Wake in Fright

Wake in Fright

“See you in six weeks.”

“Not if I rob a bank”

John Grant is a bonded teacher, a ‘slave to the Australian Department of Education’, who must serve out a year in the roasting outback hell of Tiboonda, location: the absolute middle of the middle of nowhere, population: countable on two hands. He can barely wait to start his Christmas break, to get away to his girlfriend; to the sea; to civilisation but must first spend a single night in a nearby mining town and await a flight to Sydney. Said town is known as The Yabba, whose residents think it the greatest place on Earth: once there no one would, or should ever have reason to leave. At this John cracks a pitying wry smile, but the audience knows there are alarm bells ringing somewhere.

He’s taken under the wing of a larger than life police chief who puts a never ending flow of beer in front of him and insists John match him drink for drink. This becomes a constant theme in the film. On the surface is an outward chumminess and generosity – what the Aussies call mateship – but bubbling under is an unspoken threat. Those drinks on offer may well hit the spot but refusing them is simply not a choice.

The night progresses and in a long, mesmerising scene John gets caught up in high stakes betting on a game of Two-up. Needless to say by sunrise he is flat broke, trapped in The Yabba, with no means to escape. Luckily another of the bar regulars takes a shine to him and before he knows it he’s celebrating Christmas with an ever expanding group of rough local lads and consuming his body weight in beer.

Wake in Fright

One night turns into many and as the booze flows and the sun continues to beat down John begins to think less and less of escape to Sydney and starts to embrace the elemental friendship on offer. This culminates in a roaring trip through the outback and a long, feral kangaroo hunt. In time he has unceremoniously ditched his school books and moved in to a dirty shack with one of his new mates.

Wake in Fright exposes the pure id of savage masculinity, in fact it goes further and embraces it unapologetically. Likely because of this the film disappeared for decades, shunned by critics and audiences too shocked by what they saw in this cinematic mirror. It’s recently reappeared in a new print and is only now beginning to get the reappraisal it deserves.

This is welcome news as it’s probably the best Australian film ever made.

Wake in Fright (aka Outback) – directed by Ted Kotcheff (1971)

In Short
Absolutely riveting and unforgettable ride into the rough outback with some salt of the earth Ozzie bogans.
Best avoided if you think kangaroos are cute and drinking games are not.
Trailer here