Coonabarabran will provide the backdrop to a fictional television series that follows three astronomers who are separated by thousands of kilometres, but joined by their shared view of the stars.
‘Under the Milky Way’, a seven-part program, is the brainchild of Melbourne- based writer, producer and director, Shane Dunlop.
Mr Dunlop and his 15-member crew and cast spent a week filming in and around Coonabarabran at the end of May.
Using Milroy Observatory as their base, the team was fortunate to be granted behind- the-scenes access to facilities at Siding Spring Observatory.
“We were so well supported during our time in Coonabarabran and everyone was very kind,” Mr Dunlop explained.
“The access we were granted was really appreciated - one astronomer even brought in his drone so that we could film our character on top of the dome.
“We also received letters of support from Aileen Bell, at Warrumbungle Shire Council, and Doug Gray, from the AAO, which were instrumental in helping us securing funding for the project.”
A first-time visitor to the region, Mr Dunlop said he found the scenery amazing.
“We were lucky to get a beautiful sunset, but unfortunately we didn’t get a clear night to get some footage of the stars,” he said.
“I’ve always had an interest in space and astronomy.
“The trip has provided a real insight into what life would be like working here as an astronomer and living the community, but I have to admit, there’s a lot more people working here than what we’ve reflected in the story.
“Overall, it’s been a positive experience and we’ve all left on a high note.”
After studying film at university, Mr Dunlop fell into the short-film circuit. However, he became increasingly frustrated with the strict judging and selection criteria prevalent in the short-film industry, which prompted his move into television.
This was a decision he hasn’t looked back on.
Under the Milky Way is Mr Dunlop’s fourth series and comes on the back of the successful television production, ‘Leongatha’. Leongatha also led to employment at Channel 31, in Melbourne, a position which he juggles with his own production company, The Moving Bus.
After receiving a $20,000 grant from the Community Broadcasting Foundation, Mr Dunlop crowd-funded a further $3000 to bring his most recent project to life.
In addition to Coonabarabran, filming will take place on-site at Melbourne Planetarium and at an observatory in the Dandenong Ranges.
“We’re expanding on what we’ve done before by having three locations,” Mr Dunlop said.
“We’ve managed to create a cross-interstate story that hasn’t been too taxing logistically.
“There’s something about regional Australia that’s really interesting and fun.
“We have found that we get a lot of support from the people in the regions that we’re filming in because there’s that element of enjoying seeing themselves reflected in the story that looks familiar to them.”
Filming for Under the Milky Way will wrap in September.
It is anticipated the show will premiere on free-to-air television in capital cities and online streaming services in October/November this year.
Helene McKenzie resides in the NSW regional town of Coonabarabran and is an avid astronomer, just like her father was, working in the observatory that overlooks her small town.
When a nearby and much newer observatory threatens its funding and research grants, Helene’s observatory is in danger of being shut down. She actively fights its closure and along with her team of misfit colleagues, she attempts to rally her small home town behind her.
Plagued by a corrupt local council and hindered by a lazy town mayor, Helene’s prospects of saving her observatory are slim.
In the meantime, she spends most nights looking up at the stars, or talking to her two interstate peers via internet video calls - Simon Redding, based at the Melbourne Planetarium, and Harry Rosenfeldt (played by 70’s pop sensation Marty Rhone), an eccentric Tasmanian-based astronomer on the verge of an epic discovery.
Hindered by constant battles with an ambitious town councilwoman, distracted by a hunky administrator from the competing observatory and annoyed by a fumbling NASA spokesperson, Helene’s headaches go from bad to worse.
When disaster strikes on the eve of a Harry’s big breakthrough, Helene may get the chance to save more than just her beloved observatory...
The ‘Under the Milky Way’ team stayed at Milroy Observatory while on location in Coonabarabran, where they also had the opportunity to film on site.