Part XI.b - The Milottes in Australia - part 2

With a huge variety of native wildlife to film like, emus, kangaroos, koalas, wombats, echidna, and others, the Milotte's focus became the elusive and rare duck billed platypus.

The Milotte Wildlife Film Festival will be here 20 days from now. It’s slated for Saturday, October 20th, and will be held between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. The festival will show three Oscar Award winners for both the Milotte’s and the Disney Studios and they are “Seal Island”, “Bear Country” and “Beaver Valley”. The festival is FREE to everyone but donations will be gladly accepted. All children must be accompanied by a responsible adult. There will be a costume contest and prizes will be awarded, although I understand that the judges have a soft spot for children so most children will be awarded something.

The following, based on notes and documents reviewed during inventory and catalog work on the Milotte Collection, has been provided by GBLHS member and author of “Bonney Lake’s Plateau”, Winona Jacobsen:

Alfred found that working with local carpenters, electricians, etc. the work week was limited, by law, to forty hours. He could not even pay to get them to work longer hours. There was also a question about the workers following the ideas and the instructions of Alfred. It appeared that these employees were not familiar with the needs of constructing a film making set. Continual problems in working with the outfitter recommended by the studio plagued the Milottes.

In addition, during the first several months in Australia, Alfred used the CinemaScope lens, which would film in a widescreen format, but it had unsatisfactory results. Neither Alfred nor the studio wanted to continue using it. In fact, it had been said at one time that “the only thing CinemaScope is really good for is photographing funerals and snakes.”

Before the days of the internet and instant communications with all parts of the world, Alfred and Elma decided to make audio tapes, as well as written records, to send to the Disney Studio in California. Frequently the mail would cross and messages and expectations would sometimes get a little confusing. The studio executives questioned the filming of the massive flocks of rainbow lorikeets or the strange kookaburra. Elma wrote back the visual appearance of the colorful birds flying en masse was stunning, and the kookaburra was a unique, large, carnivorous variety of kingfisher. The tone of some correspondence from the studio was not always well received. Elma wrote back at one point in reply to a letter talking about the Milotte’s inactivity. Her comment was, “We assume that you were joking  when you used the word “inactivity”, because you certainly know that taking the pictures is not all that goes on over here, and that a great part of our activity is in preparing, getting ready, moving and just some of the ordinary things, like today of getting the car serviced, and getting this letter written. So I’m sure you must have been joking to even consider the word “inactivity” in a foreign assignment.”

Following months of delays and difficulties in obtaining the necessary permits to commence filming, Alfred decided to fly to Tasmania and see if shooting a motion picture there would be possible. He found the local government very receptive and much easier to work with, and his projected 3 month schedule in Tasmania would turn into thirteen months. It was an absolute joy for the pair to work with the people and animals of Tasmania. The focus of their work became the somewhat elusive and rare duck billed platypus. They had started their platypus filming in Queensland, but found they could build a camera blind and tank in the natural habitat of Tasmania and film the normal behavior of the unusual little mammals.

The time in Australia netted shots of a huge variety of the native wildlife, including, emus, kangaroos, koalas, wombats, echidna, many species of birds and lizards, and many others that we now take for granted. In the 1950’s, they were not frequently viewed by the rest of the world, and little was known about their habits. Alfred and Elma Milotte helped educate us. For those students in class in the 1950’s, the Weekly Reader, offered up-to-date articles on international news and events, and things like the platypus were of prime interest.  

By April 1957, the Milottes were finishing their filming within the two years allowed by the Australian government and making arrangements to return to the United States. At the last moment the Australian Tax Department decided that the Milottes owed nearly $5000 in taxes (this would be approximately $40,000 in today's money), and would not grant them permission to leave the country until it was paid. Alfred and Elma believed the law upheld the fact that they were visitors to Australia, employed by a U.S. company, paid by a U.S. company, and was therefore exempt from Australian taxes. With everything at a stalemate, they contacted the Disney Studio for support and clarification on the matter. The studio eventually covered the tax obligation, but sent a bill to the Milottes for reimbursement. After a couple of years of continual correspondence and discussion and reaching no agreeable conclusion, Elma and Alfred wrote a personal letter to Walt Disney. They restated the issue with the Australian taxes and indicated how they had always valued his friendship and how fair he was in his dealings with them. They acknowledged that corporate growth can often depersonalize a company, and they asked him to review the situation. When he had finished, they would abide by his decision. Within a couple of months a letter came from the studio attorneys, dissolving all debts from the Australian tax debacle. Alfred and Elma had decided to retire from their illustrious career of wildlife film making, and never worked for the Disney studios again.

The couple had achieved international acclaim for their wildlife film sequences and provided valuable information on the habits of the animals they followed. Alfred had indicated that wildlife filming was really in its infancy, and with continued improvement in equipment, the photographers could only improve and bring movies to the public that were then unimaginable. How right he proved to be!

Next up will be building a life in Bonney Lake from 1959 to 1989 in their “Island in the Sky”, which today is known as “Sky Island”.

In closing I’d like to remind everyone that the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society (GBLHS) is a nonprofit 501 (c) 3, our next meeting will be held the last Monday of the month, October 29th, at 7:00 PM in the meeting room at the Bonney Lake Library. We are always open to the public and welcome new members, or just interested spectators.

Don’t forget to check out www.mwlff.org and look for the trivia questions. I’ll tell you that so far no one has answered any of the five trivia questions even though the answers are on the website. Check them over and if you’re the first to answer any of them you can win a 2013 GBLHS – Milotte themed calendar. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Fred Jacobsen September 30, 2012 at 11:17 PM
If you need a clue to answer the trivia questions ask it here and leave your email address one of us from GBLHS will get back to you.


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