This text was prepared to explicate a series of clips from Australian films. This internet version does not reproduce those clips, or even stills from them.
The opening remarks in brackets were delivered when the paper was first presented, before the appointment of the Archive's current director.
[Thanks to the National Film and Sound Archive, and especially to Zsuzsi Szucs and Ken Berryman. They took care of the tape, located the material and generally did the real work. Thanks also to the Archive, ATN 7 and The Greater Union Organisation for permission to use the clips you are going to see. The Archive, which is sometimes known as Screensound, is one of Australia's most important and least known resources. It is where all of our screen history is. It is not too much to say that without it we would have no film, television or radio past. Many of us who value that history believe that we are currently in danger of losing our screen and sound archive or having it irreparably damaged. It would be a very dark day for Australia were that to happen.
This presentation then, is dedicated to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, in gratitude for what has been and in hope for what still may come.]
Why is this presentation entitled "Always Already Out of Date"?
Well, one reason is that a title like that gives the thing an intellectual wanker tone properly suited for an academic conference stream. Academics of my generation are very fond of the qualifiers "always already", which most of them think were invented by the French Marxist intellectual and wife-murderer, Louis Althusser. The phrase expresses a cultural condition: the way in which the workings of tradition are taken for granted in contemporary society.
In this case, of course, I wanted to point out how old fashioned and out of date bush comedy seems today - and then I wanted to say that really it has always seemed that way. Unlike, say, road pictures, bush comedy has never seemed to be at the cutting edge of culture. It always came to us from the past.
Yet it is true that Australian bush comedy is a peculiarly Australian genre - or, if you prefer, a subgenre of the wider, even global, genre of rural comedy. Not only is Australian bush comedy set in the peculiarly Australian bush, it has many characteristics - some of which I will be exploring and illustrating a bit later - which are, so far as I am aware, peculiar to Australian bush comedy alone.
We know pretty much where and when bush comedy was invented and - more or less - who invented it.
The first appearance of what at least one contemporary critic called "the farce-bucolical" was on the 4th of May, 1912 at the Palace Theatre, Sydney, when a new play, On Our Selection by Albert Edmunds opened, based on stories by Steele Rudd. Albert Edmunds was the pen-name of the writing team of Edmund Duggan and (Al)Bert Bailey, by this time an Australian theatrical institution, whose best known previous work was The Squatter's Daughter. Steele Rudd was, as you ought to know, the pen-name of Arthur Hoey Davis, whose stories about the Rudd family had been appearing since 1895. Another author's name appeared on at least some advertisements for the play: one Beaumont Smith. And in the production Bert Bailey played Dad Rudd, a role with which he was to be identified until his death in 1953.
According to the Australian theatre historian, Margaret Williams, what distinguished this new production's blend of rural comedy and melodrama was the predominance of practically plotless comedy over creaky overplotted melodrama. Instead of Australian bush characters providing short passages of comic relief in an overwritten tale of lust, revenge and purity, in this case hoary old villains and mealy-mouthed heroes of melodrama appeared only just long enough to make plot points and were then whisked offstage while crude, knockabout antics hogged the limelight. In short, this new kind of Australian stage production thumbed its nose formally at a type of Old World melodrama that was by 1912 pretty much already out of date.
Williams thinks that the bush characters in this production were "contemporary" in 1912 - but she also points out that they were only the latest of a long line of rural caricatures, who had populated the world's stages for eons. I surmise that what was new was not so much those characters as the shift in the balance of comedy and melodrama. Indeed, bumpkin stereotypes like the ones in bush comedy can be found as far back as the Greeks. In 1912, as today, they were always already there and always already out of date. What was happening in the stage version of On Our Selection was that an out of date form, the stage melodrama, was being upended by one even more out of date, the rural comedy - displaced, not by the wave of the future, but by a flood from the past.
Not only did Bailey and Duggan go on to make a huge success of their new genre - adding new plays to On Our Selection and repeating the original both here and in England for more than twenty years - Bailey himself (ably seconded by Fred MacDonald who originated the role of Dave and continued to play it for as long as Bailey played Dad) took his original brand of bush comedy into films in 1932, in scripts for which he always got a writer's credit.
Of course others also staged bush comedies - or else we would have no genre at all. Steele Rudd himself wrote a few. Among the others were Tal Ordell (about whom more later) and, most especially, Beaumont Smith - the man who was perhaps a co-author of the stage version of On Our Selection and was most certainly the first to bring bush comedy to the movies, when he released Our Friends, The Hayseeds in 1917, just a year after the production of his own theatrical bush comedy, While The Billy Boils (which he made into a film in 1921). In fact, Beaumont Smith was by far the most prolific producer of bush comedy - with at least eight such titles in his filmography of nineteen features. Of the eight only the last one, The Hayseeds from 1933, survives.
A few months after the success of On Our Selection, the Palace Theatre played host to a play called The Girl From Wayback, co-authored by Phillip Lytton. Apparently it was a more or less traditional bush melodrama and it was chastised for that by some drama critics. Lytton took a lesson from this. The earliest surviving footage of bush comedy on film (from 1918) is from a cinematised version of Lytton's later play, The Waybacks - and what we see is full of vulgar physical comedy, stereotypes, old guys with whiskers, young morons in love and the other paraphinalia of backblocks farce.
In strange reversal of forms, Kate Howarde’s Possum Paddock began life as a crude bush farce at the Theatre Royal in 1919, but was a straightforward bush melodrama with a couple of rural servants as comic relief when she brought it to the screen with the help of Charles Villiers two years later.
In 1937 George Edwards began the radio serial Dad and Dave from Snake Gully, which he wrote and in which he starred as Dad. I would hazard that this serial, more than any other factor, accounts for the widespread popularity of bush comedy through the next few decades. It was broadcast until 1953. In 1972 Channel Seven aired eleven episodes of a television series based on the radio show and called Snake Gully with Dad 'n' Dave - and in 1995 the film Dad and Dave: On Our Selection was released.
But the influence of bush comedy is somewhat broader than the titles I have mentioned. There is bush comedy in a great many Australian films, whether set in the bush or not. Perhaps the clearest example of this is The Castle.
Mindful of the short amount of time I have at my disposal I have been more selective than I wanted to be in choosing the material you will be seeing in the tape prepared by the National Film and Sound Archive especially for today’s presentation. There is nothing on it from George Whaley's 1995 film, which might otherwise have been used in a exercise of comparison betwen old fashioned and new fangled versions of characters and scenes. There is nothing from what was perhaps the best of the Cinesound series, Dad and Dave Come to Town, and no radio sound bites. I am sorry for this, but there it is.
One of the most peculiar things about popular figures is the way in which they change right before your eyes. Superman and Batman can drastically alter their appearance from comic to comic (or, if you prefer, from artist to artist and era to era), and yet they remain instantly recognisable as themselves. A villain for one season of a soapie may be a victim for the next. Bands and singing groups may shift personnel, even expand or contract, without losing their public identities.
In the Rudd's case, the family was also mutable. There was always Dad, of course. And Dave. And Mum. But the other members were not so dependable.
This is one of the reasons it is so good to have Raymond Longford's version of On Our Selection. Made in 1920 when Bailey and Duggan's play was having a London season, this version was an avowed attempt to spurn the contemporary innovations that Bailey and Duggan had wrought upon the Rudds, returning to sip at the pure stream of Steele Rudd himself. What this means for the Rudd family is that at least we have an Original with which we can compare the mutations of later years.
What this means for the film itself is that it is far more "serious" - not to say, high-minded - than other examples of bush comedy. Indeed, I am not sure that Longford’s On Our Selection strictly qualifies as "bush comedy" at all. After all, the term seems to have been developed specifically to refer to what Bailey and Duggan did to the stories Rudd had published. By vaulting back into the past in the name of what was known at the time as "bush realism", it could be plausibly argued that Longford avoided our genre all together. Certainly he avoided most of the melodramatics - except, as you'll see, in the matter of high-minded verse.
On the other hand, it could also be argued that this kind of hair-splitting is what gives the writing on genre a bad name. Mostly genres get defined in practice, not by theory - and that means that genres tend to be pretty loose and baggy. Longford's On Our Selection is, at the very least, something like a progenitor of Australian bush comedy in film. In it we can discern many, if not all, of the features that stage, screen, radio and television made familiar to countless Australians over the years - and which keep on coming back to haunt us.
Perhaps the most important of those features is the Rudd family itself.
1. On Our Selection (1920)
You can see the seriousness of Longford's intention right from the opening title. I think the seriousness is underlined by the tremendous length of this written introduction, and the time it takes on the screen.
This poetical salute to Dad might also be interpreted as a slap at what Bert Bailey had done to Steele Rudd's character. Although Bailey's Dad was a battler and a pioneer, he was also, and quite often, a figure of fun - as we shall see in due course.
The scenario, credited to Longford, uses the cine-theatrical device of introducing most of the Rudd family as though they were in the first scene of a play.
In this scene there are two daughters and two sons. One of the daughters, Sarah, seems a bit intense. One son, Joe, stutters. Nell's teeth protrude. Perhaps not a glamourous group, but more or less within the normal range.
So. We have seen Dad, Mum, Dan, Sarah, Joe and Nell: what film academics might call "the classical Rudd family".
And we are told that Kate is not there. We will see her later. Kate is different from the rest: she is more educated and appears more refined (cleaner, better groomed and dressed, conventionally attractive, graceful). In point of fact, Our Kate is one of the staples of bush comedy: a bush princess. She is necessary for love interest - and it is necessary for the love interest to be taken seriously that she be conventionally attractive, graceful, clean, well groomed and dressed. Kate will be paired off by the end of the film - and her soulmate will also be clean, conventionally attractive and refined. Or, as we might say, Kate is upwardly mobile.
But, just as important as the missing Kate is the missing Dave - who is not even mentioned in this scene. Longford's film does not introduce Dave until the family joins him and Dad on the selection they are clearing. Unlike Dad, Dave does not seem to warrant what some academics would call a "paratextual" appearance (that is, he does not appear in the prologue to the story proper as Dad does).
There are good reasons for this. Dave is the most comical of the Rudds and he is comical because he acts as though he has an intellectual disability - or, since this is a fiction, he acts like a well-known fictional stereotype: the rural idiot. Longford is a careful screenwriter and he does not intend to spoil the mood of his "Pioneers of Australia!" introduction with images of rural idiocy. This is another reason that Longford's film is not a bush comedy - for bush comedy is very much about moronic behaviour in the country.
There is another good reason: in Longford's film Dave is played - exceptionally effectively - by Tal Ordell. His performance virtually steals the film from Percy Walshe as Dad. I'll get back to Ordell in a little while.
Here's another way of starting the Rudd story.
2. On Our Selection (1932)
That was not the opening scene of Ken G. Hall's Cinesound version of On Our Selection, but I would bet that it bears some resemblance to the opening scene of Bailey and Duggan's stage version - and it is a damn sight better opening than the tepid "bush symphony" and rather tedious preliminary narrative manoeuvres that Hall actually used for the first seven minutes of the film.
The screenplay of this version is credited to Bailey and Hall. But I suspect that Bailey and Duggan are responsible for the words and actions you have just seen and heard. By comparison with Longford's introduction of the family, this is a wonderfully economical way of presenting us with the Rudds minus the refined eldest daughter - and we get Dave, arse first in all his idiot glory as well.
But wait. Who have we here? The cast in order of appearance is Sarah, Joe, Mum, Dad, and Dave. Dan and Nell from Longford's film are missing. (As in the Longford version, Kate is reserved for later). Tactically, I think this is a smart move. Even in Longford's film Dan and Nell have hardly anything to do that someone else can't do just as well. But still, it does seem a bit drastic to vanish one third of the Rudd children without a trace - especially when you think that many Australians would have felt there was good reason to believe that "Rudd" was a pseudonym for the real family of Arthur Hoey Davis.
But there was more of this kind of family hanky-panky to come. Dan shows up in the next of the Cinesound Dad and Dave films, Grandad Rudd. It seems he has been away. Indeed. But then, Dave acts much less like an idiot in that film - and Joe, who looks quite different, doesn't stutter. Both Dave and Joe are married and living with their wives on the prosperous Rudd selection. Mum has become small and slight (we are told she has been sick, but this Mum is clearly a different person). Instead of Kate, there is a niece, Betty, who actually has an unusual character trait for a bush princess. She is a lousy judge of men (she remains fiercely loyal to an obvious cad right up to the altar).
In Dad and Dave Come to Town the family consists of Dad, Mum, Dave, Joe (who has grown younger and stutters again), and Sarah - who is now a rather pretty teenager with a middle-class accent (courted by a gormless Peter Finch). Dan has vanished again - never to return. Rather surprisingly, neither Dave nor Joe is married anymore. But the real surprise is the new eldest daughter. Her name is Jill and she has an accent a Queen would kill for. Jill metamorphoses into Ann for Dad Rudd, M.P., but you will be relieved to know that the rest of the family is steady as she goes from the previous film - no Dans, no Nells, no marriages, and Mum is played by the same person who played her before (Connie Martyn, whose appearance doubtless inspired the casting of Joan Sutherland in the Mum role for George Whaley's film).
What have we learned from all this stretching and squeezing? Well, I think it is that one of the characteristics of the family at the core of bush comedy is that its extent is dictated functionally by what you could call "the economics of the screenplay". You get just the family you need to fill the slots in the script - no more and no less, no matter what happened in the previous entry in the series.
It is as though you are supposed to forget the films that have gone before. That economy is, as I suggested, something that does not occur in Longford's film, where two of the Rudd children - Dan and Nell - have nothing to do that could not have been done with more impact by one of the others - nor does it in George Whaley's 1995 film, where Nell, a good milker, suffers a similar fate.
The family economics of the screenplay is clearest in the case of the love interest. It seems that it is necessary that the love interest is the oldest female other than Mum as well as that she is refined. And - in a kind of contradiction of your needing to forget the earlier films in the series - in the case of the eldest daughter (or niece), it can't be the same person, even in name, that it was in any of the previous films. I suppose this is basically a moral rule (only one true love) even if that means the script violates commonsense biological rules (like only one eldest daughter per family).
Speaking of which, it is about time I exposed you to one of those eldest daughters speaking in one of those posh accents. Here is Kate from the Cinesound On Our Selection meeting with her sweetheart, Sandy. Just to underline the point about her accent, the scene begins with a noise that was considered very unrefined at the time: a coo-ee.
3. On Our Selection (1932)
Idiots in Love
There is a whole lot of love goin' on in bush comedy. I think I read somewhere once that it is one of the characteristics of rural comedy, or pastoral, the world over that there is an emphasis on the urge to procreate (that is, sex). I'm sure this has more than a little to do with citified notions about country life and crops and animals and rich soil and fertility. It is certainly the case that in bush comedy films a great deal of screen time is given over to making couples: characters fall in love and scheme to get together, characters act as match-makers for other characters, there are weddings and trysts and asking for permission to court and come-hither stares - and lots and lots of scenes in which desire makes the characters ridiculous.
From this welter of material I want to take only one strand - the one that seems to me to be most characteristic of Australian bush comedy - the recurring scenes of idiots in love.
You will remember that I said that Dave in the first Rudd films seems like an idiot. Although this aspect of his character is not so pronounced in the later films of the series, it is never wholly absent. Sarah is also presented as an idiot in the earlier films. Joe's stuttering is almost always tied to slowness of intellect as well. When Dan appears in the second Cinesound film, he is a lazy, stupid person.
But idiocy is by no means an idiosyncratic trait of the Rudds. It is in all the bush comedy I have seen, even if it is somewhat subdued later on. One has to believe that audiences used to expect to see idiots in bush comedy - that is, that rural idiocy is an essential element of the genre, and the spectacle of idiots in love is a defining moment.
Here is a sequence from the earliest surviving bush comedy film, The Waybacks. Or, I should say, this is footage that was shot for that film. I suspect that the footage that survives is actually a reel of out-takes.
4. The Waybacks
The Waybacks was released in 1918. It is pretty certain that the film was based on a play by Phillip Lytton, which credits a novel by Henry Fletcher as the original source. However, given what Bailey and Duggan did with Steele Rudd’s stories, I think we probably have Lytton and Arthur Sterry (the film's director) to thank for what we are seeing now.
I am pretty sure that this woman is intended to be servant. It was fairly common in early Australian films to show servants, particularly rural servants, as morons - so in this case the idea of rural idiocy is blended with the idiocy of working people. You could say that a certain class bias is pretty obvious. I believe that bush comedy, like the stories and verses about city larrikins, springs from and usually displays middle-class or bourgeois prejudice - including the bourgeois prejudice against sensuality.
There are two men and one woman in these scenes, so the sense of rampant idiot desire is being blended with more than a hint of promiscuity.
In the next clip we will see a similar situation replayed, using more words and less physical contact. Moreover, the two characters in this scene are not servants. He is the son of the rural family around whom the film centres and she is the woman he loves, virtually from the next selection.
The film in question is Beaumont Smith’s 1933 version of The Hayseeds. Joe, the idiot scion of the Hayseed family, is played by the extremely talented Tal Ordell. He looks like Dave and acts very much like Dave - which is not surprising, since Ordell played Dave in Longford's film and the sequel, Rudd's New Selection, which was something of a feature for his Dave character. He had also played Dad Hayseed in some of the earlier Hayseed films. Ordell wrote and starred in one of the very last of the stage bush comedies, Kangaroo Flat, which played Sydney and Melbourne in 1926. "A Laugh in Every Hop and Fifty Hops to the Minute" the publicity claimed.
In this sequence Ordell is very ably matched by Molly Raynor as Pansy. The dialogue is the work of Beaumont Smith, who wrote, directed and produced all the Hayseed films.
5. The Hayseeds
I said Tal Ordell was extremely talented. Now I am going to try to show you how talented he was. The next sequence is from Longford's On Our Selection and features Ordell as Dave. It is a fairly famous sequence, and deservedly so. Ordell demonstrates his ability as a physical comic actor - and at the same time transforms or transcends Dave's idiocy into lovable foolishness.
Although this excerpt is silent, I am not going to talk through it - so I guess I should tell you now that Geoffrey Rush, as Dave, reprised this scene in George Whaley’s 1995 Dad and Dave film - and did it, by comparison, rather poorly. And I want to point out that we do get to see Longford’s "Our Kate" in this sequence, along with the rest of the Rudds, minus Dad.
6. On Our Selection (1920)
Old Fashioned vs New Fangled
In bush comedy, characters from a legendary past confront the legends of modern life: the city, politics, and - over and over - machines. These confrontations are themselves so old as to seem almost timeless. Like a mutable primal family, like absurd idiotic urges, they emanate from a deep past none of us can remember but which has always been there, familiar and far away at the same time, a past all too present and always already out of date - and so wise that today it appears foolish. A friend of mine recently wrote me that the correct linguistic designation for this mythic time ought to be "the subjunctive conditional" - the past that might have been.
The rural family of bush comedy is always out of place in the city, although its visits to the city are often triumphs of old fashioned honesty against new fangled deviousness. Many bush comedies turn on comic visits to the city - almost all the Hayseeds films, for example, and The Waybacks and Dad and Dave Come To Town among those which survive.
Here are the Waybacks in their first trip to the city, arriving at a hotel.
7. The Waybacks
There is an interesting ambivalence in the social mores displayed here. The Waybacks are clearly ignorant of the cleanliness expected of city residents and foolish in their stubborn behaviour. They bring their a messy native pets to stay in the hotel with them. But then, perhaps the hotel manager is just a wee bit punctilious, bound by house rules. After all, they are just birds in cages.
Having a bit both ways, like this, is pretty common in works of popular art.
In the clip from Grandad Rudd which I am about to show, the Rudds are almost defeated by a modern machine. Machines, especially modern means of transport, are constantly being undermined or diverted in this film - usually, as in this instance, by Dad (who is teamed with horses - in this case in one overhead shot from behind). In this sequence, however, Dad's horse-associated triumph is almost surely magical. That is, he has reached back even beyond the always already past which he inhabits to some primeval age - some would say, to the power wielded by Moses and sought vainly by King Canute.
On a more mundane note, you will be seeing Dan asleep in the hay in this sequence. His mustache looks like it might have come from an American slapstick comedy. In fact, it duplicates one sported by a once-famous and now nearly forgotten slapstick comedian named Billy Bevan. Billy Bevan was Australian.
8. Grandad Rudd
Bush comedy was intended as light entertainment. It seems to me that Bailey and Duggan quite deliberately ignored Arthur Hoey Davis's efforts to tell readers about what selectors experienced, and substituted instead an evening of sensation: laughter and thrills, spectacle and feeling.
Yet from the beginning there was a populist strand in bush comedy that made it political. Some of the feelings that audiences experienced in Bailey's productions were feelings about those who had been exploited by the rich and powerful. If, as I have said, backblocks farce almost always tacitly demonstrated a urban bourgeois point of view, at the same time it explicitly articulated a rural farmer-worker point of view.
The medium of that articulation was the older generation, always already out of date - mostly Dad. And the occasion for expressing those populist sentiments was also the occasion for old fashioned virtuoso oratorical performances by the patriarchal figures who occupied the centre of the genre.
Here is Bert Bailey as Dad Rudd delivering what was, even at the time of its release, probably the most famous speech in his version of On Our Selection - a speech, moreover, which is still taken - in the subjunctive conditional mood - as "the way rural Australia feels" by most of the country. His audience consists of Mum, Carey (the film's villain), and (cheated in) Dave.
9. On Our Selection (1932)
I hope you liked the stormy sky in the first shot of that clip. In fact, that sky is punctuation for a longer scene as well as a vehicle for feeling and a portent of the rain that comes at the scene's end.
Bailey was not the only patriarchal figure to make explicitly socio-political points in bush comedy. The Hayseeds of 1933 was Cecil Kellaway's first film, and in it he plays Dad Hayseed. Kellaway's acting style is in some ways the antithesis of Bailey’s - soft, personal, and self-effacing - made for the movies, some would say. Yet he too is given the opportunity to make some pompous points about the life of a rural battler - in this case in the context of a conversation with his counterpart from the city, Mr Townleigh.
The Hayseeds has been criticised, ignorantly I think, for trying to be like an American musical, but I notice that no one has ever complained about Kellaway's attempt at an Australian accent. Is this because we Australians feel such kinship for our sister dominion that we can't identify a South African accent when we hear one?
10. The Hayseeds
Although it would seem that bush comedy demands a certain kind of melodramatic political speechifying, the practitioners of the genre were canny enough to recognise that a fat old farmer with political ambitions is a funny figure as well.
Kellaway’s little coda: "Come and have a cuppa tea" is just perfect - for him and for the scene. This exit line works so well for him partly because it, unlike the black screen that finishes Bailey's speech, undercuts, but does not efface, the tone of what he has been saying. When he says that now we should together have a cup of tea, he is also saying that the seriousness, and the self-promotion, of his speech was a little out of character.
In other films Dad's propensity for impromptu oratory is even more explicitly ridiculed. I am going to show you a brief segment from Channel 7's 1972 TV series, Snake Gully with Dad 'n'’ Dave to illustrate this point. That series could be considered a kind of postmodern bush comedy avant la lettre. As was true for the radio show, the rural family in it have no last names, and there seem to be just three of them: Dad, Dave and Mum. Their rural life appears to us as pretty close to lower middle class suburban life and their concerns are petty and self-involved.
But at the same time, the scripts of the episodes I have seen, by Ken Shadie, are all structured and paced like one of Rudd's (or Henry Lawson's) stone-faced exercises in absurdity. What I am saying is that the series seems to exist as a commentary on or supplement to what had gone before - it is not bush comedy, but the appearance of bush comedy.
Gordon Chater is Dad, whom you will see first. Marion Edwards is Mum - and she may be the only Mum who is consistently funny in her own right. And Garry McDonald, as Dave, appears to hurry things along as well.
11. Snake Gully with Dad ‘n’ Dave
In the first and the last of the Cinesound Dad and Dave series, Bert Bailey as Dad is elected to Parliament. However, we have seen the most explicitly political scene in the first film of the series, On Our Selection - Dad's speech about starting over, delivered to a private audience of three.
It is only at the end then, with Dad Rudd, M.P., that Bailey confronts the political process directly. And in this film it is not really Dad's populist politics that win the election for him but a bevy of beautiful campaign workers imported by his camp campaign manager, Entwistle (played by Cecil Kellaway's brother, Alec).
The script of Dad Rudd, M.P., written by Bailey and Frank Harvey in 1940 when Australia was committed to war, climaxes with Dad making his maiden speech to the House of Reps - a speech which segues Dad's populist pioneer virtues into jingoistic patriotism. It is some speech - "pure rhetoric", that is, empty, but stirring; and it is overlaid with all the over the top cutaways, musical cues, misty eyes, flags and other froo-fraw Ken Hall could think of. Yet nothing Hall does has any seriously adverse effect on Bailey's performance, which in almost every way exceeds what that actor did so well in On Our Selection
I think that what is particularly remarkable here is the way in which Bailey takes a character whose major traits have been meanness, trickiness, and a certain windy stubbornness, and imbues it with what I can only call "nobility" - something that does not quite happen in the earlier film. It seems to me that this speech is testimony to a great and much underrated Australian talent - Bert Bailey, the soul of bush comedy.
12. Dad Rudd, M.P.
The most explicitly political bush comedy is undoubtedly George Whaley's Dad and Dave: On Our Selection, released about a decade ago now. It begins with titles that point out the wealth and power of squatters and the poverty and impotence of selectors. Within minutes we have been introduced not only to the Rudds but to the Rileys, evil squatters with political ambitions. Throughout the first part of film people are urging Dad to stand for Parliament and the latter part of the film covers his successful campaign (in which no camp people and no imported city beauties are employed).
Leo McKern, who plays Dad in the film, does a particularly fine job with making Dad's political ambition ridiculous - so fine indeed that he gets no chance to make a transcending noble speech or even to act much like a worthy candidate. Indeed, the strongest and most consistently populist political sentiments in the film are expressed by Mum (Joan Sutherland) - who is also the Rudd family member with the poshest accent. Just as was the case with Tal Ordell and Geoffrey Rush, in 1940 Bert Bailey had actually out performed Leo McKern, using nothing except old fashioned ham.
But we are not here to talk about actors and technique - but about comedy. To that end I thought I would finish by showing you a clip that, like some of the others we have looked at today, you may have seen before (but I hope not).
Bush comedy, the subjunctive conditional comedy of the always already out of date, is, we are certain these days, a comedy of old fashioned, crude, urban, bourgeois stereotypes of country people. There is not a little cruelty in these films, and they display deep-seated, almost atavistic, prejudices which many of us still harbour - and which still play significant roles in state and national politics.
It is good then, that in the Australian cinematic heritage preserved by our National Film and Sound Archive we are lucky enough to have a campaign film made within a decade of the last Cinesound Dad and Dave film - one which actually shows us a political candidate from "Rudd country" in Queensland. As you watch it, I hope you will reflect on the evils of comic stereotyping and will recognise and reaffirm that country people are really just normal people like you and me
- and that the cinema is the mirror of our nation’s soul.
13. Introducing E.V.B. Sampson