Offcuts: Hollywool

Australian actor Jack Thompson as gun shearer 'Foley' in the 1975 film 'Sunday Too Far Away'. Picture:

IF it wasn’t already, the plight of the Australian sheep shearer burst into the national and international consciousness as legendary actor Jack Thompson and his mates raised hell in the classic 1975 film Sunday Too Far Away.

The first-ever feature produced by the South Australian Film Corporation, previously based at Hendon just around the corner from Quality Wool’s Port Adelaide receival centre, Sunday Too Far Away captured a pure slice of Australian culture with its depiction of hard-working, hard-drinking shearers fighting for superiority in the wool shed.

The film, produced on a budget of $300,000, reaped $1.4 million at the box office (equivalent to $9.8 million in 2018) and won critical acclaim for its portrayal of itinerant shearers wandering from job-to-job and ‘living for the weekend’.

Here’s four other times Australia’s wool industry has been portrayed on both the silver and small screen, for you to keep in mind for a rainy day – and we hope there’s a few of those around the corner.

The Sundowners (1960)

1960’s The Sundowners was a huge deal in Australia at the time mainly due to the fact that Hollywood ‘bad boy’ Robert Mitchum, then one of the biggest movie stars in the world, was cast in the lead role as sheep drover and shearer Paddy Carmody.

In fact in what is a thoroughly useless piece of trivia, Mitchum was so popular at the time that the film’s producers had to move him onto a boat to live during his Australian stay to avoid being harassed by star-struck fans.

The plot of The Sundowners mainly concerns his character’s want to continue his nomadic shearing lifestyle conflicting with his wife’s wish to finally settle down in one spot, and the film was shot in a number of well-known rural towns including Cooma, Nimmitabel, and Jindabyne in New South Wales and South Australia’s Port Augusta, Whyalla, Quorn, Iron Knob, Hawker and Carriewerloo.

The film helped open the world’s eyes to Australia’s wool industry, was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1961 and did a whopping $3.8 million at the box office – equivalent to almost $55 million today.

Babe (1995)

Yep, the film about a talking pig who thinks he’s a sheepdog.

While essentially a light-hearted family film, Babe also succeeded in highlighting some of the realities and techniques used in life on a sheep farm to a huge international audience.

For example, the old-school traditionalist Farmer Hogget (James Cromwell) insists on manually shearing his Border Leicester Merino ewes, rather than using electric shears, while sheep theft and flock protection are other themes explored by the 1995 film.

Filmed in Quality Wool country in NSW’s Southern Highlands, local shearers even provided technical assistance on the movie teaching the crew how to correctly sharpen manual shears (more, while 550 local sheep were used in the production to make up Farmer Hogget’s flock (in addition to animatronic and computer-generated sheep).

Babe was a massive success with both critics and punters, making $254 million at the box office, putting it’s rural NSW filming locations on the map internationally and even delivering it’s lead star an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor – which, lets be honest, the bloke deserved for maintaining his sanity while talking to a pig everyday for the six months of shooting.

McLeod’s Daughters (2001 – 09)

If you’re even the slightest bit involved in the Australian agricultural sector and have never heard of McLeod’s Daughters, I can only surmise that you either don’t own a television or in fact resided under a rock from 2001 to 2009.

Filmed exclusively in South Australia, McLeod’s Daughters follows the fortunes of the fictional Drover’s Run property run by two half-sisters with an all-female workforce.

Shooting took place on two main rural properties, one of which was Rosebank in Mt Pleasant – a magnificent 200ha Adelaide Hills property belonging to long-time Quality Wool clients the McLachlan family.

Rosebank, which has also played host to Quality Wool and Livestock events such as a recent Bred Well Fed Well workshop, doubled for the fictional Killarney property during the show’s run.

Channel Nine even went to the lengths of purchasing the other farm used for filming, the 55ha Kingsford property in the Barossa Valley, and running it like a working farm complete with 250 sheep and team of stockmen.

Story lines regularly included sheep shearing, mustering and sales, and the production also employed local shearers as body doubles who would step in for the actors during wool shed action scenes.

Lasting eight seasons and 224 episodes, McLeod’s Daughters took the Australian sheep and wool industry world-wide with the show being broadcast in over 40 countries.

Rams (2019)

An upcoming 2019 film starring iconic Australian actors Sam Neill and Michael ‘Tell Him He’s Dreaming’ Caton of The Castle fame, Rams is currently filming in Western Australia’s Great Southern region.

Neill and Caton will play two estranged brothers who live on adjourning sheep farms, but haven’t spoken 40 years due to a long-running feud.

When a rare disease threatens their flock, they have to work together to save their flock, their small town and their family’s legacy.

The movie has already created quite the buzz in the town of Mt Barker where it’s being filmed, creating 150 jobs over the project’s lifespan, employing local residents as extras and even featuring sheepdogs from surrounding farms in scenes.

Kane McKay