Blood, Sweat & Tears – Rediscovering ‘Sunday Too Far Away’ (Australia 1975 – 94 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - December 15, 2015
Blood, Sweat & Tears – Rediscovering ‘Sunday Too Far Away’ (Australia 1975 – 94 mins)

“Friday night… too tired. Saturday night… too drunk. Sunday… too far away” – The Shearer’s Wife’s Lament

One of the first Australian movies I ever saw, the gritty and realistic drama ‘Sunday Too Far Away’ was a massive hit in its native Australia, and is one of those superb human stories which is a joy to discover. It also deservedly made a star out of its rugged and charismatic lead, Jack Thompson.

1955 South Australia; hard-living drifter Jack Foley (Jack Thompson) rides into a desert town in the outback, looking for work as a sheep shearer. Finding work on Tim King’s (Max Cullen) isolated sheep farm, Foley juggles the fierce competition with the lonely, hard-drinking culture, while battling both his peers and the authorities as he struggles to make a go of his new life in the outback.

Together with that same years ‘Picnic at hanging Rock’, ‘Sunday Too Far Away’ was one of the first Australian movies to find a worldwide audience. 35 year old Jack Thompson is fantastic as the roguish Foley, really getting under the skin of this multi-layered character. Likable Thompson is a naturally talented actor and he went on to appear in such classic Australian pictures as ‘The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith’ (’78), ‘Breaker Morant’ (’80) and ‘The Man from Snowy River’ (’82), before popping up in various overseas features such as Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Flesh + Blood’ (’85) ‘Broken Arrow’ (’96) and ‘Original Sin’ (’01). Also in the cast was the excellent Max Cullen as Foley’s boss, and Reg Lyle as his drunken room-mate; Old Garth.

A former television director in the UK, Ken Hannam had his big break here, and later made the little-seen romantic drama ‘Break of Day’ (’76) and the wonderfully eerie drama ‘Summerfield’ (’77), before returning to the UK. Geoff Burton provided the expert cinematography and John Dingwall wrote the loving (and sometimes witty) script. The all-male story may have benefitted from introducing a romantic angle, but after all, here we are clearly in a man’s world, with many of the characters not very appealing and sometimes hard to empathize with. Though to be fair to the film-makers, they had shot a romantic subplot with Foley and a sheep farmer’s daughter, but this was removed before release.

The opening scene is memorable, where Foley rolls his battered car as he arrives in the Aussie wilderness. The sheep-shearing scenes are authentic, while the central shearing contest is exciting to watch as we really root for Foley to win. He doesn’t, though at least he eventually realizes that if he stays where he is, he is liable to end up a loser, like the drunken old men he bunks with. The final part of the movie involves a 9 month workers strike culminating in a realistic pub brawl between the shearers and the non union members.

Tapping into such human emotions as separation, monotony and loneliness, ‘Sunday Too Far Away’ is an appealing, if sometimes grim tale of male friendship and hard living. Featuring natural acting, marvellous landscape photography, and a sweaty realism, it’s one of Australian cinema’s finest achievements, and is still a joy to watch, forty years on.

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