Deep look back

Disney+ was keen to cash in on the success of its Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with a nautical theme in its first Aussie production.

THE first Disney+ original show filmed down under, Shipwreck Hunters Australia, was released early last month.

Filmed along the WA coastline, it shows much of the camerawork of a David Attenborough documentary tinged with a hint of Pirates of the Caribbean adventure.

But that would be doing many of those involved a disservice. 

Behind the scenes is a passionate film crew and studio, an incredible dedication to archaeological practises and support from WA Museums and ScreenWest. 

The teams at VAM Media and Terra Australis studios spent three years trying to make the show, originally pitching it back in 2020.

Director and VAM Media owner Brendan Hutchins said it was perfect timing when a friend pitched the idea to Disney+.

The company famous for the Pirates series was keen for its first Australian series to involve some swashbuckling as well.

“It’s just a very Disney concept,” Mr Hutchins said.

He says the reaction from locals to Shipwreck Hunters has been encouraging. 

“As West Australians, we have connections to these stories,” he said.

Despite initial concerns about having to tone down its Aussieness to cater for overseas audiences, Mr Hutchins said he was surprised when the American producers told him that wouldn’t be necessary.

Mr Hutchins said there were many maritime stories yet to be told and he and his team would be keen to continue.

“We’d love to eventually go Australia-wide.”

To make Shipwreck Hunters, VAM Media worked with archaeologists and experienced divers Ross Anderson and Deb Shefi.

University of Notre Dame archaeologist Shane Burke, who stressed he hadn’t seen the show yet, could not speak highly enough of his peers and their expertise.

He said the style taken by the show was the right one, using great maritime and aquatic vision and shipwrecks backed by experts, ensuring that the sites and artifacts were preserved. 

“It’s what separates archaeologists from collectors and fortune hunters,” he said. “Context is everything.”

He said as long as that balance was maintained, shows like Shipwreck Hunters were a good way to tell otherwise unknown or forgotten history while encouraging interest in the field.

“Best bet is to have that element of Indiana Jones while also keeping that archaeological mindset.” 

The show also had heavy backing from Fremantle’s Shipwreck and Maritime Museums. 

A statement from WA Museums said: “We hope programs like this inspire people to visit our museum sites and engage with our collections.”

The statement said depending on the project, the museums were willing to support other projects like Shipwreck Hunters.

“If programs such as this help to create awareness of the rich exhibits in the Museum’s Collection it is possible there will be an increase in visitors as a result.”


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