Wake in Fright is a surreal tale about a British school teacher, John Grant (Gary Bond) who pursues one journey however a momentous turn of events finds John taking another – one of alcohol enthused mate ship, ruthless gambling, shameless blood shed and obscure sexuality all amongst an extreme Australian outback setting. The film is directed by Canadian Director, Ted Kothcheff and is based on the novel of the same name by renowned Australian journalist and writer, Kenneth Cook. The film was produced in Australia in 1970 and was screened at Carnes film festival in 1971, where Ted Kotcheff received a Golden Palm Nomination. However, the film went unseen for decades as the master negative was deemed missing. After an extensive search, the film canister was located by the film’s Editor, Anthony Buckely, in a shipping container in Pittsburough labeled ‘for destruction’. Similar to the film‘s passage, the central character, John Grant, embarks on a rampant journey nearing destruction however discovers himself in the process.
The film is portrayed in John Grant’s viewpoint, showing his perception of superiority and disdain for the drinking infused, malicious culture that he is surrounded by. With the school year finished, John sets upon his destination to Sydney to be with his girlfriend for six weeks over the holiday period. Departing the small town, Taboonda, John starts his journey to Sydney anticipating an over night layover in Bundunyabba, known to the locals as ‘The Yabba’. Upon boarding the train to Bundunyabba, a passenger offers John a beer, where he strictly refuses the offer. Instead, John envisions himself at the beach with his girlfriend, resting a beer against her bare, wet stomach.
John arrives at ‘The Yabba’ and indulges in the local culture of excessive beer drinking and gambling. In a drastic moment to free himself from his bond placed with the education board, John gambles all of his money away playing two-up. With only one dollar left to his name, John finds himself trapped and desperate – left to rely on the hospitality of the locals he loathes. Reluctently immersing himself further into the culture of the Australian outback, John never reaches the shores of Sydney and embarks on a nightmare adventure fueled with ruthless drinking, aimless bloodshed and despair. However, as a result of John’s exploitations, he experiences a life-changing journey of self-discovery.
John returns on the train from ‘The Yabba’ where a passenger again offers him a beer. In contrary to the original scene, John eagerly accepts the beer. The scene shows an evident change in character as well as openness to the outback culture he has experienced. Warwick Frosts argues in his research paper ‘Life Changing Experience, Film and Tourism in the Australian Outback’, that tourists embarking on a journey in the outback undergo an exceptional ‘life changing experience’. Stating that the Australian outback is closely aligned with identity, Frost claims, “Something happens to the tourist in the outback and they are changed forever” (714).
Frost states that in the conclusion of Wake in Fright, John has achieved a resolution and appears happier with his life (717). Frost notes that in most of films researched, the tourist experiences a positive change (714). However, the viewer may argue whether John’s change in character is of a positive or negative affect. On one side, he appears happier, has lost his superiority complex and seems confortable in his surroundings. However, it is notable that John has conformed to the Australian outback culture – one that has been shown in John’s perception in all its guts and glory.
John’s act of rage towards a driver in the film shows John’s extreme dismay for the outback culture. The driver has given John a lift to Silverton Pub and says “What’s wrong with you, you bastard? Why won’t you come have a drink with me? I just brought you 50 miles and you won’t have a drink with me?” An exhausted John lashes out in furry “What’s the matter with you people, eh? You sponge, you burn your house down, murder your wife, rape your child – that’s all right. But not have a drink with you – a flaming bloody drink, that’s a criminal offence, that’s the end of the world”. John’s hatred of the outback culture makes the viewer further consider the affects of his ‘life changing experience’. However, regardless of how the resolution may reside with viewer, John’s actions on the train ride home is a significant key moment within the narration as well as an identifiable reoccurring element within Australian outback films.
Wake in Fright, 2009. [DVD] Ted Kothcheff , Australia: National Film and Sound Archive & Archive and AtLab Deluxe.
Frost, W, 2010. Life Changing Experiences: Film and Tourists in the Australian Outback . Annals of Tourism Research, No.37/ Vol 3, 707-726.
Senses of Cinema. 2009. Wake in Fright: An Interview with Ted Kotcheff. [ONLINE] Available at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2009/feature-articles/ted-kotcheff-interview/. [Accessed 29 August 13].
Wikipedia. 2013. Wake in Fright. [ONLINE] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wake_in_Fright. [Accessed 29 August 13].