The passing of an Australian film icon
BY PAUL BYRNES
Bill Hunter (1940-2011) is one of the national actors — those who define our sense of ourselves. In film after film, decade after decade, he has created memorable characters who couldn’t be anything else but Australian. His legacy of characters is richer, funnier and broader than almost any actor since Chips Rafferty. He appeared for many years in a series of ads for ‘the Big Australian’ mining company, but for many, Bill was the big Australian — burly, gruff, plain-spoken, hard-living, tender-hearted only in small doses, unsentimental, unafraid, uncompromising. He said a lot by never saying much.
He was the dinkum bloke who fell for the transsexual Bernadette, played by Terence Stamp in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), and the white-shoe spiv in Muriel’s Wedding (1994).
He started in movies in the 1950s, appearing uncredited as an extra in The Shiralee (1957), but rose to prominence in the 1970s when Phil Noyce gave him the best role of his career, as the principled news cameraman Len Maguire in Newsfront (1978). He gave the troops the rousing speech that sent them to their deaths in Gallipoli (1981) — ‘remember, you are men of Western Australia!’ — and he made a new generation of fans in Crackerjack (2002) as the ace bowler Stan Coombs.
He was renowned for his adventures off screen, too — as a legendary carouser and bon viveur. He was not small, in anything he did.