Sunday, Too Far Away with Jack Thompson

The first movie I saw at the Drive In, which I believe was later demolished to build a hotel, shopping complex and units (as all goods things are), was in Sydney’s Caringbah. It was January 1976 and it was hot, both in and out of the car, yet a wonderful way to finish a day having spent ten hours sunning oneself on the sand and skipping the waves at Eloura Beach. If you’ve ever read Kathy Lette’s Puberty Blues the imagery is not wasted……

A young Jack Thompson headlined in this movie which made it interesting as everyone over the age of 40 seemed to be mortified by this gentleman’s antics. He was the first nude male centrefold for Australia’s women’s magazine, Cleo, long since defunct, and the matrons tut tutted at his cohabitation with two sisters. Yep, you read that right: two sisters.

Jack Thompson played the knock-about, Foley, a heavy drinking gun shearer around whom the movie is based. It’s very much a bloke orientated film which quietly covers much of the male culture of rural Australia in the 1950s.- hard work and hard play, heavy drinking, mateship, and not having two bob to rub together from one stint in the sheds to the next. The film’s title “Sunday Too Far Away” is reportedly the lament of a shearer’s wife: “Friday night [he’s] too tired; Saturday night too drunk; Sunday, too far away”.

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Filmed on the edge of the Flinders Rangers in South Australia the scenery is at once beautiful with its red dust and towering gums, and bleak in its heat and isolation. If you have visited this part of the world at all you would appreciate the authentic depiction. The movie should have perhaps been called “Flys, Never Too Far Away”.

Poor Jack copped more flack from the Matrons with a naked bum dance scene in the washroom, before movement of this kind became on trend with Big Brother. Forty years later I am just grateful that John Ewart kept his towel on.

Viewing this movie again recently after such a long time was very interesting on a more personal level. My father, who spoke Latin and French, came home from Bomber Command requiring peace and quiet. He went bush for twelve months shearing sheep. I now understand why at barbecues he would boil a tin Billy on the fire and twirl the pot around his head to mix the tea leaves. Really, who does that, right? He would have also enjoyed that the only women around were barmaids and Cocky’s wives.

Back in the days of tea trolley ladies I worked with a woman in her ‘70’s who was a magnificent cook- cakes, sausage rolls, and other crowd pleases. Her secret was that she had once been a shearer’s cook, and if the shearer’s didn’t like the tucker the cook was sent packing. I was forever encouraging her to write a book – she could always turn nothing into something delicious.

It’s these little moments in Sunday, Too Far Away, that make this movie memorable.The cook gets the boot, with the aid of Lemon Essence, because the shearers don’t like what he dishes up. Old Garth, a gun shearer back in the day who was given the boot by his wife because of his absences from home, is now an alcoholic and his dead body is loaded onto the tray of a Ute. The sheep station owner (or Cocky) is banned from the shearing sheds, and the testosterone levels rise to coincide with the number of sheep shorn in a day.

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The last ten minutes deals with a Shearer’s strike back in the 50’s. To be honest this was wasted on me. Australian public school education: what, you thought we learnt Australian history? Hilarious. It does allow for a decent pub brawl, however.

A young Jack Thompson in a Jackie Howe never really worked for me, though on this occasion he was pleasing to the eye. A tad churlish perhaps, but I did cheer when he got squashed in a cow stampede in Australia thirty years later.

Lastly, if you’ve never been into a working shearing shed let me tell you that they stink. Putrid things. Watch the movie instead – shearing sheds are not the stuff of bucket lists.

Sunday Too Far Away won three 1975 Australian Film Institute awards: Best Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

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