Producer Melanie Coombs linked — but not — to Love and Fury

04 July, 2012 by Sandy George

The filmmakers behind Love and Fury have the blessing of producer Melanie Coombs (Mary and Max) for the documentary about the clandestine love affair between her grandfather, the influential public servant Nugget Coombs, and poet, environmentalist and Aboriginal rights campaigner Judith Wright.

“Grandpa was a public figure and for a lot of people this is a very interesting story,” Coombs told IF Magazine.


“We all knew about it [the affair] but my grandmother was a very observant Catholic and while there was talk of them divorcing at some point early on in the Nugget/Judith affair I think that it was decided that it was best for the whole of both the Wright and Coombs families for it to be this secret.”

Coombs was one of the first people the filmmakers – director John Hughes (What I Have Written), who wrote the script with Penelope Chai, and producer Philippa Campey (Murundak: Songs of Freedom) – contacted and she gave them access to a lot of family photos and slides.

“I actually worked with John when he was at SBS and I would trust Pip with my life.”

The half-hour project will contain a lot of archive material including stills and moving footage, but the central core will be the letters written by the couple to each other, sometimes as often as three times each week.

“The National Library of Australia has hundreds of these letters archived in its collection and on 1 January 2009, an embargo on them was lifted,” said Campey. “For the first time, they became available for viewing, and Judith and Nugget’s 25-year relationship became public.”

The letters sparked articles in The Monthly and Meanjin.

Filmed interviews were conducted last year as part of the development of Love and Fury, which has investment from Screen Australia and will screen on ABC TV.

Wright and Nugget Coombs met in the late 1960s and he invited her onto the Board of the Australian Council for the Arts in the early-1970s.

“Winning Australian Government support for the arts was one of Nugget’s lifelong passions, and he drove the process to achieve it throughout the late 1960s, under the conservative governments of Holt, Gorton and McMahon,” said Campey, who describes the pair as “each, in their own way, intellectual celebrities”.

She said the creative team aims to deliver an evocative, impressionistic “executive summary” of the relationship and the values and commitments that gave it life.

In an attempt to redress the balance, Melanie Coombs made a short experimental documentary on her grandmother, Lallie, which screened at the St Kilda and Melbourne film festivals in the 1990s. She recently received development finance from Screen Australia for Byzantine, which is to be directed by Cris Jones (The Funk).