Sunday Too Far Away: 'Don't cut ’em to pieces' - Digital Restoration
The NFSA has completed a digital restoration of Sunday Too Far Away, starring Jack Thompson. You can rent or purchase the full film from Umbrella Entertainment.
In this scene from the newly restored version, Foley (Jack Thompson) discovers he has competition from an unknown, Arthur Black (Peter Cummins). Shearing contractor Tim King (Max Cullen) gives Jim the learner (Graham Smith) a second chance.
Summary by Paul Byrnes
The scene underlines the contradictions of the shearing life – its individualism versus its collectivism. There is intense competition, but also camaraderie. Speed is essential, but you don’t want to go too fast, especially as a learner. Everything is ruled by the clock, and by the union’s hard-won rules about working hours.
On an outback station in 1956, hard-drinking shearers battle the clock, the sheep and each other for the position of 'gun shearer’, the one with the highest tally. Foley (Jack Thompson) has not been beaten in ten years, but he knows the day will come. A disastrous strike looms as he considers his future.
Title Curators' Notes
Sunday Too Far Away had many of the elements that defined a great Australian film in the 1970s, both for local and international audiences – enormous, empty, confronting landscapes, beautifully photographed, a cast of funny, laconic, rough-hewn Aussie blokes who worked hard and drank harder, a sense of fun and physical prowess, but also a sense of 'the great Australian loneliness’. The film is about work, endorsing the hard-won benefits of unionism versus capital, but it foreshadows threats to that system. It also implies a larger criticism of the pioneer mythology, with a bleak vision of the human cost of an industry that made Australia rich. Emotionally, it’s a powerful film about men without women, and codes of masculine behaviour. It was the first production of the South Australian Film Corporation, set up in 1972, and it was a great popular success. Geoff Burton’s superb cinematography was heavily influenced by Australian painting – notably the outback landscapes of Russell Drysdale and 'Shearing the Rams’ by Tom Roberts.
Curators Notes by Paul Byrnes
This clip shows Foley the 'gun’ (champion) shearer (Jack Thompson), Arthur Black the newcomer (Peter Cummins), and Jim the learner (Graham Smith) in a shearing shed. At exactly 7.30 am, Tim King the shearing contractor (Max Cullen) sounds the gong and the day’s shearing commences. Jim cuts his sheep and is almost thrown off the job, but Foley stands up for him and he is given a second chance. Arthur and Foley race each other, and the clock, for the highest tally before Tim sounds the gong again at 9.30 am.
Educational value points
- The clip is from Sunday Too Far Away, a film about the shearing industry in Australia. Filmed on location at Carriewerloo Station near Port Augusta in rural South Australia in 1974 (but set in 1955–56) the film is based on an industry that helped shape Australia’s national identity, both culturally and economically. It is often said that Australia 'rode on the sheep’s back’ and because of the availability of large areas of grazing land and the great demand for wool from overseas markets, Australia enjoyed a long period of economic prosperity. Although still the world’s largest producer of wool, Australia no longer derives the same level of export income from the wool industry.
- Shearing is a physically demanding occupation requiring a high degree of skill. There is pressure on shearers not only to shear large numbers of sheep in a limited time but to compete with one another, with their scores being displayed. Shearers are paid per sheep shorn and typically shear 100 per day, although a gun shearer, or 'ringer’, (the shearer who consistently holds the record for the highest tally of shorn sheep) can shear up to 200 a day. Factors influencing the number of sheep shorn include the technology used, shearing conditions, and the type, size and sex of the sheep.
- In the 1950s shearers worked long hours each day, mostly in poor conditions. The corrugated-iron shearing sheds were very hot during the warmer months and lacked basic facilities. Shearers’ health frequently suffered and injuries were common, with backs particularly vulnerable due to the hours spent bent over.
- Shearing is a male-dominated industry, and shearers are itinerant workers who travel from one property to the next during the shearing season. The title of the film, together with its tagline, 'Friday too tired, Saturday too drunk, Sunday too far away’, comes from the poem The shearer’s wife’s lament, which refers to how little a shearer’s wife would see of her husband. Some wives and families did accompany their men, however, often working as domestic help on the sheep station.
- The shearing methods and machinery used in the industry in the 1950s are shown in the clip. In 1956, basic machine clippers with a narrow comb handpiece were used. After a 10-week strike in 1983, wide combs were introduced, enabling sheep to be shorn more quickly. One of the most significant advances in shearing technology is a machine that turns the sheep and holds it in position, allowing it to be shorn more easily and reducing the intensity of shearing labour.
- The character of Foley presents an image of the Australian male as a hard-working and well-meaning 'bloke’. He displays many qualities generally considered typical of the 'Australian identity’, such as a larrikin humour, a sense of mateship, a belief in a 'fair go’, a competitive spirit, a taciturn nature and an irreverent attitude to authority. The positive portrayal of these stereotypical characteristics is, however, at odds with another view of shearers as brawling, hard-drinking and foul-mouthed womanisers or, as expressed by one pastoralist, 'a most contemptible lot of roughs’.
- Sound and camera techniques contribute effectively to the narrative and build tension. Silence and slow camera shots create a sense of reflection and stillness before the activity of the working day. The gradual increase in mechanical sounds, together with the minimal dialogue, help build tension in the scene.
- Sunday Too Far Away is an important Australian film, the first feature film to be supported by the South Australian Film Corporation (established in 1972). Directed by Ken Hannam, the film was a popular and critical success, winning Best Film, Best Actor in a Lead Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the 1974–75 Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards. It was the first Australian film to be selected for the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes (1975). Thirty minutes of the original film were cut by producers, and some critics suggest the removal of important subplots might have diminished the story. The 'director’s cut’ has never been made available to the public.