The Dish is an Australian movie based on the true story of the Parkes Radio Telescope’s involvement in the Apollo 11 moon landing. Parkes is a country town in central New South Wales, Australa, and has the largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere.
The movie introduces the moon landing at a primary school, where the pupils are giving show-and-tell talks with home made models. Most of the students have models of the moon and a rocket. But the teacher, Miss Nolan (Roz Hammond), is relieved when one student, Melanie (Naomi Wright), has something different—the Parkes Radio Telescope.
The school is supposed to be the Balmain State School in Sydney.
There is no school in Balmain with that name.
The building is actually the Fitzroy North Primary School, at 9-11 Alfred Cresent, Fitzroy North (3.5 kilometers north-east of the centre of Melbourne).
It is one of the oldest schools in Melbourne. Constructed and opened in 1875, it was originally called the Alfred Cresent School.
It was designed by Henry Robert Bastow (1839-1920), who came to Australia from Bridport, Dorset, UK. Free compulsory education was introduced into Victoria in 1872, which led to the building of many schools throughout the state. Bastow joined the Education Department in 1873 and was responsible for many buildings in the state, from his time at the Education Department and later with the Public Works Department where he was a Senior Architect. Sadly, he was retrenched in 1894 during the economic depression.
The Parlament House scenes were filmed in the Old Parlament House, Canberra.
The new Parlament House in Capital Hill was opened in 1988. So these scenes were filmed in the original Parlament House that was used in 1969.
This scene opens in the main street of, supposedly, Parkes. The Mayor of Parkes, Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing), his assistant Len Purvis (Andrew Gilbert) walk across the road.
Despite the movie is set in Parkes, most of the town scenes were filmed nearby in Forbes (30 kilometers south-west of Parkes). Unlike Parkes, Forbes has kept many of its historical buildings.
The Wiradjuri Aboriginal people originally lived in the area. Both Parkes and Forbes were first visited by Europeans in 1817, when surveyed by John Oxley, the Surveyor General of New South Wales (NSW). And both towns grew after gold was discovered in 1861. Parkes was named after Henry Parkes, a premier of NSW who is known as the “Father of Federation” in bringing together the different states to form the Commonwealth of Australia. Forbes was named after Francis Forbes, who became the first Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court.
The opening shot was taken from the corner of Lachlan Street and Court Street, Forbes. The white building in the background is the Forbes Town Hall, where the other exterior scenes will be filmed.
The building on the right is the Forbes Post Office.
The building on the left was the Forbes District Ambulance building, with a sign over the name to change it to the Parkes District Ambulance station. It is located at 110 Lachlan Street, Forbes.
It was built in 1921 for the Bank of Australasia, and used as an ambulance station until it was damaged by arson attacks in late October and early November 2001. This was after the movie was filmed in 2000, so in the movie it was still intact.
It is located at “Armstrong’s Corner”, at the corner of Lachlan Street and Court Street. Jack Fullarton Armstrong (1836–1905) was a Scottish pharmacist who had his Apothecary Hall (or pharmacy) at this location since the mid-1860’s. He was also a magistrate, coroner and electoral officer. He was an alderman of the inaugural Forbes' inaugral municipal council, and was a mayor for three times.
At the end of 2019, there were plans for the Forbes Arts Society to restore the building as a cultural centre and art gallery.
The young cadet, Keith Morrison (Matthew Moore) walks in front of a hotel (i.e. pub) and meets the mayor.
Pearl (Kerry Walker) then comes out of the hotel and talks to the mayor.
This is the Post Office Hotel at 117 Lachlan Street, Forbes. It is the same location as the previous shot, and is consisistent with where the mayor and assistant were walking towards.
It is largely unchanged from the movie, with the exception of the advertising signs on it.
The Victoria Hotel can be seen, across the road in the background, when Pearl is talking. Forbes had many pubs!
Bronwyn Spears (Denise Roberts) drives up in a car, gets out and walks into a building where the ball is going to be held.
The car is a Hillman Minx Series IIIC Saloon, which was manufactured between 1961 and 1963. Hillman was a British car brand, which had been bought out by another British company, the Rootes Group. This car would have been built in the Rootes Australia factory in Melbourne. Rootes Austraila was merged with Chrysler Australia in 1965 and the Melbourne factory was closed in 1972.
This was filmed in Harold Street, Forbes, with the Vandenberg Hotel in the background.
The Vandenberg Hotel was built around 1865 and was originally called the Court House Hotel.
The building she goes into is the Town Hall, at 2 Court Street, Forbes. It was built in 1890–91.
The exterior of the Town Hall is seen later when waiting for the ambassador to arrive, and even later when waiting for the Australian Prime Minister to arrive.
The interior scenes of the ball were not filmed here.
On Wednesday night, 16 July 1969, the mayor holds an “Out to Launch” party at his house to watch on television the launch of Apollo 11.
The outside of the house was filmed at the presbytery of the Catholic Church at 13 Johnson Street, Forbes—known to the locals as the Bishop’s House.
Notice the trees have grown considerably in the 19 years since the movie was filmed.
The house also appears in other exterior scenes featuring the mayor’s house. For example, this scene after the Sunday lunch scene: where the NASA representative, Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton), says goodbye to the mayor’s two children: Billy (Carl Snell) and Marie (Lenka Kripac) McIntyre.
We see the front door of the mayor’s house, when Keith Morrison (Matthew Moore) visits the house on Saturday afternoon.
The door of the presbytery has a red stained glass cross, which the movie attempts to disguise.
The dawn montage of Thursday, 17 July 1969, starts with a view down the street.
Again, this was filmed in Forbes, looking down Court Street with the Town Hall on the left and the Vandenberg Hotel on the right.
This is actually an afternoon shot with the sun setting behind the buildings, pretending it is rising in the morning.
Another shot of the town.
This was taken looking north-east along Lachlan Street with the Post Office on the right and the old ambulance station across the road behind it.
This was another sunset shot, pretending to be a sunrise shot.
Post Office was built between 1979 and 1881.
The montage includes a shot of a church.
This is the Saint Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at 11 Harold Street, Forbes. It was built in 1877.
Another shot of the church behind a fountain.
Since St Andrew’s is on the north-east side of the park, this was another shot taken at dusk and pretending it is dawn.
The Grecian designed fountain The fountain was donated by William Thomas in 1891, when he was the Mayor of Forbes.
The fountain is located in Victoria Park. It is across the road from St Andrew’s as well as the Town Hall and the Vandenberg Hotel.
Another shot in the montage shows a horse drawn milk cart.
I don’t know where this was filmed. If you know, please let me know.
A baker loads loafs of bread from a shop into a van.
Finally, a scene that was filmed in Parkes.
Johnson’s Bakery is at 27 Welcome Street, Parkes. It has been in Parkes since 1933.
Two butchers opens up their shop.
Another scene in Parkes: the Dwyer’s Meats shop at 216 Clarinda Street, Parkes.
Dwyer’s Meats has been in Parkes for 77 years. The family took over a previous butcher shop in 1942. At one point there were nine butcher shops in Parkes, but today there are none. The retail shop closed in February 2019, when the grandson of the original owner, Mark Dwyer, retired.
The Dwyer’s butchery was sold to Food Service Central in 2003 and was renamed to Dwyer’s Fresh. Food Service Central was later sold to PFD Food Services in 2014. It now supplies wholesale meats to the catering industry. It no longer has a retail store, sells some of their products were available from D’Aquino’s Parkes Cellars in Parkes.
The building on the south side of the butcher’s shop has been demolished since the movie was made.
The computer is seen when Glenn Latham (Tom Long) explains to Janine Kellerman (Eliza Szonert) how they know where Apollo 11 is.
This computer is not a prop, but is the real computer that was at the Parkes Radio Telescope at that time. It was lent to the filmmakers by the Australian Computer Museum Society (ACMS), who had it in their collection.
The computer can be seen in the background of other shots in the control room. For example, behind Ross “Mitch” Mitchell (Kevin Harrington) when he comes up with the plan to allow the ambassador to listen to Neil Armstrong.
It is a PDP-9 minicomputer from the Digital Equipment Corproration (DEC). Introduced in 1968, only 445 of them were ever built.
In reality the power loss didn’t happen, but if power was lost the computer’s memory would not have been wiped. The PDP-9 uses core memory, which doesn’t loose its data when there is no power. Though they would have to know how to restart the computer so it is in the correct state.
Today, the equipment inside the dish is much more modern. This is the control room under the Parkes Radio Telescope.
On Friday, 18 July 1969, the American ambassador arrives in Parkes. In this scene the Mayor of Parkes Bob McIntyre (Roy Billing), his assistant Len Purvis (Andrew Gilbert), and the mayor’s wife May McIntyre (Genevieve Mooy) are waiting for the American ambassador to arrive.
This was filmed outside the Town Hall in Forbes. The building is at the corner of Court Street and Harold Street.
Next to the Town Hall is the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Harold Street. The Forbes Post Office is also next to the Town Hall.
The ambassador, Howard Cotfield (John McMartin), arrives by car.
The ambassador’s car drives down Court Street towards the Town Hall.
In the movie, the Albion Hotel can be seen in the background. It was originally built in the 1860’s and once used as a Cobb & Co booking office.
A fire in the early hours of 10 February 2009 severely damaged the building and it was demolished. Today the Albion Park is where it once stood.
A ball is held on Friday night. There is a shot showing people outside the ball.
This is not the Forbes Town Hall.
I suspect it was a pick-up shot. Probably taken somewhere in Melbourne, where Working Dog Productions (who produced the movie) is based.
Suddenly the power goes out in Parkes.
This shot was taken near the Parkes railway station. Welcome Street curving to the left and Lachlan Street going right.
Parkes and Forbes are near the Lachlan River, which passes the south of Forbes. It is one of the major rivers in New South Wales: named in 1815 after Lachlan Macquarie, the governor of the colony of New South Wales.
The shot would have been filmed from the top of this pedestrian footbridge over the railway line.
Most of the scenes that take place on Saturday were filmed indoors on soundstages.
One filming “location” that often fails to get mentioned is the moon. Yes, they used the same moon that was visited in 1969!
The film took great effort into getting all the technical details correct. This includes having the moon at the correct location at the right time. In the film, they find the moon at azimuth 57°08': which would have been at 12:25pm. Shortly after they lock onto Apollo 11’s signal at azimuth 67°31'. This is all consistent with them finding it “with 15 minutes to spare” before their shift to receive the transmissions.
The next morning opens with a shot of Breaden’s Tyre Service Station.
The Forbes Inn Hotel at 43 Rankin Street, Forbes, now sits on the former site of Breaden’s Service Station.
A shot of a church, with a sign saying, “He has stretched out the heavens like a cloth, spread them like a tent for men to live in.”
It is Isaiah 40:22, but not a literal quote from any particular translation of the Bible. Maybe it was changed for clarity or copyright reasons?
This is the outside of Saint John’s Anglican Church in Forbes, from the Court Street side. There is a different sign there now. I suspect the sign in the movie was the real sign from outside the church, since a prop would have been a more 1969 vintage style.
The Town Hall can be seen reflected in the sign in the movie.
This church was designed by Benjamin Backhouse and was opened in 1877. It is made of locally quarried stone, and replaced a small timber church that was built in 1861.
After the service, the congegation talk outside the church. Len Purvis (Andrew Gilbert) and Ray (Jeff Keogh) discuss the televison coverage.
These scenes were filmed outside the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church—a different church from the opening shots! That was because St John’s had a funeral on when it came to shoot those scenes. Fortunately, everything was very close in Forbes: St Andrews was only 100 meters away from St John’s.
These scenes were filmed in the afternoon, even though it was supposed to be in the morning.
Since the movie is set in Australia, the local time is Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) which is 10 hours ahead of UTC. So although 20 July 1969 is often cited as the date of the moon landing, in Australia it was already Monday, 21 July 1969.
The movie was very accurate with the time of events:
Note: things were simpler in 1969: UTC was the same as Grenwich Mean Time (GMT) before leap seconds were introduced in 1972; and NSW did not start observing Daylight Savings Time until the end of October 1971 (although it had it during World War II). Not that the later would have mattered, since it was winter in Australia.
The movie finishes with an old Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill) back at the dish.
The CSIRO employee, Cameron (Billy Mitchell), tells him to go to the public entrance. His directions are correct: the visitor’s centre is back out and around to the left.
There are no posts in front of the entrance… thanks to Janine Kellerman (Eliza Szonert)?
Playing cricket inside the dish was made up for the movie.
This set of wickets was added much later. The wickets in the movie was taller and was marked out with temporary black tape. Although the dish appears throughout the movie, the wickets only appear during the cricket scene.
But hayrides are real.
The Parkes Radio Telescope is still operating—over 60 years since it opened in 1961—keeping busy with important scientific work, until there is a sequel to be filmed.
Credit should be given to Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Rob Sitch, who wrote, produced and conceived such a wonderful movie.