Gunnedah has a place in cinematic history as the location for Australia’s first major feature film, The Lure Of The Bush.

The star of the film was Reg (Snowy) Baker – an extraordinary sportsman in the early part of the 20th century, who later became Australia’s first movie idol. The Lure Of The Bush was a silent film, most of which was shot on the Gunnedah district properties Kurrumbede and Coulston, on the Namoi River north of town.

Gunnedah was selected as the location because Snowy Baker was friendly with the Mackellar family, of Kurrumbede. The filmmaker made ample use of Snowy Baker’s talents as an athlete, swimmer, paddler and boxer and as a horseman. In the film, Snowy was mounted on a striking all-white Arab stallion, which Eric Mackellar had given to his younger brother, Malcolm, as a birthday present. The stallion is known as Rex in the film and he and Snowy perform what would have been, for the day, spectacular stunts.

At one point, horse and rider jump from a high bank at full gallop into the Namoi and in another scene Snowy jumps from the verandah of the Curlewis Hotel onto the back of Rex to pursue a villain.

The film opens with Snowy arriving at the tiny Emerald Hill railway station. He’s the new-chum jackeroo on Kurrumbede and soon his remarkable talents as an athlete and sportsman win the attention of the heroine. But the flamboyant Snowy raises the jealousy of other workers and the heroine is kidnapped and taken to the camp of bushrangers in the Nandewar Ranges.

Snowy pursues her – and rescues her from the clutches of her captors. The film includes a scene shot at the back of Mornington in Gunnedah – an attempted stage-coach robbery. The stagecoach was driven by local resident Harvey Nowland, who tries to escape the lone bushranger galloping alongside. Snowy Baker is a passenger. He climbs onto the roof of the stagecoach and springs at the bushranger, knocking him from his horse. Other scenes show Aborigines trekking through the bush, shearing, dipping and branding on a farm, rabbit-trapping and exhibitions of high diving and swimming in the river.

There are also scenes of a woolshed dance, with concertina music, to raise funds for the Gunnedah War Chest – and there is a great fight between Snowy and one of the villains, watched by a large crowd. Snowy wins, of course.

When Lure Of The Bush was shown in Gunnedah, it ran for several nights and drew large crowds. The following year, Snowy Baker returned to Gunnedah to shoot scenes for The Man From Kangaroo, starring in this film with an actress brought to Australia from America.

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