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Thursday 10 November 2016

Bringing Freda Du Faur to the big screen

Posted in: Movies
By Jacqui Stanford - 26th August 2015

Wellington filmmaker Anita Ross is embarking on a quest to make a movie about Freda Du Faur, a pioneering lesbian mountaineer who was the first woman to climb Aoraki / Mt Cook in 1910.

Image: George Edward Mannering.

Who was Freda Du Faur?

The ground-breaking Aussie grew up near the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in New South Wales, where she taught herself how to rock climb.

Her first ascent was Mt Sealy in the Southern Alps in 1909, before she took on Mt Cook the following year. She made it to its peak in a skirt, though it was a practical one for the time – just below the knee over knickerbockers and long puttees.

Du Faur went on to be the second person to climb Mount Tasman, and the first to ascend Mount Dampier and Mount Sefton as well as other 3000 m peaks, and was the first to traverse all three peaks of Mt Cook along with two other climbers in 1913.

She was trained by Muriel Cadogan, and the pair became close friends and later partners. Their lives ended in tragedy though – they lived in England together for a time, but separated, and Cadogan died on a return journey to Australia in 1929.

Du Faur returned to Australia and lived in Sydney, but suffered from depression and struggled with the loss of Cadogan. She took her own life in 1935.

Their legacy lives on though, with the Du Faur, Pibrac and Cadogan Peaks of the Southern Alps named in their memories.

Anita Ross’ Cloud Piercer

Freda in the Auckland Weekly News, announcing her success as “the first lady to climb Mount Cook’. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries)
Wellington filmmaker Anita Ross came across Freda Du Faur’s story completely by accident, while reading about the accomplishments of women in New Zealand in the 20th Century.

“I read the entry and I just couldn’t believe it. That there was this woman who decided to hop over the ditch from Australia to New Zealand to go climbing mountains, in the early 20th Century – in a skirt, and didn’t let anything or anyone hold her back.

“Then I read about how that journey paralleled her personal journey of falling in love with a woman and trying to create a family with her, and even moving to the other side of the world so they could be left alone to do that. And how that all fell apart. It’s all very interesting and emotional.”

Ross’ film will concentrate on Du Faur’s early climbing. She says she was initially ambitious and wanted to cover two timelines, both her climbing and her later life with Muriel Cadogan in England, but needed to scale it back because the script was just too long.

“I’m certainly not pretending that she was straight. She was a gay woman, so that is definitely part of her character.”

Ross says she found during her research that Du Faur was not an easy person. “But what I found very fascinating about her was that very early on she made decisions for herself. Which in the early 20th Century, especially for a woman born into a well-to-do family with all sort of expectations like getting married, being a society woman and serving tea – she just wasn’t that at all.”

She says it was also interesting that the climber’s family played a big part in her drive, with its motto urging their children to make a name for themselves.

“So she grew up believing that about herself, which was really unusual for a little girl then. She always wanted her own career, she always wanted to be her own person.”

Ross says Du Faur may have also suffered from bipolar disorder, “which would have made it really, really hard for her to assert herself all the time and keep on track with what she wanted to achieve. But she battled through that.”

Mount Cook from Red Lake on Mt Sebastopol, from Freda’s memoir ‘The Conquest of Mount Cook’

The filmmaker says the response to her project from the climbing community has been really positive. She hopes it resonates with the lgbti community too, and says she is working very hard to do justice to the amazing story and wants to get the word out.

“There are people out there who have heard of Freda Du Faur and are fascinated by her story. And I think the more people who are aware of her story, the more people will be interested in seeing it on screen."

Her script is at the advanced draft stage and has been selected for an intensive development workshop for emerging screenwriters in Vermont this September, run by Stowe Story Labs, which she says is a great sign she is on track.

“It’s about focusing on each individual project and taking it to the next step,” Ross says. “But also learning things that will help actually bring it from script to screen.”

She welcomes feedback from the community about what it thinks of the project, and on how Freda Du Faur can be presented in an authentic way.

“There are not enough films out there which show gay, lesbian and transgender people. Though that seems to be changing. But often when you do see them, it’s in a very stereotypical way – and Freda doesn’t deserve that and the community deserves better than that.”

Ross has run a fundraising campaign to pay for the trip on PledgeMe and is just $180 away from her target, with five days to go. She says people have been generous and fantastic and she is very grateful, but needs the last bit as it’s an all or nothing campaign.

You can help out via the link below


Jacqui Stanford - 26th August 2015

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