Packrafting in the Movies ~ On The Beach


In an occasional series here on IK&P, we trawl through the tangled archives of celluloid to seek out often over-looked packrafting action from the silver screen.
Our first candidate: Stanley Kramer’s 1959 rendition of Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic drama On The Beach (1957), starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner (left and right) plus a miscast and already twitchy Anthony Perkins warming up for Psycho in a year’s time. 

Someone in a Cold War bunker over-reacted and the world has turned dayglo (this actually nearly happened in 1983). But only the northern hemisphere has been obliterated. Australia remains uncontaminated but commodities are in short supply and the country is irrevocably turning toxic as wind currents spread fall-out right across the planet.
Although the film and the book shared an implausible ‘Keep Calm and Carry On [till the End]’ mood, for it’s time On The Beach was unusual in that the dangers of misused nuclear power were for once not ‘Attack-Of-The-Giant-Ants’ allegorical, but chillingly in-your-face realistic.


Packrafting Scene
American Navy sub commander Peck has taken refuge in Melbourne, but is asked to cross the Pacific in his nuclear-powered vessel to see if Arctic radiation levels might be dropping, and also to look into grabled morse signals emanating from San Diego. On the left a volunteer in a radiation suit and scuba tanks paddles ashore to investigate the radio transmissions.


Our man’s heavy get-up sees his navy issue packraft close to swamping. Continuity spotters will further observe that as he climbs the mooring ladder (left) he carelessly fails to tether his packraft, jeopardising his return to the sub even before the deadly fall-out permeates through his PVC suit.


Northern hemisphere radiation remains deadly – no one is alive. The San Diego signals turn out to be a tangled sun shade flapping over a morse keying board. Gregor returns to Melbourne and accedes to Ava Gardner’s charms (left – unlike in the book but we’ll let him off). Doing so cures her alcoholism and ‘wicked ways’ but with his loyal crew he heads back ‘home’ to the toxic US anyway. The antipodean remnant of humankind succumbs and the film ends with a Salvation Army banner flapping in now-deserted uptown Melbourne: ‘It’s Not Too Late… Brother’.

There’s more on packrafts here.