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  Sunday Too Far Away Wake Up, Sheeple
Year: 1975
Director: Ken Hannam
Stars: Jack Thompson, Max Cullen, Robert Bruning, Jerry Thomas, Peter Cummins, Tom Ewart, Sean Scully, Reg Lye, Laurie Rankin, Lisa Peers, Gregory Apps, Doug Lihou, Ken Weaver, Curt Jansen, Phyllis Ophel, John Charman, Ken Shorter, Tony Clay, Hedley Cullen
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Australia, 1955, and Foley (Jack Thompson) is a sheep shearer in the Outback who this morning on his way to town manages to break through some branches lying on the road and crashes his car, overturning it on the verge. Unhurt, he crawls from the wreckage and retrieves his suitcase, then commences the long walk through the heat to his destination: the local pub, where he orders a drink feeling none the worse for wear. There is work to be had soon, and he is available, for a farm some way away, but first there's the small matter of sorting out a bet with a loudmouth who thinks he knows better than Foley, and shearers do have their pride...

Even the hard-drinking ones, which was pretty much all of them. The Australian New Wave more or less began with this, or Australian films being taken seriously did at any rate, as Sunday Too Far Away was submitted to the Cannes Festival and generated great interest in the work emerging from the nation in that decade. There had been Aussie movies before that had done well in their native territory, but they tended to be of the exploitation variety, and this was a sincere drama designed to capture something of the character of the Australians, or the Australian men at least - there were merely two female roles in the whole thing, and they didn't get a whole lot to do.

No, this was largely about manly men who work hard, drink hard, but are usually too shagged out from those two to play hard. Although this was set twenty years before the film was made, you had the impression things had not changed too much; it was originally intended as a drama evoking the sheep shearer's strike of 1955, which lasted nine months as we are informed at the end, but on the finished article the (re)writer and producers cut almost all of the strike footage out, leaving it as what amounted to a coda at the conclusion. Star Thompson was especially aggrieved at this decision, believing the original version to be close to a masterpiece, and now sadly this release version is all that remains.

Not too sadly, because what was put out was not a bad film at all, and there's a reason Australians responded so well to it as it appealed to their sense of self, a novelty in those days when many of the movies out on their cinema screens were American or British, and local items were only just beginning to gain a foothold. This was the immediate forerunner of hugely respected Oz productions like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Newsfront, and while those would likely have been made anyway, and the Ozploitation cycle created some gems that last to this day, it is important to have films that are well-respected, or it is to Australians and many other places. If this sounded as Aussie as it was possible to get (it is pretty much a film entirely about sheep shearing), then that was not something to shy away from or be embarrassed about.

Thompson led a cast of rough hewn character actors and the occasional fresher face, but once we were on the farm the day to day reality of the job was prominent in the plot, be that with comedy - the bruiser of a cook's food is terrible, so terrible that it leads to a brawl to get rid of him - and tragedy - the effects of all that drinking means alcoholism is a very real problem, and that leads to a death. Though even that latter had some humour found in it, making this a shade more complex than a simple synopsis would indicate. In fact, so much time was given over to the details of dealing with the sheep, never mind the boss who is both enemy and source of the essential income, that it did seem to be amounting to a point that the final ten minutes were ill-equipped to deal with, which was presumably why Thompson was so dismayed at the cutting of the strike footage to a mere scrap before the credits. Nevertheless, it was a piece that felt inescapably authentic from start to finish. Music by Patrick Flynn, with Thompson singing the theme tune.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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