Story-teller of the Stinson

20170721_113337 (2)The strong, resonant voice gives him away; for half a century he’s been a radio and television announcer, and a passionate documentary producer. “I like telling the story of those who deserve to have their stories told,” he says. Ten documentaries, and perhaps the best plot is his own, parts of which he shares with me over a coffee.

John Schindler is no relation, as far as he knows, of Oskar made famous by Thomas Keneally’s book and subsequent Spielberg film. “He saved thousands of people, so I wish I was,” John says. And therein lies the tale, he’s a story-teller dedicated to preserving the extraordinary achievements and memory of others, and yet his own remains untold.

Twenty years after the Second World War, John arrived in Berlin, Germany. He knew no one, so began knocking on doors. The first was answered by an old German, and John asked did he speak English. “Ja,” the man answered, “I was a POW of the British for four years.” John was subsequently given a place to stay, and work demolishing buildings damaged during the war.

In England, John befriended a number of Australian navy officers, which was prophetic forty years later when filming “Tigers & Snakes – the Story of the Krait”. This was the first time that the story of Australia’s WW2 secret Z Special Unit had been revealed.

John needed a destroyer to play the part of a Japanese ship. He asked the Royal Australian Navy, and extraordinarily they said yes, so long as the captain agreed. The captain of the HMAS Vampire was the very same officer he’d befriended years before. The production was a success, with the Vampire emerging from the mist at Sydney Heads. Its numbers on the bow were painted over by the ship’s crew, and it looked every inch a Japanese warship. The film won awards for best historical re-enactment.

I met John because of his documentary “Miracle of the Mountains”, about the extraordinary rescue of survivors of a plane crash in 1937 by Australian bush folk, and one in particular Bernard O’Reilly. I’m retracing Bernard’s footsteps in September to raise money for the charity Drug ARM which promotes a healthy lifestyle by reducing the harms of alcohol and other drugs. The O’Reilly family is adamant that John’s film remains the best depiction of those events 80 years ago.

This 1987 documentary includes original interviews with crash survivor Sir John Proud, O’Reilly’s daughter and nephew, sons of the pilot and a crash victim, and archival footage and interviews of Bernard O’Reilly himself. The re-enactments are played by some of the O’Reilly family.

The 1997 60th anniversary edition includes an additional remarkable interview with Ray Buchanan, who as a 16-year-old boy accompanied O’Reilly and the doctor on the climb back up the mountain to be first on the scene. He wasn’t available for the original filming because he’d been injured in his sawmill, however ten years later he was a charming old bushy, sitting on a rock at Christmas Creek, recalling an incredible story as only a first-hand witness from the bush can. For me, it was the crowning glory of a special retelling of an amazing story.

John is a genuine story-teller who loves to reveal deserving truth about hidden history. He supports brave people and good causes. He’s even offered to provide to Drug ARM with $10 from every sale of the DVD made through History Out There. (Email me to arrange payment and shipping.)

I didn’t want my conversation with him to end. However, I know it never will, with his documentaries living forever, and memories of a magical morning talk.

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