The West Australian (2003)
Why Toni Collette is not welcome in WA
September 2003 | Written by Tony Barrass
With one throwaway remark, starlet Toni Collette has stunned mining giant BHP Billiton, residents of the outback town of Newman and even the producers of her Pilbara-set movie, Japanese Story. After helping turn public opinion against the Mauds Landing development on WA's Ningaloo reef last year, Collette has now accused BHP of raping the earth after the conglomerate spent $50,000 giving her unprecedented access to the world's biggest open-cut iron ore mine. In an interview on ABC TV on Monday night, Collette told Andrew Denton the Mt Whaleback operation in the Pilbara, which employs about 1000 people and last year earned just under $2 billion in exports, was disgusting.

"That's a disgusting mine where they actually shot a huge explosion while we were there and I just felt sick about it. Let's rape the earth," she said. But NRW Contracting manager Allan Gordon, who spent two days grading 12km of track to spectacular Kalgans Pool so low-slung film trucks could access the waterhole, said: "What's wrong with the b...?" "We bent over backwards to help her and her mob, particularly BHP and the Shire who must have spent a heap. I just wonder why she would say such a thing. The film blokes I dealt with were great. They threw me a couple of cartons after we finished the work so I've got no idea why she would say that. There would be some pretty p..... off people, I would reckon." BHP Billiton yesterday refused to comment but sources confirmed senior management was seething at the backhander. They said BHP dedicated more than $50,000 in personnel and equipment, including a 240-tonne truck, to the project and a month accommodating the star of Muriel's Wedding and the film's 50-strong crew.

BHP provided buses to move the entourage around the 5.5km-long, 1.5km-wide mine and laid pads to enable cameras to film from flat surfaces. It carried out safety briefings and had staff set aside specifically to deal with the difficult Hollywood star. It even hired a 35mm wide-screen projector from Perth and shipped it to Newman on September 14 at its own expense to hold a special premiere of the film at the Newman recreational centre. Japanese Story producers Sue Maslin, Sue Brooks and Alison Tilson distanced themselves from the comments and said they were "surprised and disappointed".

"Her comments in no way reflect the intentions of the filmmakers but more importantly it does not reflect the spirit of the film itself," they said. "Anyone who drives a car, wears glasses and cooks in a stainless steel saucepan needs to ask where it came from. People are entitled to their own opinion but they should go and see the film and decide for themselves how we have portrayed them." East Pilbara Shire chief executive Allen Cooper said the comments were disparaging and showed a misunderstanding of mining and the outback. Shire president Alan Cochrane said he was surprised Collette had bitten the hand that had fed her.

Steve Grace, owner of the Seasons Hotel Newman, where the crew stayed for more than a fortnight last August, said he met Collette once when he was asked to replace the fridge in her room so her chef could prepare her special dietary requirements. "They were very demanding and there was a couple of minor hiccups but generally everyone behaved themselves," he said. About 15km south of Newman, Capricorn Roadhouse owner Murray Bloor wouldn't hear a bad word about Collette and her crew.

"They were here for about two days filming and they were terrific, the whole lot of them," Mr Bloor said. "It was a terrific experience and I'm quite surprised about what she said. I didn't think she was that demanding at all."