How to see the real-life world of Jasper Jones

Photo of Gemma Nisbet

A little town in Western Australia's South West was a natural fit for the big-screen adaptation of the much-loved Aussie novel. 

Most West Australians know Pemberton as a lovely, leafy spot for a weekend getaway but for cinemagoers around Australia it has become the fictional town of Corrigan circa 1969, thanks to its starring role in the film adaptation of WA author Craig Silvey’s much-loved young adult novel Jasper Jones.

Described by one critic as “an Australian To Kill a Mockingbird”, the novel tells the story of bookish young Charlie Bucktin, who wakes one hot summer night to find local bad boy Jasper Jones outside his window seeking help to solve a mystery that will consume their small town. 

The film version was directed by Rachel Perkins, perhaps best known for Bran Nue Dae. Its stars include Toni Colette and Hugo Weaving, with Levi Miller (who appeared in 2014’s Pan with Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara) as Charlie and Aaron McGrath (from Australian TV shows including Redfern Now, The Secret River and The Doctor Blake Mysteries) as Jasper. Angourie Rice is Eliza Wishart.

The decision to film in Pemberton was apparently an easy choice for the filmmakers, who were attracted to the former timber town’s authentic period feel, with many original houses built between the 1920s and the 1950s. 

“It’s a town that, for a number of streets, looks exactly as it was in the 1960s,” producer Vincent Sheehan has said. “It’s quite magical. It’s a very particular, almost Twain-esque setting, completely different to the rest of Australia in that time period. It was perfect for the setting of Jasper Jones.”

The Pemberton location also helped to foster a sense of community between the approximately 60 crew and the locals. Many locals were extras or background actors in the film, and Weaving — who plays the feared Mad Jack Lionel — became a frequent customer at the town’s Cafe Brasil. 

“When I look at scenes now, I can see my mate who worked at the local bottle shop, and the guy that ran the local store,” cinematographer Mark Wareham has said. “I’ve got really fond memories of the warmth of the people there.”

Hoping to capitalise on the spotlight the film has shone on Pemberton, the South West Development Commission has produced a filming locations guide to help visitors follow in the footsteps of Jasper Jones and see some of the buildings used in the movie.

Among the Pemberton filming locations featured in the free guide are a property at 18 Brockman Street, which stood in for the Corrigan Police Station, and the Pemberton Community Resource Centre, which was used for exterior shots of the Corrigan Library.

Just up the street, the Pemberton RSL Memorial Library was used for the fictional library’s interior scenes. The building is a former RSL hall which dates from the 1950s and was gifted to the local shire in 1985.

Other notable locations include Pemberton Mill Hall, aka the Corrigan Town Hall. Listed on the State Heritage Register, this timber building was constructed during the early days of the Pemberton town site, circa 1913, using volunteer labour and donated jarrah. Its many uses over the years have included a town hall, school, community venue for weddings, dances and concerts, a Red Cross blood bank and a local cinema — which makes it all the more fitting that the upcoming Unearthed Pemberton festival will include two themed film screenings of Jasper Jones at the hall, complete with 60s clothing and a traditional Country Women’s Association WA-style supper. 

The guide also mentions various things to see and do around Pemberton and the very real town of Donnybrook, which is referenced in the film. 

(Picture at top: Levi Miller as Charlie Bucktin and Angourie Rice as Eliza Wishart in the film. Picture by David Dare Parker.)

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