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.

Australian Author Challenge : Enemy by Ruth Clare

Ruth Clare’s debut Enemy won the Asher Literary Award, offered biennially to a female author whose work carries an anti-war theme. She was born in Brisbane, Queensland,  and raised in Rockhampton. She earned a degree in biochemistry and journalism at QUT in Brisbane, Queensland. She went on to train as a copywriter and worked in advertising. During this time she had been working on a manuscript. After finishing it in 2014 she found an agent. Her first book was published in 2016.

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With the opening sentence, “I was born into the war still raging inside my father”, the reader immediately gathers that this autobiography is not going to be an easy read.

Doug Callum is an ex Vietnam Veteran, with a wife and three young children, with Ruth being the middle child. He is a totally different person to the young man conscripted to Vietnam and who was involved in the Battle of Coral–Balmoral. This battle (12 May – 6 June 1968) was a series of actions fought between the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) and the North Vietnamese 7th Division and Viet Cong Main Force units, 40 kilometres north-east of Saigon.

Ruth tells her harrowing story as a child growing up in a household of regimentation and strict discipline. She and her siblings are often covered in bruises and Ruth lives constantly on guard in fear of upsetting her father, and feeling unloved and unwanted.

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“I had never been to war, but I knew what it was like to be prepared to face the enemy every day. The difference was, my enemy wasn’t a faceless stranger. My enemy was someone I loved.”

She also tells her story as a young mother with her own children, looking back to take stock of her father’s behaviour, which she later learns has all the hallmarks of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She seeks out and communicates with numerous Vietnam Vets who admit to similar antisocial traits as well as seeking counselling through the Vietnam Veterans Association.

When Ruth’s parents inevitably divorce, we breathe a sigh of relief – though not for long. PTSD is insidious and leaches into other situations with frightening ramifications.

However, Ruth’s story is not all bleak and you can’t but admire her personal strength and resilience, as well as her compassion for her flawed father and other PTSD sufferers. On a more personal level I admire the author’s willingness to learn the details of her Dad’s role in the military, something he rarely discussed, which adds greatly to her understanding of his condition.

Doug Callum died too young of a skin cancer, suspected to have been brought on by sitting in the jungle of Vietnam for days on end with Agent Orange raining overhead.

I also respect Ruth for her compassion for her mother who has her own demons.

Written extremely well, this is another of those books that should be included on High School Reading Lists, not only for its information about the war in Vietnam, but also mental health awareness and domestic violence issues.

Not a “nice” book, but one that would have taken much courage to write.

NOTE: June is PTSD Awareness Month in Australia.

Updates and Fluff

I’ve been reading “fluff” over the last week or so. Sometimes a girl just needs too because that well in the head runs dry. So I sit with the fluff, with a glass of white and my music. It keeps me grounded.

There’s a preloved book sale all this weekend, run by a local Service organisation. Because it’s so local the books keep being recycled – you buy them, then take them back, and so on – which keeps the prices really cheap. $2 is an expensive book. I tend to fill a bag for five. Blame the Depression parents, okay…..Normally the funds raised go towards literacy projects. This year the funds will go towards rebuilding the Scout Hall where the event is held each year. An arsonist torched it a few weeks ago which is a shame as the building had been gifted to the Scouting movement from the American navy, when it was Macarthur’s port of call, and was relocated after the war. Although architecturally insignificant it was one of our last links with that era and has been a well used community space for yonks.

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Buying books under the shade of the towering Gums should be fun. Fingers crossed for a coffee van, hey…

I have a market stall coming up in a few weeks in conjunction with my friend, The Geranium Lady. All funds raised will go towards Wounded Heroes which is a very hands on organisation that helps our exservice personnel get a hand up and means I have only a few weeks to make more Basil Salt and Rosemary infused Olive Oil. The poor plants need to buck up as despite being 2 months into Autumn the days remain warm and humid. Hottest April ever recorded! My daily singing to the Rosemary shrubs to boost their growth and morale is beginning to annoy the LOML – can’t even imagine what the neighbours think.

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Here’s a chilling statistic I read today :

From The Age, 31st December, 2017.

“An estimated 84 defence force veterans committed suicide in 2017, sparking an attack on the Federal Government for allegedly failing to protect them.
Veterans’ advocates say the toll is a “conservative estimate” based on notifications from families and police reports.”

That means I will continue to sing to my plants!

The Poppies I planted and envisaged blooming for Remembrance Day in November have not survived. Blame the heat. I have purchased another 2,000 seeds, though am unsure if it’s worth the effort to replant. Blame the Gemini astrology : easily distracted.

 

And lastly, the Little Street Library:

Talk about Bigger than Ben Hur! The latest from the local Men’s Shed, who volunteered to create the structure which will House all the books and magazines in the local parkland, apparently had trouble fabricating the steel. The local Council gave them a grant to purchase a $3,000 machine to do whatever was necessary, so my little box on the wall, fuelled by the goodwill of so many, has become an expensive little exercise. Thankfully, it will be finalised within the fortnight. Emotionally and intellectually I am swinging from “bloody idiot – why did I ever get the Council involved” to “ fantastic, the expensive gadget means they’ll have the machinery to build Little Libraries all over the community.”

Here’s one I spotted recently:

 

Have a good weekend, one and all…….