mountain pygmy possum

Sustainability on Set

Late last year I directed a short film that was shot over several days in the Victorian Alps. Since being a part of nature is one of the key themes of the film, we took the potential environmental impact of our shoot seriously. The huge international film and TV industry is not known for its environmental consciousness on the whole, but there are exceptions. The team behind the environmental disaster film The Day After Tomorrow planted enough trees to cover their carbon emissions to ensure that their production was not undercutting the film’s message. If you’re planning a shoot in Victoria, there are plenty of ways you can make sure your film leaves no footprint on its setting.

The first thing we made sure to do was keep our crew minimal. With two cast members, director, cinematographer, producer, sound, lighting and an assistant, we could still fit ourselves and our gear comfortably into two cars. This meant less mouths to feed, less people to transport and less energy used to cook in, heat, and light our accommodation.

Image: Meegan May

Image: Meegan May

Since our fairly remote locations around Mt Buller weren’t accessible by public transport, we used two cars to transport the cast and crew to and from the accommodation and the locations. One car would almost certainly have been needed anyway to transport the equipment – hauling it onto a train wouldn’t have been an option – so it made sense to make the most of the space we had.

We were fortunate to have access to a house in which we could both shoot the interior scenes and accommodate the whole crew. Everyone opted to be vegetarian for the week, saving both money and emissions from transport and farming. Our menus were planned well in advance and our food sourced from local suppliers in Melbourne before we made the four-hour trip to the mountains.

Recycling our waste was a big part of the effort. Scripts, call sheets and other notes were all printed or written on recycled paper, which were recycled again after the shoot. Even the toilet paper we brought to the accommodation was recycled! We minimised our food waste and recycled all packaging.

Image: Meegan May

Image: Meegan May

Our exterior locations were on the summit of Mt Buller and beside the Delatite River, so having a ‘leave no trace’ policy on set was essential, ensuring that we left nothing behind. We only set out into these locations at times of day when we were unlikely to disturb wildlife with noise and movement. As some of our locations contained the habitat of the endangered mountain pygmy-possum and our motive was primarily to gain experience in our industry, we also opted to donate any profits the film may make to Zoos Victoria’s Mountain Pygmy-possum Recovery Program. Now we can only hope that the film does make some money for the program!

It was always a priority for us to eventually offset the shoot’s carbon emissions. Using an online carbon calculator we were able to estimate the emissions caused by our transport, accommodation and eating habits, which came to less than one tonne. This was not only easy but cheap to offset with our chosen non-profit, which protects vital areas of forest around the world. Next time we will probably choose to offset with a more locally focused group.

Image: Meegan May

Image: Meegan May

Every step to reduce this film’s impact was simple and met with no resistance; in each case it seemed like the obvious thing to do. How many films have awed us with the beauty of their natural settings? Titanic mountain ranges, wide-open skies, dark magical forests – these places inspire us and we want to share them with the world. If, in doing so, we contribute to their destruction, then haven’t we undermined our purpose? It’s our responsibility to leave no trace on these places that feed our creativity and, where possible, to make a positive impact on their futures. 

For more information on the short film Gaest, visit their Facebook page.


Alex Mullarky is a writer and environmentalist from the UK who has called Melbourne home since 2014. She is a graduate of English Literature and is particularly interested in the connection between language and landscape. 

You can find her on Twitter at @saesteorra

Banner image courtesy of Meegan May. 

Possum Tragic: Victoria's Vanishing Vertebrate

Deep in the Australian bush, a pair of possums set out on an adventure that will take them across the continent. Grandma Poss makes her granddaughter Hush invisible to keep her safe from predators, but when Hush decides she wants to be seen, Poss must work her bush magic to make her visible again.

Possum Magic, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Julie Vivas, first appeared on shelves more than thirty years ago. Over the course of three decades this charming piece of children’s literature has worked its way into the country’s collective imagination. With a magical narrative and a host of native characters, Possum Magic has become a pivotal part of childhood in Australia.

Yet this whimsical tale of a disappearing possum is not as far from reality as we may think. Though species like Ringtail and Brushtail Possums are a common sight in Melbourne’s parks and gardens, elsewhere in Victoria their relative, the mountain pygmy possum, is in danger of extinction.

The mountain pygmy possum is just one species currently under threat of extinction.  Image: Matt West

The mountain pygmy possum is just one species currently under threat of extinction. Image: Matt West

At Mount Buller, one of only three populations of mountain pygmy possum in the world is dwindling to invisibility. Australia’s only hibernating marsupial measures up to 29cm from the top of its head to the tip of its tail, and weighs between 30 to 60 grams. Confined to alpine and subalpine regions due to their dependence on winter snow, there are very few populations left in Australia (two in Victoria and one in New South Wales) and less than 2,000 individuals remaining today.

Hibernation is a vital part of life for the mountain pygmy possum.   Image:   Matt West

Hibernation is a vital part of life for the mountain pygmy possum.  Image: Matt West

In 1996, it was estimated that there were 300 adult female mountain pygmy possums at Mount Buller. Over the years their population has fallen rapidly, and in 2007 it was estimated that there were as few as 30 adults surviving. Habitat destruction is one of the key reasons for the dramatic decline in their numbers; the growth of the ski resort at Mount Buller, for example, has negatively impacted on the mountain pygmy possum population. Climate change is affecting snowfall and disrupting hibernation, while wildfires are damaging to their habitats.

This species is now estimated to inhabit a total range of less than seven square kilometres. As the snowline recedes across the country, their numbers continue to fall. Surprisingly, the first record of the species was discovered in 1894: a fossil found in the Wombeyan Caves, New South Wales. For the best part of a century, it was the only evidence that the creatures had ever existed. A living specimen wasn’t found until 1966. Now, nearly fifty years later, we are on the brink of losing them forever. Like Grandma Poss, we need to work some bush magic before our possums vanish completely.

Let us hope that the unique mountain pygmy possum does not disappear like little Hush.  Image: Julie Vivas

Let us hope that the unique mountain pygmy possum does not disappear like little Hush. Image: Julie Vivas

Mem Fox’s earlier drafts of her most famous work featured mice in the leading roles. It wasn’t until late in the process that Hush and her Grandma became possums. Would the tale of Hush the vanishing mouse have become as integral to the Australian psyche? Likely not. The true value of Mem Fox’s and Julie Vivas’ work is to be found not only in the telling of a magical and memorable story, but in reminding children and adults that there is magic to be found in the bush.


Banner image courtesy of Julie Vivas