Dimboola

  • aka Dimboola The Movie (advertising)

The film is based on the successful Jack Hibberd play featuring a wedding reception in the Victorian country town of Dimboola. In the play, the cast interact with the audience, who act as invited guests, with booze and a meal, as the happy couple go about the business of getting hitched and hanging loose at their reception.

The film version expands out the action, as we start by meeting the betrothed couple, Maureen (Natalie Bate) and Morrie (Bruce Spence) scrunched together in a small car parked by the mighty Wimmera River, which surges through Dimboola, except when it runs dry …

Then Max Gillies comes in as a bicycling narrator, playing an itinerant reporter for The Times, an Oxford lecturer and anthropologist carrying the predictable hyphenated moniker Vivian Worcestershire-Jones (possibly in honour of the much loved by Australians sauce).

Gillies dresses in drag to observe the hen's party, and then turns up to the bucks' bash, where Morrie's best mate Dangles (Bill Garner) gets Morrie into trouble by taking a snap of him frolicking with a stripper (Claire Binney).

And then it's on with the friends and family - naturally everyone has a dinkum nick name - as the large cast act out the rituals and the stereotypes of a country town big bash.

As is usual in such events, slapstick, drunkenness and hilarity ensue, with the priest Father O'Shea (Tim Robertson) leading the way, but even if the good Father helps Morrie take out his wedding cake in a spectacular way, in the end, all ends well ...

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Production Details

Production company: Pram Factory Pictures (in association with the Victorian Film Corporation, New South Wales Film Corporation)

Budget: A$350,000. According to John Timlin on the DVD commentary, the film was completed on budget, and there were no overages. According to Cinema Papers, October/November 1978, the Victorian Film Corportion invested $120,000, the NSW Film Coropration $75,000, distributor GUO put in $80,000, and the rest came from private investors (according to The Age, May 4th 1979, this included patriotic Dimboola townsfolk, who invested $5,000).

John Timlin in the DVD says finance originally stalled at $220,000, and a Brisbane investor helped out with a last minute donation, along with John Bryson providing free car hire, which made up the last of the budget.

Because of the tightness of funding, the budget had been dropped from an original $420,00.

Location: Dimboola, Victoria; the Hindmarsh hotel in nearby Jeparit; and an inner suburb of Melbourne for the climactic wedding reception.

Filmed: June-July 1978 (the film is listed in Cinema Papers, August/September 1978 as being in production). Five week, six day week shoot. 

Australian distributor: GUO

Theatrical release: the film was given its world premiere in Dimboola on 4th May 1979; it was then released on the 10th May 1979 at the Bercy in Melbourne, and it was released a few weeks later in Sydney at the Paramount theatre on June 7th 1979.

Original video release in Australia: Videoscope

Rating: M (March 1979, 2,386.41m)

35 mm     Eastmancolor     Panavision

Running time: 94 mins (Murray's Australian Film, Cinema Papers

Umbrella DVD timing: 1'25"10

Box officeThe film doesn't feature in the Film Victoria report on Australian box office, and for a good reason - it was a flop.

Dimboola is recorded in Cinema Papers as achieving, in its initial run, $7,755 for one week in release in Brisbane, and $6,869 for two weeks in Sydney, and $23,710 for three weeks in Melbourne, making a total of $38,334. It then disappeared from the record. It is likely that nationwide box office was significantly less than $100,000.

The wide success of the original play didn't help the film, perhaps even hindered it through over-exposure, especially as the original play relied on the audience interacting with the cast.

Because the film was a bucolic, rustic comedy of a kind peculiar to Australia, the film didn't travel well internationally, and it remains a good way to bemuse foreign viewers with arcane Australian customs.

 

Opinion

Awards

Dimboola wasn't acknowledged at the 1979 AFI Awards, and didn't receive a single nomination.

Availability

Dimboola was given a handsome two disc special edition release in region 4, in correct 2.35:1 framing.

The print looks as if it had been partially restored but it clearly shows its age in places. There are cinch marks, sparkle, scratches, dirt, varying colour grading, soft blacks, and even a couple of green frames, all the usual issues of a film print that's seen a bit of wear. Some scenes are inclined to soft focus, but whether this is the print alone or the well-known critical focus issues involved in using Panavision at the time, especially in low light conditions, is hard to say.

That said, it will probably be a long time before a better copy is available and considering the disinterest the film experienced after its first dud launch, the image and sound might be said to be in okay to good condition, all things considered - perhaps it's a sighting of a tape glitch in the very first title of the show which unnerved this viewer.

There's also a commentary track by associate producer John Timlin (an APG heavy), writer Jack Hibberd, who adapted his stage play, and actor Bill Garner, one of the APG-orientated Garner clan of the time, who appears in the film playing Dangles. The commentary is informative enough, especially when it comes to insights into the APG collective, though memories frequently fail when it comes to dates and names and other details.

As well as an unrestored but widescreen 2'55" trailer for the film, Umbrella has slipped some trailers for other Australian product onto the main disc.

Umbrella also released the feature on a single disc in a variety of packages.

However the special features disc in the two disc edition is well worth getting hold of for anyone interested in the play.

It includes a feature length (1'19"41) recording of the stage play in wonky black and white, titled The A.P.G.'s DIMBOOLA, produced and directed by Ross Dimsey (and not, as the DVD slick confusingly suggests, directed by David Williamson, who directed the play version that was filmed).

The show was filmed on 16mm during an actual performance at the Pram Factory, Carlton, Melbourne, on the evening of May 22nd 1973, and it stars Bruce Spence as Morrie, and Fay Mokotow as Reen. APG regulars make up the rest of the cast, and the result is a priceless theatrical artefact - according to John Timlin, it is one of the few remaining examples on film of the APG's many theatrical ventures.

For more on the stage record at Ozmovies, including stills, see here.

There's also a 56'11 Film Australia documentary, PRAM FACTORY, directed by Anna Grieve and James Manché. It was made in 1994 about the Melbourne theatrical world from which Dimboola emerged, and features lots of familiar faces from the time, including director John Duigan, the Garner clan, including Bill Garner, Pure Shit's Phil Motherwell, and Max Gillies, with Peter Cummins acting as a de facto narrator, and with composer Martin Armiger providing music appropriate to the Pram Factory scene.

For more on this documentary, including stills, see Ozmovies here.

Unfortunately the film doesn't identify everyone in the passing parade with a credit - local Melbourne knowledge is too often assumed - but some might think that together these two extras add up to as much value as the feature film itself, at least if they're interested in the play and this important period in the history of theatre in Australia.

That said, this is an invaluable release for Ozmovie cultists, and well worth hunting out in preference to the vanilla release.

 

1. Source:

The film is based on the original play by Jack Hibberd. The play came out of the ferment surrounding the Australian Performing Group, and La Mama theatre, which was opened by Betty Burstall in July 1967, and which would see the suburb of Carlton in Melbourne for a time become the home of altenative theatre in Australia (the suburb also played a significant role in the Australian film revival of the 1970s).

It wasn't a particularly easy path to follow - some people regarded the APG actors' collective as exclusionist, and apprenticeship required attendance - and an ability to tolerate - collective meetings, and a willingness to join in collective tasks, such as cleaning, and an ability to live in shared houses, not necessarily noted for their tidiness and cleanliness.

It was, as John Timlin noted, still a time when the ABC objected to actors because they had Australian accents, and a time in the late 1960s when it was considered experimental simply to do an Australian play.

The APG fancied their style as natural and the Pram Factory a place where actors couldn't get away with proscenium arch tricks, and the 'large, broad, histrionic, false' style to be found at the likes of the ponce Melbourne Theatre Company

According to Hibberd in the DVD commentary, the origins of the play go back to his time in London in 1968.

Later three families claimed they were models for the families featured in the play, and that they'd been interviewed in secret by Hibberd to help him devise the screenplay, while another family in Nhill were convinced he'd been at their family wedding, but none of it was true, with Hibberd forced to explain that he was actually living in London at the time the hitching took place.

Hibberd was in London seeing lots of theatre, and the fashion at the time was 'audience participation' theatre, in which the audience participated in whatever happened on stage, with the actors engaging the audience directly.

According to Hibberd, a lot of this work was experimental, and some was authoritarian, designed to embarrass the audience. He ruminated on the notion of participation for a while, deciding he needed some well known social ritual that would enfranchise the audience.

He hit on the notion of a wedding breafkast, and says that once he had the idea, the play wrote itself. The two families who star in the show are vague echoes of the Montagues and Capulets, in the form of the Delaneys and the McAdams.

Hibberd thought that underlying the wedding reception was a kind of clan rivalry with two clans coming together and trying to outdo each other, whether with cars or in the end fisticuffs, though in case this sounds a bit too Worcestershire-Jones, he hastens to add that it's also a bucolic comedy of bad manners and sheer tastelessness.

Hibberd wanted to call the play after an Australian country town, preferably in Victoria, so he went to Australia House in London, and looked up the atlas "and my finger fell upon Dimboola in the Wimmera, north western Victoria, because it had a nice sort of ... the three syllables were very flat and equal, I had the image of a Fordson major tractor going across the horizon, and I thought that's it, Dimboola".

Hibberd had handwritten the play, and he then went off on a holiday in Ireland, including Galway Bay and a singing pub. He got tanked on Guinness, and discovered he'd left the play behind in the B and B, but luckily the owner had turned it over to the sergeant across the road in the police station, who was reading it with interest when Hibberd arrived to retrieve it.

The film was first staged at The Pram Factory by the APG in July 1969, and more information is available at the Pram Factory site here. The play's wiki here provides more information and links.

According to Hibberd, the play had successful runs in most of the capital cities, including Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, in all sorts of venues, including theatre restaruants - it ran for two years in a theatre restaurant in Oxford street in Sydney. Because it was a catered event, and the cast drank real beer through the night, the film cultivated a certain mythology, including Max Gillies v. Jack Charles.

But attempts to export the show were less successful, with a Zurich-based entrepreneur putting it on in Munich but failing to pay for the rights, while another entrepreneur staged it in Longon, but re-wrote it in a "Hello, Hello" kind of way, made Maureen pregnant, and also failed to pay for the rights.

By the time the idea of a film came along, statistics suggested that more than 350,000 Australians had seen the stage play, and it had generated some $3.5 million at the box office, making it one of the most successful theatrical events in Australian history to that point.

The success of the play convinced the APG, an actors' collective, that they were on a winner, and they decided to produce the film themselves. They thought they could turn their hands to do anything, and so making a feature film was just something else they could do.

They did take the precaution of hiring John Weiley (Journey Among Women) as producer, but the mix of confidence and inexperience would haunt the film.

Before that, there was the problem of what to do with the key device in the play, as noted by Jack Clancy in a Cinema Papers production survey in October-November 1978:

The difficulty was that the element which had made it such an extraordinary success in live performance, audience participation, as the audience becomes the guests at the reception - was impossible to duplicate on screen. The play's text, therefore, had to be reshaped and more emphasis put on such contributory rituals as the bucks' night and the kitchen tea.

Initially in discussions about how to translate the stage play into a screenplay, it was thought it could be done as a film about the staging of a play, but Hibberd was opposed to that.

He didn't think Australia had a director up to the kind of work Jean Renoir had done in French Can-Can, a film about a production on stage, and behind the stage scenes:

I thought it needed to be expanded and really become a film, a comic film, dramatic film about a small town and then I came up with the idea of a visiting English social anthropologist Worcestershire-Jones (also spelled Worcester in some texts, though this misses the joke about Australia's favourite sauce), who's played by Max Gillies … and he was doing research on the town and the indigenous folk, and that was a kind of distancing device. (DVD commentary)

Initially there was some talk of the character being an American anthropologist - Max Gillies even tried on an American accent - but then Hibberd settled on the English character.

Remarkably in the DVD commentary, Hibberd says that the initial draft ran 168 pages, and had to be cut down. He also notes a gap between the dream and the realisation. He had wanted the film to be in the style of Fellini, but as a result of the cutting, several sub-plots were removed.

He had wanted the idea of the social anthropologist as a framing device, to give the story a little ironic distance, but at the same time, he had wanted the film to be the centre of a comic universe, with a couple in a crop duster flying in from the outback, and a couple of impostors, Mutton and Bayonet, driving to the wedding on a motorbike with sidecar, but the cross-cutting to these journeys was largely cut out. As a result, his vision of an eccentric town at the centre of a comic universe was lost, and along with it, he suggests went a certain dynamism.

There was also no birth or death in the script, and this would have completed the cycle of life in a country town (Hibberd still regrets that a funeral involving a forlorm scene in the cemetery, with someone from the McAdam family dying, didn't make it beyond the original screenplay). 

Hibberd also regrets the ending, which he finds a bit Hollywood, with the conventional notion of Dangles heading off to spend a night with the bridesmaids.

In the end as Hibberd notes in the DVD commentary, the changes were substantial. In its original form, the play ran two hours with an interval; in the film the wedding reception runs only 15-20 minutes in a film which runs a tad over 80 minutes.

In an interview in Cinema Papers, April-June 1978, with Scott Murray that was mainly about his recently completed Mouth to Mouth, and before he started filming Dimboola, director John Duigan outlined his plan for the film:

It would be impossible to recreate on film some of what the play achieves as a live-event. The audience as guests at a wedding reception are automatically implicated in the action; they can get drunk and dance, shout and so on, and it's all part of the show.

The screenplay covers three days, leading up to and including the wedding and the reception: the play was simply the reception. It is a much more complex subject - an opportunity to celebrate a country town and its people.

But there were difficulties between Duigan and writer Jack Hibberd, and Duigan was also rumoured to be at loggerheads with many of the Pram Factory cast during production (while Duigan had once been a member of the APG, it was very much a writer- and cast-driven collective).

Jack Clancy in his production report for Cinema Papers, October-November 1978, noted the potential for conflict:

Hibberd's theatrical writing has its won individual and distinctive style of rhetoric - think of all those rolling cadences of Monk O'Neill in A Stretch of the Imagination. He has rarely chosen to work in a realist mode and has done his best work in stylized, larger-than-life caricature and stereotype. John Duigan's three previous films were all scripted by himself, with differing degrees of success (Mouth to Mouth is effectively spare in its scripting and The Trespassers probably over-written) and were all very realist in style. And at the time of writing, while Hibberd was a big name in Australian writing, Duigan had not yet won the notice brought by laudatory reviews of Mouth to Mouth.

Through rewrites and with Hibberd's active presence on location, the working relationship between the two must have led to some tensions; yet there is evident respect for each other. Both acknowledge that fights did take place over several scripting points - presumably Hibberd to retain, Duigan to cut or insert.

There is a kind of creative tension in this situation, held in delicate balance by the unmistakable feeling of co-operation and teamwork which one senses in the whole operation. It reminds one of the early days of APG productions when writers, producers and cast collaborated in what must have seemed to outsiders as gigantic family brawls. Strict adherence to the auteur theory would be difficult here.

Indeed the APG prided itself on being a place where writers and actors would decide who was going to be director, and where they would also ensure that directors would do what they were told.

According to Clancy, the screenplay had a difficult gestation:

Should the film make easy, satirical fun of "local hicks". or, while retaining its comic drive, emerge as a celebration? The script has been through numerous rewrites, and it was the fourth version that was rejected by the Australian Film Commission, which seemed to find it unfunny, unseemly or unacceptable.

It was only later, in an interview in the July-August 1981 edition of Cinema Papers that director Duigan would confirm the tensions:

Dimboola confirmed in me the desire to work on projects that I write, or over which I have ultimate script control. A major problem with the film was that Jack Hibberd, the scriptwriter, and I had different concepts. It would  have been better if someone had either come in and taken over the direction and stuck more to Jack's concept, or if Jack had released control and I had done it more to mine. Understandably, as author of the original play, he was loath to do so and we ended up making compromises.

The tensions continued into much later times - in the DVD commentary, actor Bill Garner snipes at John Duigan for being inexperienced and yet full of confidence, and for making his character Fangles an 'unpleasant one note type' in the film version.

The stage play was first published by Penguin books in 1974 under the title Dimboola: a wedding reception play, paired with John Powers' The last of the knucklemen.

The first stage performance was by the APG,  directed by Graeme Blundell in 1969, and and then a few years later with David Williamson as director (1973).

In the usual way for the times, a 116 page soft cover film tie written by Tim Robertson was issued by Sun Books, South Melbourne, in 1978, preceding the film's release.

(Below: the film tie-in. The writer, Tim Robertson, is shown pouring himself a beer on the right - in the film he plays the drunken Catholic priest who hitches the couple. Natalie Bate and Bruce Spence play the loving couple. More on this edition at Trove here).

2. Cast:

The film is significant in theatrical history because it now acts as a kind of casting book for APG players.

Depending how they're counted, the film has some 30-32 speaking roles.

Prior to shooting, a decision was made to preference Pram Factory members in selecting performers for the film - first of all members of the collective, but then friends and associates on the periphery of the collective.

The decision was partly a matter of containing costs - keeping roles within the group on shared low rates meant the film remained affordable.

But at the same time this meant the film lacked recognisable star names, and in order that people were included, the script had to be re-written to get them into the show.

As a result, many APG performers - rarely sighted in other feature films because of their focus on theatrical work - are on view in the film, from Max Gillies and Bill Garner to less well known names.

Gillies, Garner, Evelyn Krape, Tim Robertson, Fay Mokotow, Kerry Dwyer and Bruce Spence all came from stage play, with Spence recreating his role of Morrie the bridegroom for the film.

Gillies had played Mutton, one of the hangers-on in the play, but for the film became Vivian Wocestershire-Jones, a visiting British journalist come social anthropologist, willing to dress up in drag to get into the hens' party.

Many of the APG cast - apart from the likes of Gillies - had little experience acting for the camera, as opposed to acting for the stage, and this can be seen throughout the film.

A second strand in the casting features reliable players who had derived their experience from television, such as Terry McDermott (a Crawfords cop show regular) and Barry Barkla, who had appeared in the TV series and feature versions of Crawford's soap The Box.

A third kind of actor reflected the APG's ongoing fascination with old Australian music hall and vaudeville, which would eventually spin off into Circus Oz. Old hands included the likes of Val Jellay and Frankie Raymond.

Throw in country singer Chad Morgan, who made a living making good use of his poor jaw line and distorted teeth, and Matchbox, aka the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, with Mic Conway as vocalist and the dial was set for eclectic and eccentric. 

3. Locations:

The film was infatuated with the town of Dimboola, and many Dimboola locals were equally infatuated with the idea of a film crew coming to town.

Many offered assistance, in particular a farmer by the name of Ed Rhode, who is frequently mentioned in the DVD commentary for what he contributed to the film. John Lahey recorded this in a story in the Melbourne Age on 4th 1979 for the film's world premiere at Dimboola:

Everyone in Dimboola seems to have had some say in the production. The Catholic priest at the time, Father Patrick Mugavim, allowed the wedding scene to be filmed in his church, St. Joseph's. The Uniting Church allowed its premises to be used for the scene of a man taking a shower.

The production crew wanted a scene with a straight hotel bar, so Keith Jones, manager of the bi-weekly newspaper, the 'Dimboola Banner', found them a location in the Hindmarsh Hotel in Jeparit.

Bob Menzel lent his house across the river for the bride's parents. Mal McKenzie lent his house in Lloyd Street for the scene of the kitchen tea; because he is a stock agent he also arranged for a rail truck to be full of sheep at the Dimboola station for one scene.

Ken Schaefer in Lloyd Street, lent his house with the wide verandah and big drive as the home of the bridegroom's parents.

Hundreds of citizens got parts in the crowd scenes. So did fire brigades from Dimboola, Antwerp and Gerang, and Dimboola's 1977 Moomba float, which was put together again for the filming. One group of townspeople contributed $5000 of the film's $350,000 budget.

The man whose effort in helping the film is talked about most, is Ed Rhode, a ruddy, happy farmer, who wears a broad-brimmed hat and who washes his pigs in OMO.

Mr. Rhode lent his shearing shed for the film's buck's party, then at his own cost installed a dunny for the cast and crew ...

… Mr. Rhode, who himself ended up with a bit part in the film, does not think there is anything far-fetched in all of this (the buck's party). "You should see some of the bucks' parties around here," he says.

Rhode was said to have farm machinery going back to 1825 on his farm, and so had an endless supply of props for the film.

With interiors filmed in the town, the only scenes shot outside Dimboola were a pub scene at the Hindmarsh hotel in nearby Jeparit, and the actual wedding reception, which was shot in a church hall in an inner Melbourne suburb.

The film is now the only extant Panavision widescreen visual record of the Dimboola hotel featured in the show, as the pub burned down a few years afte filming was completed.

The Dimboola Banner was a major supporter of the film, and it continues online to time of writing, December 2013, here.

4. Production:

Director John Duigan and DOP Tom Cowan made the bold decision to film the show in Panavision. Jack Clancy explained the logic in his production report in Cinema Papers, October/November 1978, with the pair wanting the wide frame for crowd and group scenes:

If all those people who have seen the play, and felt themselves to be part of the action, come to the film they will want something of the same sense of being involved. The whole frame enables the incidental characters to be included, and helps achieve the kind of breadth and density of composition which will bring this about. It is also ideal for the vast Wimmera landscapes and the country town's spaciousness.

Tom Cowan is very pleased with the effect of particular shots - one especially, a pub interior where the depth of field enables three layers of action to take place at different levels. I am reminded of Jaques Tati, the greatest living director of comedy films, and Cowan agrees that this kind of effect is is beautifully suited to visual comedy.

At the same time, this created another layer of difficulty because it was the first time either Cowan or Duigan had used the Panavision wide screen format, and it also meant there were difficulties coordinating and choreographing the energetic APG theatrical performing style, with the performers inexperienced in terms of performing for film. Fight sequences and pratfalls required precision because of the unforgiving focus requirements of the Panavision system, especially in low light situations.

The film's rushes were screened at the Star Theatre, opposite the Dimboola hotel - and as the theatre still used manually adjusted carbon arc projectors, this must have made for interesting times.

5. Release:

The film reached its pinnacle at the Dimboola world premiere, an event which - with scones and lamingtons, and the brass band conducted by film composer George Dreyfus playing his Water Music suite (attributed in the film to street sweeper Shovel) - reflected many of the rustic qualities in the film.

Four hundred and fifty people (the town then had a population of some 2,000) gathered for the world premiere at the Star Theatre, as John Lahey recorded in The Age, 4th May 1979:

Because Dimboola's name is contracted to "Dim" in local conversation, the theatre is known as the Dim Star. It seems fitting that it is next to the RSL hall, the Country Fire Authority and the old shire hall, and that across the road is one of the town's two pubs.

The Star dated from 1924 and silent movie days, and then still had two projectors cannibalised from early manual 1950s machines. Reel changes required split second adjustment, and being carbon arc projectors, the carbon rods required constant checking and adjustment to maintain an even and focussed light. 

Tonight will bring the moment of a lifetime for the theatre's exhibitor, Mr. Marvan Haby, 40, who has worked at the Dim Star since the age of 13 and who still has the 30 shillings he was paid as his first wage. Mr. Haby, who cycles his way around Dimboola, has never been to Melbourne, although he boasted yesterday that he had been to Ballarat.

When the film is over, the guests will push away their seats, borrowed from the high school, and eat where they stand.

Thus will Australia's latest film be launched on the world.

Thereafter, it was all downhill. Box office was dismal, and reviews were at best mixed.

John Timlin, in the DVD commentary, says the plan was originally to open the film in the country, generate good word of mouth, and then move the film into the city, but instead GUO took it straight into the city.

It is unlikely this would have made any difference - a similar strategy for the later 1995 Tony Buckley re-make, Dad and Dave, saw the film do good business in the bush, and then turn into a major flop in the city.

Actor Bill Garner in the DVD commentary blames it on the critics - basically we got crucified, the critics didn't like it, and the people didn't come. 

Director John Duigan was up for a fight with the critics in his July-August 1981 interview for Cinema Papers, but took a more measured tone:

... I don't share some of the critics' reservations about the film. I feel they approached it with inbuilt expectations and didn't allow themselves to accept the conventions under which it operated. For example, it was widely criticised for its theatricality. Certainly, it was larger than life, in the same way performances are often larger than life in overseas films, like those by Federico Fellini. But it was necessitated by Jack's writing.

If you have lines like, "Australia resembles two geriatric buttocks, is the ancient under-rump of the world, so to speak - hence the Australian passion for steak", you can't have them delivered naturalistically. I was asking for a heightened performance level from the cast to match the screenplay - the actors weren't to blame for any excess. In fact, I thought there was a number of excellent performances.

… Audience reaction was extremely positive during the screenings of the film before its release. The distributor, GUO, was optimistic about its chances.

At the same time, Duigan downplayed the impact of reviews and critics on the film's release:

It is a matter of degree. Certain films from overseas are given such huge publicity build-ups that they succeed irrespective of how the critics react. Most Australian films, on the other hand, are much more influenced by the critical reaction. Australian films which have got good critical receptions overseas, for example, have almost invariably done well here …

If you are something something radically different, you would do well to air the film at overseas festivals to try and amass a good critical response before releasing the film here. This would then point some of the critics in the right direction. Also, the public is undoubtedly impressed by overseas acclaim …

In retrospect, writer Jack Hibberd is inclined to blame the result on the flm being rustic and bucolic and offering yokel humor, as opposed to the urban ockerism that had worked at the box office.

John Timlin notes that Bruce Spence did the best of the APG players - thanks to having an agent he was paid $8,000 for his role - but everybody else was on a flat shared rate, and the returns were so small that no one got anything more - not even major investor Film Victoria got its money back.

Instead, in the DVD commentary, the film is now remembered as an historical document, an inadvertent but significant tribute to the vaudeville tradition in theatre, and to the tradition of rustic, bucolic comedies and farces, which had long played a major role in Australian feature films, since the days of the silent and early talkie Dad and Dave films.

Playwright Jack Hibberd notes that while it's hardly a great film in terms of performance or directing, or cutting edge in terms of film, it is wonderful to look at historically, and claims that the DVD release was part of the film's growing status as a curiosity and a cult item, enjoyed by revisionist critics.

It's certainly the most prominent way the play has survived, given that with 20 in the cast, and catering required, these days it would be considered a risk as a theatrical venture, even in a theatre restaurant.

6. After the release:

Writer Jack Hibberd would later mine the work as a musical. In it he eradicated some of the conflicts in the families which featured in the stage play, most notably with the watering down of the sectarian rivalries between Catholics and Protestants.

In its place he introduced a generational and town rivalry between the aptly named Wimmera town of Nhill, further along the road to Adelaide, and the real Wimmera heartland of Dimboola. Hibberd now confesses to finding the sectarian rivalries in the original play embarrassing.

Unfortunately, the feature film was a first and last for the APG, which bit off more than it could chew.

The collective would never do another feature film, though an attempt was made to do something with The Hills Family Show, and with Helen Garner's Betty Can Jump. But nothing happened and instead the Pram Factory was wound up in 1980.

According to the DVD commentary, the original members thought they'd run out of steam, and they tried to give the complete operaton away. They auditioned people around Australia interested in forming a new ensemble, and then handed them the keys to the Pram Factory.

The venture staggered on for another 18 months or so, with about twelve people, but the times had changed, and the idea of artists' co-ops, especially one with long meetings, had started to wear thin.

Community theatre did carry on, especially in regional areas in Victoria, but the APG building was eventually torn down, and turned into a Safeways supermarket, with the developer ignoring pleas to include a theatre space in the new complex. At least, John Timlin notes, the collective was able to close without being in debt.

As for director John Duigan, the failure of the film was a serious blow, and it would be three years before he got up his next film, Winter of Our Dreams.

Some of the projects he worked on after Dimboola hint at why he might not have been the most apt director for a bucolic, rustic farce:

When you make a film that fails, you need to try and separate yourself as a person from the failure of the film as a whole. As the film's director, I rightfully received much of the blame. Certainly, I made a number of mistakes and misjudgments which contributed to its failure. On the other hand, you can't take a critical drubbing too personally, otherwise you'll become embittered and paranoid fairly quickly...

...I tried a number of projects, some of which I had been preparing before I was approached to do Dimboola. I submitted some scripts after Dimboola was finished, but I guess that film was damaging to their reception.

Generally, the scripts were about political subjects. One of them was about the ethics of violence as a political weapon in advanced Western democracies. It told the story of a woman who had been involved with a group like the Red Army Fraction (sic) in Germany, and who had come to Australia on a false passport after her lover was killed when a bomb he had been planting exploded prematurely.

The woman was someone who no longer believed in the usefulness or ethical validity of that sort of tactic in the particular circumstance of an affluent Western democracy. Thus, she was burdened by having participated in an action she now regarded as immoral, yet which had resulted in the death of someone she loved. However, despite this, she was still searching for an alternative form of political expression.

That was a project for which I was unable to get money. I submitted it to a number of film bodies and did a great swag of drafts. (Cinema Papers, July August 1981)

(Duigan also had a script about a communal household fighting a local council which wanted to knock down a building in their street being used as a meeting place by pensioners and by young people as a dance hall, and another script was an overtly political film about uranium. He made some twenty applications to various bodies before Winter of our Dreams was accepted).

7. Jack Hibberd:

This short CV was taken from the APG website, and is an early record of Hibberd's work:

Jack Hibberd was born in Warracknabeal, Victoria in 1940 and was educated in Bendigo. He studied medicine at the University of Melbourne and graduated in 1964. He practised medicine until 1973, when he was awarded a Literature Board Writer's Fellowship. He wrote mainly poety and film criticism until his first play, White with Wire Wheels, in 1967. A sequence of short plays followed, of which one was Who? he was commissioned by the University of N.S.W. Drama Foundation in 1968 and wrote The Last Days of Epic J. Remorse. After a period in Europe and England, when he wrote Dimboola, he returned to Australia to join the Australian Performing Group as a writer and director. He co-wrote the Group's first production, Marvellous Melbourne at the Pram Factory Theatre. Since then he has written Proud Flesh, Klag Aorta, A Stretch of the Imagination, Captain Midnight V.C., The Les d'Arcy Show, and Peggy Sue.

For more details about Hibberd, he has a website active at December 2013, here (may be slow to load), while the APG/Pram Factory has memoirs and archival material available online here.