A hard-drinking but hard-working gun shearer leads a group of Outback sheep herders into striking after wealthy landowners attempt to drive them from their territory.
Authenticity – Well Bugger Me
I am glad that I can sometimes revisit Australia as it once was through films like “Sunday Too Far Away” and “Newsfront”. At the time of their making, we still had the faces and voices that rang true to the 50’s – 60’s prior to the influence of television that forever changed the way we talk and even the way we walk. Jack Thompson and the rest of the male cast moved in the way Australian men and, in particular, shearers moved. Compare this with the cast of “Kokoda”. As my mother commented, Australian men of the 1940’s just didn’t look so muscular or move with such rigidity. They were a Depression generation – wiry with a casual slouch born of being raised on lean rabbits and fish and hardships that knocked pretentiousness sideways.
However, “Sunday Too Far Away” is far more than a sentimental journey. It is a view of life that is at once tragic and humorous. It also has genuinely touching moments when seemingly hard and practical men display their concern for each other in an understated manner that is indicative of their rejection of overt displays of sentimentality. They all know that they are probably going to end up like old Garth if they remain shearers. “That’s shearing for you, Foley” says Garth as he muses about the fact that he has hardly seen his wife and son for over 30 years. Garth’s death is symbolic for all the shearers and their indignation at the undertaker not providing “the proper vehicle” to bear his body on his final journey reflects their insistence upon their dignity as shearers. As in the strike action, “it wasn’t so much about the money as the bloody insult.”
But I intellectualize too much. I love this film for many reasons but most of all because it could have been made for people like me in mind. It is about yarns that my uncles told and characters who were like my father who had been a “rousie” on a shearing floor after leaving school at the end of year eight even though he had been the dux! Times were such that work was valued above all else – life was work.
In the 1980’s, I once rented a farmhouse when I taught in rural Australia. One of the conditions of my tenancy was that shearers would share the house in the shearing season. These shearers were tough, smelled of lanolin no matter how they washed and ate mountains of food all cooked up in a giant iron skillet. And they argued about everything – who was a gun and who was not, which cocky had treated them the worst, which type of sheep were the easiest to shear. However, when I asked them about the authenticity of “Sunday Too Far Away”, they always agreed that it was the best evocation of the life of a shearer they had ever seen – praise indeed for the film.(Not that they would have used the word “evocation”)