Nov 14, 2013

Wake in Fright: Gay Savagery in the Australian Outback

John Grant (Gary Bond) is a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in  Tiboonda, a small town in a searing, endless desert in the Australian outback.  Too fey, sophisticated, and pretty to feel at home (except with one of his older students who seems to have a crush on him), John dreams of spending the Christmas holiday back in Sydney, with a girlfriend whose breasts he fantasizes about.

He takes a train to the outback town of Bundayabba, where he will catch a plane to Sydney.   It's very hot. Everyone is sweating, and lying languidly about.  He goes to a bar full of sweaty, hugging, muscular working-class blokes who keep staring at him and grinning, and offering to buy him drinks and take him gambling.

Intoxicated by the male bonding, he gambles all of his money away.  He awakens nude in his hotel room, stranded in The Yabba.  We see his penis as he lumbers across the room, an emblem of his fall from civilization to savagery.

With nowhere to go, he accepts an invitation from one of the leering, grinning men, Tim (Al Thomas), and goes back to his house for dinner, where Tim's adult daughter tries unsuccessfully to seduce him.

Tim introduces John to his friends Dick and Joe (Jack Thompson, left, and Peter Whittle), rough gigantic men who leer at John and at each other.  They criticize John's masculinity: only poofs hang around with women when they could be drinking with their mates. (Rather an interesting definition of gay identity.)

Later Dick and Joe, along with Doc (Donald Pleasence, Dr. Loomis in the Halloween series), take John carousing: they brutally kill kangaroos, get into a fist fight, and vandalize a pub.  At the end of the evening, Doc and John have sex.

Horrified by what he has become, John tries to hitchhike to Sydney, but he accidentally gets on a truck that brings him back to The Yabba.  There's no escape.  He contemplates killing Doc, but decides to kill himself instead.  He recovers, and Doc sees him off at the train station as he returns to his life as a teacher in Tiboonda.

Is John horrified because he has been manipulated and seduced by the gay outbackers, or because of the recognition that he was gay all along?  The association between same-sex desire and savagery is rather homophobic, but to be expected in 1971.

Gary Bond was gay in real life, the lover of future Sherlock Holmes Jeremy Brett.

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