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The Back Of Beyond
Australia 1954
Directed by John Heyer
Running time 66 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Produced and directed by John Heyer for the Shell Film Unit, The Back of Beyond is a feature-length docu-drama that follows a typical journey made by Outback mailman Tom Kruse from Marree in South Australia to Birdsville in southwest Queensland, a journey of some 325 miles. It shows the various people Kruse meets as he traverses the famous Birdsville Track and the sorts of obstacles he faced.  The film had a great impact in its day particularly in Britain where Australia was very still much a far-off colony to which many of its populace were emigrating, showing the classic image of Australia as a hard land barely fit for human habitation.  Kruse was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) on 1 January 1955 as a result of the film.

Today the scripted (the Australian poet Douglas Stewart had a considerable hand in it) and tendentious nature of the film seems more obvious than it would have in it day as it mythologises the pluck of the white settler and the terrors of the non-compliant Outback which, of course, most migrants had not seen and would never do so. 

The film, which was shot over 6 weeks in late 1952 and clearly owes much to the British school of documentary making of Robert Flaherty, Harry Watt et al, is an accomplished effort for the time with Ross Wood’s cinematography impressing in its fluidity despite clearly difficult conditions. The soundtrack recorded on location could not be used due to sand damage and the whole film had to be re-voiced in post-production unfortunately using different voices which gives the film a distancing artificial quality. Despite its now-dated qualities, as a chapter in the history of White settlement of Australia, The Back of Beyond is a classic document.

DVD Extras:  3 additional short films by Heyer, Journey of a Nation (1947), Let's Go (1956) and The Reef (1977); Photo Gallery

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment

 

 

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