Heart of Gold artistic director Emily Avila with Australian screen legend Michael Caton.
Heart of Gold artistic director Emily Avila with Australian screen legend Michael Caton. Jacob Carson

Michael Caton: 'Gympie's where it started for me'

EASING back into a plush, golden chair on Saturday afternoon - it's very clear Australian film icon Michael Caton is at ease in Gympie.

In town for the tenth Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival, the actor was relishing the chance to pay a visit to the town he once called home.

"Well I was born in Monto, but I spent two years here in boarding school," he said.

"That's where it all started for me - that's where I caught the bug."

Getting his start as a performer for the Christian Brothers', he would take his act to spots all across Gympie.

"We just put on elaborate concerts, do sketches and mime shows - that sort of thing," he said.

"I would go do gigs around town for the Catholic Daughters of Australia, where I had a bit of an act."

The 74-year-old said those two years were incredibly formative for him, a perfect playground for a hell-raising childhood.

"It was just two wonderful years where you learned to stand on your own two feet," he said.

"Boarding school was just like Hogan's Heroes - the inmates were running the institution."


Michael Caton in Gympie for the Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival.
Michael Caton in Gympie for the Heart of Gold International Short Film Festival. Jacob Carson

As he sits and talks in the Gympie Civic Centre recounting his school life, a familiar face from the past came up to the chair.

Billy Springer went to school with Michael, with the actor's face lighting up as the two reconnected.

"I remember a photo where I had the sleeve of his jersey," Mr Caton said, laughing.

"I was trying to tackle him and all I managed to get was the sleeve."

In person, the actor is every bit the jovial and warm presence Australian audiences have come to know and love in films like 'The Castle' and television's 'Packed to the Rafters'.

In recent years however, he's taken the chance to explore more dramatic territory - with films like 'Last Cab to Darwin' and 'Three Summers' - which is screening at the Heart of Gold.

"My character starts off as a pretty embittered sort of person - the things that happen over the three summers are his journey," he said.

"To be honest I'm looking forward to doing a comedy - I look forward to that these days, rather than mining the dark depths of despair."

The production of 'Three Summers' saw Mr Caton film in Aboriginal territory, something he relished.

"I spent a lot of time with this huge Aboriginal group," he said.

"A hell of a lot of difference for anything I've ever struck, that I found really interesting."

The production of the film saw Mr Caton miss last year's festival, but he's returned this year as a juror.

"I've actually been trying to get back for three years," he said.

"I think I picked the right time to come back though being the tenth year."

While admitting his fellow jurors were more knowledgeable in the technical aspects of filmmaking, he said he was looking for something else when making his selections.

"I'm looking for an emotional connection, that's really important to me personally," he said, singling out a student entry in the festival.

"It was simple but honest, moving and searing - and I asked to present the award to them at the ceremony."

Looking ahead, one of the elder statesmen of the Australian film industry said there was a bright future ahead.

"If these student films are anything to go by, certainly," he said.

"They're the lifeblood of the industry, and rejuvenation is a good thing."