like ‘Moths’ To A Flame

Still From Moth Of Moonbi

Locals Gathered To Watch An Old Film Relic

In 1926, Charles Chauvel, whose family farmed at Harrisville in the Fassifern Valley, released his first feature film: THE MOTH OF MOONBI based on The Wild Moth, a successful contemporary novel by then Tamborine Mountain resident, Mabel Forrest.
Chauvel had just come back from Hollywood where he had followed his colleague and then mentor “Snowy” Baker, a famous Australian all-round athlete and showman.

Still From Moth Of Moonbi
Still From Moth Of Moonbi

Chauvel worked in the nascent Hollywood film industry, soaking up experience and learning film-making skills as a freelance journalist/writer, horse wrangler and production assistant. He was determined to make films his life.
Indeed he did so, going on to make GREENHIDE, which like “Moth” also was shot locally in the Scenic Rim, as was the later SONS OF MATTHEW – the story of the O’Reilly family’s settlement on the Lamington Plateau.
All Chauvel’s feature films, which were fully Australian productions, including RATS OF TOBRUK and 40,000 HORSEMEN, based on the great WWI cavalry charge at Beer Sheva led by his Uncle Sir Harry Chauvel, are exceptional achievements especially as they were all shot on location including in the Northern Territory.

Screening Of Moth Of Moonbi
After the Mabel talk by Janis Bailey, locals were treated
to the last remaining segment of feature film “The Moth Of Moonbi”

His last feature, JEDDA (1955), in many ways ahead of its time, was the first Australian colour feature and told the story of the ill-fated romance of a young Indigenous couple.
In Australia meanwhile, Mabel Forrest visited Tamborine Mountain first in 1923/4 and fell in love with it. She soon had a house in Coleman Square which she named “White Witches” in reference to the white trunks of the surrounding gum trees, shining in the moonlight. Mabel’s grand-daughter Mrs Helen Wyatt lives there now.
Mabel was a prolific writer with work published around Australia, and in the USA and UK. She wrote novels, poetry, magazine and newspaper articles. Her poem “To the City Hall” was read at the 1930 official opening of the Brisbane City Hall where it hangs still, engraved on marble, in a commissioned Rosenstengel frame.
Most unusually for a woman at the time, and indeed for any writer, Mabel independently supported herself from her writing. Her work was very popular, so no doubt Chauvel was on to a good thing when he optioned The Wild Moth.

Janis & Hilary
Janis Bailey (playwright) with Hilary Furlong (TM Progress Association)

Today, only half an hour of THE MOTH OF MOONBI survives however Tamborine Mountain Progress Association was able to show it as part of a program pre-figuring the world premiere of M for Mabel – a play about Mabel by Tamborine Mountain resident and playwright, Janis Bailey.

Helen, 'Mabel' & Janis
Helen Wyatt with Janis Bailey with ‘Mabel’

Mabel’s grand-daughter Helen Wyatt and her family were special guests.
For the time being the premiere of M for Mabel, and more screenings of Australia’s film triumphs and community events presented by TMPA, are on hold until COVID-19 is safely out of the way. But watch this space!

By Hilary Furlong (TMPA)