The day began with a short drive down the banks of the river Drava, under the railway, then up the hill to a rather battered set of warehouses set behind a car park, the site of Stalag XVIIID, where my father was a prisoner of war from 1941 to 1944. The day’s shoot is to be made up of Monty officially meeting me on camera, and exploring the old camp, then traveling out to Ožbalt to follow in my father’s footsteps up the hill to freedom.
What had occurred to me the previous day was reinforced today. Due to setup times and all the reshoots, there is no real opportunity for fresh expression. For consistency, I found that I must decide which version of myself to present to the camera and stick with it. It was odd being conscious of this at the place where my father played his great impersonation of himself as the friendly colonial.
Once Monty and I had shaken hands on camera, and I had done my broadest Aussie g’day, we moved on the deeply disturbing task of entering the former Russian POW compound. The warehouses that held the Commonwealth POWs are in use, full of modern commercial activity. Not so where the Russians were held. Monty led me out of the warm spring sun into an icebox of despair that filled two levels. What had been built at the end of the nineteenth century as a simple almost elegant Hapsburg customs bond store on a railway siding; became for nine months after July 1941 a compacted hell for more than five thousand Russian POWs who were deliberately starved to death in the building by the German army. The spirit of the place is dark, hungry and angry; an awful place, we filmed very quietly and left as soon as we could.
Ožbalt was a much happier place to be, in the country, high above the Drava river, in the sun, surrounded by nature and birdsong. Monty and I scrambled up the railway embankment and a hundred yards beyond up, the steep slope; replicating the first dash away from the work site. Then it was a more considered walk up the hill towards Lovrenc na Pohorju. The distance to Lovrenc was ten kilometres, and we were going to walk five for the cameras. Ožbalt and Lovrenc both sit at about 450 metres above sea level. The summit of the hill between the two settlement is 950 metres, so it was a steady, steep, winding walk. I was grateful for any stops to film scenery, particularly after my right foot sank deep into a deep drift of leaves between two rocks scraping my shin ( a moment of reality television I am sure will make the final cut).
We reached the top of the hill after about two and a half hours, stepping out of the woods into a great meadow, with a view down to Lovrenc. Drone shoots were setup and shot, then Monty and I officially said goodbye for the cameras. Then we all walked down towards Lovrenc (harder on my knees than climbing), being picked up by the van halfway down, just past dusk. We then travelled in darkness through the hills to a hostel, unpacked into our dormitories and sat down to a fabulous traditional Pohorje meal of mushroom soup followed by a variety of meats and grains followed by strudels. I slept well