What being an extra on the set of teen drama Dive Club reminded 2 menopausal besties!

Sandy Davies and Eileen Burchill as extras on the set of dive club
Sandy Davies and Eileen Burchill as extras on the set of dive club

Growing up in the 1970s the messages on the posters on the walls of Greensburg Elementary School boasted ‘Girls Can Do Anything’. As a small town Kansas girl in the Midwest of the United States, I internalised that message and took it to heart.

But what we girls weren’t told was it would be an uphill battle.

We could and did do anything, but among our wb40 readership I doubt there are many of us who don’t have a story of a major career battle that was fought because of our gender. 

Learning to navigate the issues of gender bias, handsy bosses, and male colleagues who still believed a woman’s place was in the home were essential skills in the unwritten playbook of making it to the top in the 1980s.

I’ll never forget heading to the podium at age twenty-four for one of the proudest moments of my academic life only to feel a sharp pinch on my bottom as I made my way past the vice chancellor. The colleague beside him confirmed in a not so hushed tone that indeed they both felt I was a ‘bit of all right’. I can confirm the bloke who received the identical research fellowship the year prior didn’t cop a pinch.

A recent foray into the world of being a film set Extra brought home how much the world has changed. The message is no longer ‘Girls Can Do Anything’; today the message is ‘Women Are Doing Everything’ and it is not a big deal. And that discovery is how my feminist brain came to explode with resounding joy. 

Side comments and unwarranted physical advances like so many of us experienced in previous decades today result in the offenders being walked off set and struggling to find industry work ever again. Those Hollywood changes have occurred across the industry both overseas and here in Australia. And wider scoping change is happening in Canberra as you read these words.

Brisbane based production house The Steve Jaggi Company made Port Douglas in Far North Queensland their COVID-safe home for the filming of series one of teen/family drama Dive Club. 

This ray of hope during an otherwise rather dreary year injected nearly $8 million into the local Queensland economy. The region was abuzz with excitement having a major film company in a regional area instead of the usual big city studio locales.

A social media post calling for local Extras to play Cape Mercy townsfolk provided the perfect excuse for me and a friend to reprioritize spending time together, even if it meant the uncomfortable COVID nose jab to be allowed on set. Best intentions of quality time in recent years had been repeatedly superseded by losses of immediate family members, arrivals of little ones and harried schedules. Committing to a filming schedule provided the perfect solution to guarantee a proper catch up.

Most Extras bemoan the long periods of waiting to be called, but for my bestie & me those were the bits for which we’d been yearning. We giggled and laughed our way through the idle hours.

Reconnecting and renewing our friendship provided the perfect remedy for those menopausal roller coaster blues. The best bit for both of us was observing the crew on set move together as a well-oiled machine, completely oblivious to how magical the crew’s gender imbalance was. A gender imbalance in the favour of women, that is.

Yes, Dive Club was a predominantly female led crew right the way through.

No one thought it unusual that director Hayley MacFarlane would need maternity leave mid-shoot. Remember in the ‘80s when even mentioning that you might want to start a family heralded the death knell for any opportunity or promotion? This talented director could be honest about her pregnancy and still be selected on her merit. For real. Did I mention my feminist brain exploding with joy? Heaven knows we all need a bit of joy on that front at the moment.

Award-winning screenwriter Claire J Harris was among the talented pool of female writers guaranteeing a strong determined female led narrative.  And for any fellow Brazen Hussies fans, you’ll be pleased to know Kylie Pascoe co-produced Dive Club alongside Kelly Son Hing who will assuredly be a household name in the coming decade. 

Male crew members didn’t feel threatened by female leadership. Times. Have. Changed. Watching this tight knit crew work their magic from a female base made our Extras hearts soar. Gender did not matter to any of the crew. 

Female representation in the film industry is increasing. Screen Australia research reports that 56% of all Australian produced media have at least 50% female representation on their creative teams, compared with a mere 14% of directors being women in the 1970s.

A friend who was a successful camerawoman in Europe turned her hand to a different career when she emigrated to Australia in the 2000s because she didn’t want to face the battle of working her way up through a predominantly male dominated segment of the industry all over again. 

Those woes are fading as American cinematographer Rachel Morrison proved three years ago. Rachel became the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography at the Oscars. Morrison is committed to paving the way for other women to be recognized for their talent and their work in the film industry.

My daughters pursued hitherto male-dominated careers.  In their generation they are still seen as female firsts. With this next upcoming generation, the phrase ‘girls can do anything’ is no longer relevant.  Girls ARE doing anything. Regardless of profession, gender is irrelevant.  

The same week as my friend and I began as Extras on the Dive Club set I attended the Radiance 2020 Illuminating the Strength Within conference in Cairns. Keynote speaker James Mousa, founder of Life Sumo, provided us with Piper’s Guide- a 6 point reference guide to life for his newborn daughter. Nowhere in his message was there any mention of barriers his daughter would face growing up because of her gender.

It was the most wonderful ‘A-ha!’ moment. The Dive Club crew, a new father, no one seeing gender as an issue… I am thrilled beyond belief at how much our world has changed. For the better.

Image: Sandy Davies - filming in progress, Port Douglass Queensland
Image: Sandy Davies – filming in progress, Port Douglass Queensland

The message is clear for the next generation: kids, you’ve got this! You’re going to grow up doing what you want to do, being who you want to be, and totally rockin’ whatever makes your soul sing.

There will still be bullies, there will still be occasional barriers, success will still require tireless effort and dedication, but fighting to be accepted because of your gender identity is one less fight you’ll have to fight.

To all my fellow feminist activists and the fearless bra burners who preceded us— this is a victory. I know we’re still battling for equal CEO representation at the top, emotional labour equity and full transparent equal pay across all sectors, but in Dive Club we have had a major win. And we shouldn’t negate championing the victories along the way. 

Let’s celebrate this le triomphe and shout it from the rooftop, or, in this case, from the reef.

Time to pop the champagne and the popcorn for this win. I know that’s what I’ll be doing when binge watching series one of Dive Club on Network Ten soon. 

For wb40 readers beyond our Aussie shores, don’t despair: Dive Club is going global with an international release on Netflix eminent by the end of 2021.

Have you gotten trapped in that cycle of busy and put catching up with a bestie of years past on the backburner? Use watching Dive Club as an excuse to have a night in reconnecting with a friend. Who knows, you might even spot my friend Eileen and me in our Extras cameos in an episode or two.

Port Douglas played the backdrop for Dive Club’s fictional hometown Cape Mercy. If you’re seduced by the scenery and want to reconnect to the rainforest and the reef, rest assured that the chefs, the tour guides, the dive masters and our housekeeping teams are all looking forward to sharing a warm g’day with you, our southern friends; come on up!  

The next time you see a casting all for extras in your community, put your hand up. You never know what kind of unexpected adventure awaits.

Dive Club is a 12 episode Australian made tv series produced by Brisbane based The Steve Jaggi Company. The full production was undertaken during COVID in Far North Queensland and is scheduled for worldwide release on Netflix to more than 190 countries after its exclusive launch on Network Ten for Australian viewers in the coming months.  Tune in to join skilled divers Izzie, Anna, Maddie & Stevie as they race to figure out the mysterious disappearance of their best friend Lauren after a cyclone hits the township of Cape Mercy. The deeper they dive, the more questions arise.

Dive Club was filmed upon Eastern Kuku Yalanji and Yirrganydji Country whose Elders past, present and emerging this extra honours and acknowledges with deep abiding respect.

Sandy Davies
Sandy Davies

Sandy Davies is the visionary behind Ozark Press, publisher of book The Power to Rise Above. Sandy is also dedicated to helping women get their groove back during peri/post menopause as the founder and formulator of HappyPause™ Balm. Sandy’s mantra is it is never too late and we are most certainly NEVER too old. Live your dreams with wild abandon. happypause.com.au | thepowertoriseabove.com.au