Health and Safety Officer, Laurence Pettinari at the hazardous trenches at Kelso, dressed in his staple khakis.
Photo by Wendy McDougall.
From day one of the shoot, I noticed a man in camouflage fatigues who seemed to be everywhere, always watching, watching. Sometimes he’d come up behind a member of the crew and gently move them to one side, out of the shade of a palm tree.
I soon discovered that Laurence Pettinari’s job is to keep everyone on the cast and crew safe from everything from falling coconuts to explosives. He has to anticipate every danger, make a detailed report of every scene in terms of risk assessment and then make sure that the worst case scenario never happens. On Hill 60 explosives, weapons, trenches, low roofed tunnels, horses, rats, electric cables, candles, mud and water all present particular challenges, to name but a few.
One of Laurence’s early reports out at the homestead where the scenes involving the Waddell family were shot warned of the dangers of standing under palms ‘unless they have been de-nutted’. Sounds painful. ‘I’ve seen it happen to people on holidays,’ says Pettinari, who has been a Health and Safety Officer for ten years and has learned to interpret even the most benign details as potential risks.
‘When we were scouting locations for Eucalyptus (the aborted Australian adaptation of Murray Bail’s novel) one of the dangers we had to note was the risk of falling branches in high wind. They are not called widow makers for nothing.’
‘Luckily, we’ve had no close shaves on this set apart from one incident with an untrained horse which panicked when blinkers were put on it. No one was injured, though the horse gave everyone a bit of a fright.’
He describes the Kelso trench location as ‘tough and dangerous but at least it was contained. Everyone had headlamps or personal torches so they could see where they were going during night shoots. Explosions are always a worry, no matter how much testing you do,’ says Laurence, who briefly considered a career in the military before discovering that he could enjoy the thrill of combat without the fatalities, in the film world.
In the studio where the tunnel sequences are being shot ‘dehydration is an issue as the days get warmer now’ says Laurence who experienced intense forty degree-plus heat shooting out in the desert near Winton in Queensland on the road movie Gone. ‘We had cool rooms set up and I got everyone tuned in to drinking miso soup and tea as part of the strategy for maintaining body temperature. You take a leaf from other cultures like the Japanese and the Indians when it comes to extreme conditions.’
A tidy Virgo (his description) Laurence lives on the Gold Coast. So far, his career highlight was spending six months in Port Douglas working on The Thin Red Line (‘Five day weeks- bliss’ he says, referring to Hill 60’s more arduous six day week schedule). Another highlight was working on Matrix 2 and 3. ‘Those were huge units with lots of rigging and flying so very challenging in terms of stunts. But with 1500 people involved, you just can’t hold everyone’s hand,’ says Laurence, before lugging a fire extinguisher on to the set.
When he’s not watching over other people’s safety, Laurence relaxes riding motorbikes and submitting to the ‘controlled pain of Japanese style contemporary tattooing.’