Former freelance cine-cameraman and long-time Taree resident, Lynn Stanfield, has seen many significant changes in media reporting over the last 50 years. Lynn and wife Joan first settled in Forster in 1960, building their first house at One Mile Beach, where they started a family.
An industrial arts teacher by day, Lynn spent his spare time over twenty two years filming news footage and documenting life and events around the area as a stringer for ABC television in Sydney and the newly established NBN in Newcastle. Roger Marmion spent several hours recently being entertained by his reminiscences and observations on the media and life on the Mid North Coast during the pioneering days of the television industry.
Lynn, how did you become involved in film and television?
As a student I supplemented my meagre trainee teacher’s allowance with photography – taking colour photos of babies and weddings.
Appreciating my interest in photography, a lecturer had me use the College’s 16 mm camera to document College events and activities.
I was living at Forster when NBN commenced operations from Newcastle on the 4th March 1962 (the first TV station outside of Sydney). I went to visit their studio and met the news director, Murray Masterton. When I expressed interest in filming, he invited me to source material as a stringer. “Send us some footage and we’ll pay you,” he promised. Murray was very supportive, and over the years taught me a lot.
What equipment did you have then?
Well, I couldn’t use my 8 mm Bell & Howell, so I lashed out and bought a 16 mm Eumig camera, which cost 90 pounds – a huge outlay in those days but, thankfully, I was able to pay it off. As assignments grew over the years, it was necessary to upgrade the equipment. My first four stories in April 1962 earned me 13 pounds.
How tricky was it working in your spare time?
Well, in those days there was always something happening: major community events such as Aquatic Festivals and the Oyster Festival as well as bushfires, floods and historic events. I had a big area to cover; as well as Forster-Tuncurry and Taree, I would also take assignments further afield, often occupying whole weekends and holidays. I covered the 1963 flood at Kempsey, which was exciting. The roads were cut, but I managed to reach Kempsey via bush tracks. Shooting the story was easy; however, we had to get the film through to Newcastle, and we did.
I always kept my camera handy. Working alone as a photo journalist was a busy task. As I filmed a news story, I would keep a shot list and a scripted storyline. Accuracy was important, because the unprocessed film would be sent to Newcastle or Sydney for the film to be processed and edited and commentary added in the studio for broadcast.
If I couldn’t get the film to Taree airport or railway station, we used our own transport solution to meet deadlines.
“Joanie or I would stand beside the highway flagging down motorists heading south, asking if they would drop off the package of film for us. We always received cooperation from complete strangers and never once lost any film. I doubt whether you could do the same thing today!”
You often did more than shoot news footage, didn’t you?
I was also often contracted to shoot promotional film, which drew on my studies of film and television at Armidale University.
Human interest stories and country scenery were popular on documentary programs like Weekend Magazine and Roving Eye. My story on the Little Dingo Picnic Races really touched a chord with viewers.
Recording sad historical events like the final cream boat collection on the Manning (when there were thriving dairy industries here) was a low point for me.
In those early days, TV stations were much more interested in local communities and local personalities and their achievements. We had some amazing people living in or visiting the area who were doing some great things – innovative things in the field of design and technology.
For example, Howard Croker with his oars, Fred Williams’ water skis and Norm Milligan’s pioneering of fibre glassing in Australia and his Nipper boats, to name a few. These days the media devotes more airtime to imported presentations and celebrities rather than real, local personalities!
What were some other memorable stories?
The ones which stand out the most were those which posed some challenge: getting the best shot or a unique angle.
I remember being perched on the front of Ken Warby’s magnificent hydroplane, so I could get some close-ups of Ken’s helmeted face, while we roared up the Manning with a twenty foot (7metres) ‘rooster-tail’ spouting up behind him as he piloted his boat at 100 mph (160 km/h).
Another time I strapped myself in a harness outside the open door of an aeroplane while it dived down to get close-ups of parachutists competing in the Australian Sky-diving Championships at Gloucester. Later someone cleverly mounted cameras on helmets for this angle!
I was contracted to shoot the land content for world famous underwater photographer, Ben Cropp. He and his team invited me to accompany them on one of their dives off One Mile Beach. All was well until they mentioned lights; no way was I going to be diving at night to film sharks!
I understand you once had the opportunity to interview Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.
I was relieving Mike Leyland, then an NBN cameraman in Newcastle. Jagger, the fool, tried to light my boom mike with his cigarette lighter!
You would have seen some significant changes in your time.
Absolutely! The introduction of colour TV in 1975 and the advent of video in 1980 may have improved the technical side of television production, but quite frankly, the content and journalistic standards today often leave a lot to be desired.
We’ve moved away from real investigative journalism and genuine content. It’s so easy to source stories, ready-made from syndicated news services!
Written for Focus by Roger Marmion.