Wake in Fright

DRAMA; 1hr 45min

STARRING: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Jack Thompson

Beer o'clock: from left, Bond and Rafferty

The opening shot of this digitally restored, 39-year-old Australian icon sets its arid tone. A bare-bones railway station platform sits forlorn and defiant in a parched Outback expanse. Behind the station is teacher John Grant’s schoolhouse. It’s December and stinking hot — the heat is as much a presence as the cast. Grant (Bond), a clipped, handsome young Brit, plans to fly to Sydney for his hols. En route, he stops for a night in the nondescript town of Bundayabba. This is the mother of all mistakes.


Grant makes the most of “the Yabba” at first, drinking beer at express speed with an avuncular local lawman (Rafferty). Then he blows his dough in a two-up game and is trapped in a soup of booze. Director Ted Kotcheff’s observations of a half-crazy machismo subculture, based on Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel, burn the film into your consciousness. Watching it again, I was surprised by how much I remembered: the horrific roo shooting (featuring then-newcomer Thompson), the disillusioned alcoholic doctor (Pleasence, eerily genial) and, chiefly, the nonstop drinking: poison and lifeblood of a society cannibalising itself.