A slew of Australia’s best actors are lined up to recreate the story of a group of World War I soldiers who left Maitland in 1916, to risk their lives on the battlefields of war-torn France.
Actors including Nick Farnell (Balibo) and Underbelly stars Vince Colosimo, Khan Chittenden and Henry Nixon are in negotiations to represent and personify the men of the 34th Battalion – commonly known as Maitland’s Own.
Claire Van Der Boom (Sisters of War) has also expressed interest in the film while an international cast will be announced as production progresses.
Written over a 20-year period by former Vacy man Ian Sparke, the film – to be titled The 34th Battalion – tells the story of the army battalion who trained in Maitland and left for war from Farley railway station on May 1, 1916.
The epic war film is now in development at the Village Roadshow studios on the Gold Coast and follows the men from Maitland to the Western Front during 1916-1918.
“This movie is very much based on the history of these men and after 20 years of researching their stories and writing this movie I got to love them even more,” Mr Sparke, of Sparkefilms, said.
The historian and military film specialist began writing the script while living in Maitland and said the storyline for the movie features a number of local characters including a tribute to two Dungog brothers who went to war and others from places including Kurri Kurri, Taree and Port Macquarie.
“The thing with the 34th Battalion was that they had a different attitude towards the war,” Mr Sparke said.
“A lot of these men were professionals and they weren’t searching for adventure or heroism. They were off to get the job done and they knew how serious it was.”
Mr Sparke was first inspired by the men of the 34th Battalion while he was a student at Maitland Boy’s High School.
“I remember being in the library at school and seeing this picture of the 34th Battalion during an attack on Villers-Bretonneux. Of course back then I never realised I would one day make a movie about those men but today I have a copy of that image on my desk reminding me why we are doing this,” he said.
Primary filming for The 34th Battalion will take place on the Gold Coast with a brief shoot on the north coast of NSW.
But Mr Sparke is adamant Maitland will secure a premiere screening of the film following its release next year.
“Putting this all together has been poignant for me because Maitland is my home town and I’ve always had a great feeling of responsibility to these men and their story,” Mr Sparke said.
■ Shooting for The 34th Battalion starts in September.