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A small photo on the piano began a long journey

Portrait Film producer John Schindler, right, is reaching the end of a very long road.

His epic documentary The Tragedy of the Montevideo Maru is about to hit TV screens across Australia.

And in a nice touch, the two one-hour episodes are to be broadcast back-to-back on Foxtel’s History Channel on Remembrance Day, Wednesday 11 November, from 7.30 pm.

There’s no release date yet for the DVD, but I can tell you it will have much additional material and interviews not shown in the TV version.

“I got engaged with the Montevideo Maru story two years ago, when Mum died,” says Schindler.

“My brother and sister and I were deciding what should be done with items very precious to her and I was intrigued by a small photo Mum had on her piano. It was of a handsome lad, a friend of the family named John Wilson Day.

“My Mum and her sister Molly had promised John and the three Turner brothers that they’d wave goodbye to their troopship, Zealandia, from the middle of Sydney Harbour Bridge as it sailed in 1941.

“But they were late and, when they got there, the ship had passed Pinchgut and was almost out of sight.

“John and most of his company didn't come back from the war. Mum said it was a mystery what happened to them. All she knew was they died on a ship called the Montevideo Maru.”

And that’s how John Schindler became involved with the Montevideo Maru. It’s a compelling story, as I come to learn myself - and as Schindler explains.

“In my films, I’m drawn to factual stories about human bravery and self sacrifice for the good of other human beings. In the case of the Montevideo Maru the ultimate sacrifice was made by over 1,000 brave young Australian men.

“I think this story should be told for their sake, for the sake of their relatives, many of whom are still alive, and for the sake of the Australian people who enjoy a democratic society because of them.”

The film includes interviews with people connected with the tragedy as well as archival footage, still photos and dramatic re-enactments. The original music is by two of Australia’s top film music composers. Production began in 2007 and filming has taken place in San Francisco, Boston, Japan, the UK and throughout Australia.

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