Sea Patrol: articles

Cast returns to ravaged Mission Beach

FOR a carload of Aussie actors on a break from work, the tone is remarkably sombre.

As three of the principal actors from Sea Patrol - Lisa McCune, Ian Stenlake and Kristian Schmid - drive through the cyclone-devastated parts of Mission Beach their thoughts are with the many friends they have made while filming in the town for two months each year.

WELCOME BOOST: The huge cast from Sea Patrol filming in Mission Beach, an area devastated by Cyclone Yasi.

Location production on the final series of Sea Patrol wrapped up in December and this is the first time the trio has been back since the destructive Cyclone Yasi slammed into the North Queensland coast and tore hearts asunder.

"It's unbelievable," Stenlake manages, as he tries to explain what the original rainforest looked like before the winds struck.

"To think that this vegetation can be stripped back; a whole mountainside looked like the trees had decided to skinnydip, every leaf gone. You can't actually believe that it's possible."

Sea Patrol's five-year, five-season tenure at Mission Beach was book-ended by cyclones - Larry in March 2006 and Yasi just 11 weeks ago.

Producers Hal and Di McElroy have been equally shocked by the effect on their "favourite piece of paradise".

"This morning we went for a drive, and we went, 'Oh my god', especially just south of here - to see the deforestation," Di said. "Everyone told us that in the first few days it was just brown; it looked like a bushfire had gone through."

"Part of it will never recover," Hal said. "It will never be the Mission Beach we remember. It will survive and it will prosper, but it will be different."

But chatting casually to some of the 400 or so locals at a "thank you" event staged by the McElroys at Castaways resort on Wednesday night this week, many were of the opinion the loss of the TV drama would have a similar, if not bigger effect on local spirits and finances.

"Yasi was nothin', we're actually gonna miss Cyclone Lisa (McCune)," said one smitten man; with a conspiratorial nod and half-chuckle that if he told me his name, he'd be "the laughing stock".

But Alister Pike who - along with his unflappable wife Kerri, their eight children and a pet bird named Misty - run the Dunk Island Sport Fishing charter business, was more than happy to go on record and tell it like it is.

"Financially, without Sea Patrol in the last five years, Mission Beach would have been in a much weaker position; millions they brought in each year," said Pike who moved to the beach in 1967 as a youngster with his parents, who also still call it home.

"Socially, for the psyche of Mission Beach it's been very good.

"These are good people," he said cocking a look over at Stenlake and Schmid. "Look, I don't make friends easily, and I do count Ian as a friend. So for me, it will be sad for them not to come up each year.

"But that's life, eh? I'm philosophical about it. You have to move on.

"It was sad for them to come back today and see the place like it is. If they'd seen it in the raw form they would have been absolutely shocked."

McCune remembers what it was like arriving in the area after Cyclone Larry.

"But coming back this time and knowing the area and the people it has had more impact; you have a connection to the place," she said.

Schmid is nodding. "Our welcome to Mission Beach was driving through Innisfail in 2006; houses were off their stumps, roofs were gone," he said. "The attitude of the locals; their resilience is pretty amazing."

Stenlake also has been touched by that attitude.

"It's stoic," he said. "They're still staring directly into the face of adversity. What's happened to their lives and their careers is quite possibly the most challenging thing they will ever have to face."

Tuesday night's TV premiere of the final season of Sea Patrol opens with a dedication to Mission Beach and its residents thanking them for being "their home".

"If we could bring attention back to Mission Beach and remind the world and Australia in particular that it is still alive and kicking and it's a wonderful place, that would be a good outcome," Hal said.

By Geoff Shearer
April 25, 2011
The Courier-Mail