The late eighteenth century in the penal colony of Australia. Elizabeth Harrington (Jeune Pritchard) is the refined daughter of a judge-advocate. Confronted by the sight of twelve women convicts who are kept in appalling conditions and routinely raped by their guards, she decides to help them.

When nine of the women escape, Elizabeth goes with them, having helped in the killing of a vile rapist soldier (Ralph Cotteril), but the band of females have no food, no maps and no plans.

When they come across a distillery, the escape turns into a bout of drunkenness. Elizabeth is increasingly estranged from the group, and comes down with fever and malnutrition, even though a young Aboriginal girl Kameragul (Lillian Crombie) shows the women how to survive in the bush using traditional Aboriginal techniques.

Young Emily (Rose Lilley) helps nurse Elizabeth to health, and the pair bond, so that when Emily is raped and murdered by two sly groggers, Elizabeth helps the women kill the men in revenge.

Captain McEwan (Martin Phelan), who is Emily's former fiancé, leads a party of soldiers in an attempt to round up the now feral and cunning women, who are armed with bows and arrows, spears and a large axe.

Elizabeth is persuaded to go back to the colony, to help prevent a massacre, but on her return, she spurns McEwan. Now full of hatred for the women who have ruined his fiancé with their proto-feminist wiles, McEwan decides to return to the bush to kill the women.

But the women fight back, and McEwan is burnt to death in a bush conflagration. Elizabeth continues to sympathise with the wild women, while trying to adjust to her life back in the civilised colony.

Exec producers:
Production Designers:
Art Directors:
Composers:
Editors:

Production Details

Production company: Ko-An Film Productions

Budget: A$150,000 (Oxford Australian Film); $170,000 (Cinema Papers, January 1978); $200,000 (Eric Reade). Director Tom Cowan and producer John Weiley in the DVD commentary say they started with $25,000 from the Australia Council/Experimental Film Fund, and by end of shooting had spent $35,000.

Part of the overage was funded by mortgaging Cowan's home, and then Weiley's home. Eventually Weiley raised finance from private investors and from the federal government investment arm, the Australian Film Commission, which allowed the film to be finished and blown up from 16mm to 35mm.

However if these figures are true, there is no way that the other estimates of budget are accurate.

Even allowing for blow-up costs to be thrown into the mix, there is no way hard costs for post-production could amount to $115,000 to reach the Oxford total. This figure would require also deferrals by cast and crew to be counted into the budget. Cowan and Weiley confirm in the narration that recoupment was sufficient to pay out their home mortgages, while citing one private investor - Weiley's brother in law - saying that it was one of the few Australian films which returned his investment, with profit.

Locations: Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, around Cattai and near Berowra Waters (in a canoe scene Berowra Waters Inn was just around the corner of the river out of shot). Cowan suggests that a later scene featuring a period hut was shot at Smokey Dawson's ranch, using a set built for a Ned Kelly film. The formal civilised scenes were shot at Marulan on the southern tablelands of NSW in a house owned by architect Peter Muller.

Filmed: winter 1976, six week shoot - advertisements for the film nominate June 1976 as the major date. Filming was interrupted for a week by an actors' strike/rebellion which saw cast return to Sydney for a break, before returning to film the climax. Some 35 cast and crew were involved in the filming.

Australian distributor: G.U.O.

Australian release:  Rapallo Theatre, Sydney 19th August, 1977

Rating: R

16mm blow up to 35mm for theatrical release. Colour

Running time: 93 mins (Oxford Australian Film)

Syme region four VHS timing: 1'20"00

DVD time: 1'20"07. According to Cowan, some four minutes were taken out of the print shown at Cannes for the domestic Australian release - two very long shots of people walking in the bush, as a way of making the film move a little quicker.

Box office: surprisingly the film is not listed in the Film Victoria report on Australian Box Office results, but the film did solid domestic business - "good commercial results" (Oxford Australian Film) - especially when considered against budget, and especially against most such "R"-rated films, which were restricted to the 'raincoat brigade' circuit.

David Stratton is quoted by the film's wiki, here, as suggesting an $800,000 box office gross, which should be treated with some reservations - the film, for example, doesn't appear in the Cinema Papers top twenty two Australian films of all time in its July 1984 edition, using Variety data, even though the 22nd film, Gillian Armstrong's Starstruck, had only $581,010 in gross film rentals credited to its name (and at that adjusted by CPI to boost its total). 

That said, the film did good business - Cinema Papers quotes it taking $14,732 in its first week at the Rapallo cinema in Melbourne, the highest figure in that theatre since the re-release of Gone With The Wind.

According to Cowan, in the DVD commentary, the film did 16 weeks in the Rapallo theatre in George Street Sydney, and did gangbusters business in drive-ins in Queensland (it did good business on other drive-in circuits, on the basis of never mind the feminism, just show us the tits).

While publicity for the film (and the back of the novelisation) claims that the film took the Cannes Film Festival by storm, it was actually screened in the marketplace, and claimed immediate sales to Italy, Canada and Belgium, with other sales following. The film wasn't a mainstream international traveller, more a cult item.

In all, perhaps not a great hit, but a nice little earner, though perhaps not on the basis of its feminist credentials.

 

 

Opinion

Awards

The film was ignored in all categories by the voters for the AFI awards, receiving not a single nomination.

As a result, a fierce controversy erupted that year in the AFI jury room, with several jurors proposing that the film be given the Jury prize. Other jurors took a contrary view, suggesting that the film was badly made, whatever its political and cultural provocations.

A compromise eventually resulted. Storm Boy was given the Jury Prize, but room was also made for another prize for Journey Among Women:

1977 Australian Film Institute:

Special $500 jury prize award for creativity

A similar award was made to Love Letters from Teralba Road, a short feature directed by Stephen Wallace which had also been a contender for the major Jury Prize.

Availability

The film was released on DVD in a single vanilla and two disc special edition in region four by Beyond.

Disc one, used as the vanilla release, featured an acceptable restored 16:9 image, though the 16mm source is noticeable by way of film grain. The film was given a restoration as part of the NFSA and Atlab initiative, but there is still some sparkle. There's also some combing in the image, though it generally doesn't affect viewing.

Sound is of reasonable quality considering the film's age. There's an audio commentary by director Tom Cowan, producer John Weiley and actress Lisa Peers which is cheerful, though perhaps not as informative as it might be.

The second disc, in the special edition, features an extensive range of extras, including a 26'52" set of interviews with director Cowan, actress Nell "Little Nell" Campbell and producer Weiley, in which they look at a book of photos of the shoot prepared by Cambpell's sister Sally, who worked on the film in the art department.

There's also a 9'35" interview with Dr Rozanna (Rose) Lilley, daughter of co-writer Dorothy Hewett, and Merv Lilley (both acted in the film), in which Rose Lilley discusses what it was like to experience an acted out rape in the film as a 13 year old (by RSC trained actor Ralph Cotterill, who would later be one of her drama teachers), and talks of the drinking on set that got the tabloids into a frenzy.

The 37'45" AFT School 1978 interview by Allan Hogan with Cowan in an Australian Filmmakers series looks at his by then three features - Office Picnic, Promised Woman and Journey Among Women - and also discusses his work as a DOP on features such as Dimboola.

The picture quality is as rough as you'd expect of an aged video taping, and Hogan is inclined to be confrontational, forcing Cowan into sometimes defensive postures about his films, his method of directing, his style of story-telling, and the appeal of his films to general audiences.

There are also four short films by Cowan - a 1964 11'56" piece The Dancing Class, which looks at a chain-smoking teacher instructing young female ballet learners; a 1966 1'29" experimental piece, Signature, which apparently should have run longer but was mangled by Beyond in the manufacturing; a 1967 13'02" sponsored doc in Greek, Helena in Sydney, which looks at a Greek actress as she tours Sydney; and a 1970 26'03" Film Australia doc  which looks at the cultural and other differences between Australia and England.

Anyone interested in Cowan's career as a feature film director might have swapped them all for a copy on disc of his second, very rare feature, Promised Woman.

There's also stills and a postcard book of the filming (images from the Sally Campbell book of memories, with Teresa Jack's end titles singing of The Rose of Sharon in the background), and the original theatrical trailer which shows exactly how the film was sold, with the first half dedicated to a naked woman (Nell Campbell) racing through the bush.

The box set version of the special edition also comes with a twenty page booklet featuring an article by academic Jane Mills and an article by Merv Lilley first published in April 1977 in Nation Review, along with a generous serve of stills from the film.

All in all, a solid package, and as much as anyone interested in the film would need, especially if they're not viewing it for the nascent 1970s feminism.

For those who think it's better to watch PG film clips, rather than the full-length R rated feature film, the ASO has three PG clips - un-feminist, patriarchal PG! - here.

1. Source:

Tom Cowan came up with the idea for the film, explaining in an interview with Peter Malone (at his invaluable website here) on 12th November 1998 as to what originally inspired him:

...it was pretty wild, the whole thing. The idea again came from the bush. I was living in the bush, in Berowra Waters, and it was so powerful. I happened to read this French science-fiction story called Les Guerrieres (a science fiction poem by Monique Whittique) about a future society of women - like an Amazon society - who were at war with the rest of society.

(Cowan elaborates on this in a Cinema Papers interview, January 1978, where he explains that Whittique's story is about a group of future women who after a nuclear disaster live outside of the cities and society in an Amazonian type of existence).

Somehow in the combination of the wildness and strangeness and beauty of the bush and this story of wild women, I saw a parallel in how we perceived the bush and how the British first saw the bush as ugly. Well, we now see it as beautiful. And how the sort of excesses of radical feminism, when it began, were seen as ugly - ranting and raving and being abusive and so on. But, in fact, behind it were very beautiful things - not just the women, but the humanist ideas.

Cowan arrived at the transposing this science fiction story into a period bush setting in the same way: 

I got that all in another flash. Most of my good ideas came that way. Because I was still a bit nationalistic, I suppose, I took the Irish side. The way the British saw the female, the convicts, the women - a good percentage of them were Irish anyway and this fitted into the theme and the parallel.

It fitted in terms of the film's concept, the process by which it was made and the structure. It all fitted together fairly neatly.

Poet and playwright Dorothy Hewett came up with a short, eighty page screenplay, which was also worked on by Cowan and by producer John Weiley, and was used as a way of raising funding for the show.

The script was frequently ignored in the actual production (much of it was "left in the dust", according to Cowan in his DVD commentary), with an emphasis on work-shopping, and the improvisation of dialogue and action common.

A few of Hewett's ideas did survive into the shoot - for example the maiden hair fern deployed on her daughter's body during the funeral scene was hers - and it is also possible to see in the film, as her daughter Rozanna/Rose Lilley suggests, a confluence of Hewett's high romanticism and radical feminist politics.

Some of the dialogue was even sampled from a King James bible which director tom Cowan found in the room of the house used for the formal "civilised" part of the shoot.

For the remainder, crew and cast camped out in the bush:

The process of workshopping and involving people's own lives in it - that was the contemporary expression, how it was paralleled in our history. I guess visually the transformation of the women from being fairly ugly and dirty and raucous to becoming extraordinarily beautiful at the end came through that process of transformation.

The script started out with a different name:

It was originally called Five Acts of Violence and the violence was to do with breaking of oppression. It was pretty heady stuff.

The first act is prison and how they break out.

The second act is a refined society, basically, and how the main female character breaks out of that - the strictures because of the way she's meant to behave as a lady, how she's not meant to associate herself with these dirty women; she had to break out of that.

The third act is anarchy and how you have to actually break out of that as well to something more structured but organic at the same time. The final act is a revolution where things do change their state. That's symbolised in the fire. You don't actually emerge into a new life until you're born again through fire. (Peter Malone interview, as above).

Another element is the aboriginal theme, the tribal and the ritual, which is introduced by Lillian Crombie, who appears almost magically out of the bush to help the women learn bushcraft and survival skills (the women and even their broad axe are later transformed by ochre): 

I don't know if that's really as well integrated and worked out, but it does provide a bridge from anarchy to a more organically ordered social responsibility. (Peter Malone interview, as above.)

Another influence mentioned by Cowan as an influence is Werner Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath of God, not for the plot or the details, but for its audacity, for the madness and adventure of it. Other influences included Pure Shit, on which Cowan was DOP, and John Duigan's Mouth to Mouth:

Bert Deling was using workshop techniques with the actors and developing their characters this way. That was a big impetus.

John Duigan's film Mouth to Mouth was also very stimulating because of the idea behind it. Working on other films keeps me thinking, though it is sometimes a strain, and I only work with the few people I get on with. (Cinema Papers interview)

Cowan cited other influences too, as in an interview for the Sydney Morning Herald on 18th August 1977:

Cowan conceived the film during the height of the women's liberation movement about two years ago.

It is a free-form method sometimes used by American actor-director John Cassavetes and the Royal Shakespeare Company's Peter Hall. It is also risky unless there is a strong cast.

"It can become horribly unstuck," Cowan said. "You can get the most arty and indulgent results."

But what was originally regarded as a test film turned out surprisingly well for him.

On a more practical and historical level, the creative team also looked at the story of the escape of women from the Parramatta female factory, which helped with the idea of setting the film around the time of the Second Fleet.

One of the rationalisations is that the film was about what might have happened to these escaping women, though Cowan and Weiley note that most of the women got drunk on rum and were easily rounded up. A few did however, they suggest, escape into the bush and make it to the Hawkesbury river, where they survived on fish, after the Aborigines had taught them how to forage.

In this framework, Tim Elliott's character was modelled on a Macarthur or a William Paterson, men with vision for the colony.

The title changed when Cowan and producer Weiley came across a book Journey Among Men, by Jock Marshall and painter Russell Drysdale about their trip into the centre amongst Aborigines, and this pointed to a title that better conveyed the point of the film.

A film tie-in novelisation written by Diana Fuller (who appears in the film as one of the convict women) was published by Sun books in 1977 - for more details, see Trove, here.

2.Casting:

Cowan went through a rather strange casting process, reflecting the rather exotic production process intended for the filming. His aim was to put together the widest spectrum of the wildest women he could find, some with and some without acting experience.

Jude Kuring, who had experience in the theatre was the first chosen, and regarded as a lynch pin for the other selections (she would later go on to work in the ABC).

But others came from the radical feminist fringe.

Therese (also spelled Terese in some sources) Jack (who sings the song running over the end titles) was a singer and guitarist in the feminist all lesbian rock band Clitoris, as was Diana "Di" Fuller.

According to the DVD commentary, Fuller dominateed the other lesbian women in the cast and was the person everyone wanted to please (Sally Campbell's souvenir book of photos of the shoot makes a joke about this).

On the other side was what Nell Campbell called the showgirl element.

Robyn Moase was, according to Cowan, a chief showgirl and dancer at the Sydney nightclub Chequers, while Jeune Pritchard hadn't acted, but had fronted a show on the ABC, This Week in Britain.

Lisa Peers had some acting experience, Nell Campbell had made a name for herself in The Rocky Horror Show, while Rose Lilley was the daughter of playwright Hewett and Merv Lilley, who worked as a kind of unit manager on the film, providing some much needed bushcraft skills and the broad axe (he also appeared in a minor role).

The result - Nell Campbell's "feminists versus the showgirls" - set off tensions that would run through the production.

Initially Cowan had thought of pushing the casting even further as he revealed in an interview for the Sydney Morning Herald on August 18th 1977, when he claimed he wanted to use prostitutes:

Prostitutes?

"I wanted to have a really awful set of women to start off with.

"I wanted to show the audience their worst fears about women, the worst side of women.

"Then having gone through that whole journey and having got to know them better, be able to see the beauty that could come out of it."

He thought better of it when he realised only professional actresses could carry the film.

3. Production:

The film was shot in relatively chronological order, on the cheap. Costumes, for example, were improvised from materials found in Vinnies stores, and were allowed to age and deteriorate as filming progressed.

For six weeks the 35 members of the cast and crew lived in Cattai bushland with few facilities, using only sleeping bags at night.

Special effects and horse handling were on the primitive side - producer John Weiley imitated a gun shot on actor Ralph Cotteril by using a childhood skill of egg blowing, filling the egg with red stuff then throwing at Cotteril's head to imitate the impact of an exploding bullet.

Filming and the staging of the bush fire was organised by the local fire brigade using kerosene to get the bush burning. (Cowan concedes they were lucky the fire didn't get away from them).

Some pick ups were shot on a hand-held Bolex, and crew and cast were each paid only a hundred dollars a week for their work. Some, such as Lisa Peers, contrived to have their own little tent and campfire, and hot rocks to keep their feet warm.

The lack of lighting is revealed most starkly in one scene where Lillian Crombie is in the bush, and it's almost impossible to see her. Instead in the action she's artfully dragged into the sunlight so that she can be seen.

Some of the cast failed to go the distance, and in one case this involved asking one woman, Kay Self, to stay around for a little bit longer, so that she could be filmed dead on the ground. At the same time, the rest of the cast improvised a scene where they went looking for her, only to find her dead. It seemed the best way of explaining her departure from the set and the story.

Others also departed. After several weeks, the lesbian caterers - who according to the DVD commentary had whooped it up at night and indulged in noisy love-making - also left the show, leaving Merv Lilley to do the catering.

Cowan conceded in his Cinema Papers' interview that the desire to experiment led to things going off track:

It certainly went out of control at times and that's a sort of criticism that one makes of that aspect of life; that too much freedom means things fall apart. But I can certaily say that it was a rich emotional experience.

The DVD commentary also suggests that fractures between the radical lesbian feminists and the others in the cast developed because of suggestions that too much attention was being paid to the prettier-looking cast, such as Lisa Peers.

In one scene, involving a wild drinking party, real alcohol turned up on set, and the scene went feral for real.

The cast got drunk and thirteen year old Rose Lilley drank too much, got sick and vomited it up, though at first it was thought she was having an asthma attack (thereby beginning an uneven career with alcohol, she says in her DVD interview).

This attracted the attention of the tabloid press, though Lilley later claimed she had already been in the habit of stealing honey mead made by her father from the back shed.

Lilleym would herself later admit to being more disturbed by being involved in a simulated rape scene with Royal Shakespeare Company trained Ralph Cotterill, which was in its own way her first sexual appearance, and something she wouldn't let her daughter do.

Cowan himself admits that things went a bit too far, and wouldn't happen that way on a modern set, but also admires the way the filming of drunk scene went truly wild and crazy and drunk, and the way the "morning after" scene was in many ways a real "morning after", little acting required.

Cowan proposed all this was deliberate, in his interview for the Sydney Morning Herald:

The events on the screen largely reflect those off camera during the making of the film, according to Cowan.

"The group of convict women had to find a way to live with each other. Their main problem was coping with each other much more than coping with the bush," he said.

"We went through the same problem in our own 20th century way. We then tried to express it in the film."

But the whole project almost came unstuck, with the first concern and controversy revolving around the extent of the nudity on view, and how much might be going into the final cut.

It was suggested that as the costumes deteriorated, nudity was a natural and inevitable outcome, but some of the cast weren't convinced, and this was an ongoing tension. Cowan assured the cast that the nudity featured would only be appropriate where it helped the acton along.

Despite earlier intentions, frock designer Norma Moriceau - who would later go on to a major career in film design - provided the cast with some furs for the second half of the show. 

But then, just after the half way mark in the filming and the script, the women in the cast staged a big strike.

There was talk of some of the women going off and filming their own movie, and talk of breaking up the fictional surface, in the way that filming of Bert Deling's Dalmas had gone wild, with an actor attacking a sound recordist with an axe.

Some actresses wanted to stick to the original script and the original concept, which was that the women were ultimately going to die, to perish in the bush (Lisa Peers was one of these), while other women in the cast sat down and said they didn't want to die any more.

Some wanted the symbolic dissolution of death, a kind of melting back into the land, and others wanted to live on in the tribe, running wilkd and free. In the DVD commentary, Robyn Moase is singled out as having gone a little crazy, as the cast did their Amazonian women routine.

Actress Nell Campbell describes it as being like a televison reality show today, with the factions and tensions involved, partly arising from the "hippie naked in the bush thing" and as a byproduct of taking people from their inner city ghettos out into the forest. The tribalism and the ritualised neo-primitivism almost led to a full scale revolt.

Campbell also says the shoot had aspects of Lord of the Flies about it, and producer Weiley suggests that one way the production held together, as the diehard lesbian feminists drew a line with the more nuanced players, was by screening rushes (using a projector run by a generator), on a sheet strung up between gum trees.

As a result of the revolt, it was decided to have a week's break in which the cast could go back to Sydney, and Lisa Peers says she could have treatment for the nits in her hair.

Fortunately after it initially looked like the shoot had fallen apart, passions cooled, and everyone came back together to shoot the end of the movie, but the DVD commentary acknowledges that it was a major crisis, where everyone was in serious confrontation mode, and issues of sexuality and glamour whirled around the likes of Peers and Moase.

Peers got her wish that her character die, but then bizarrely she returns to life and is seen romping around in a horse, in much the same way that Jeune Pritchard's character at the end is seen roaming the bush in what might be bushfire smoke or mist, while in reality trapped in her new alien world back amongst civilised folk.

Susan Dermody in her Cinema Papers' review couldn't decide if it was mythopoetic or merely confused, but director Cowan explained it this way to Cinema Papers:

The ending in the filmis similar to the scripted one. I think the only difference was that everyone was to be caught in the bushfire, but with the women rising up again from the ashes - a very poetic image. What I originally had in mind is now suggested by the couple of women who are reborn at the end.

Jude Kuring, for instance, is shot off her horse, but rises up again out of the waters. The girl who is shot in the tree (Lisa Peers) also re-appears later on ...

...we chose to have a romantic ending which suggested the possible overcoming of repression - this is really the essence of it. I thought I would be able to convey that through the character of Elizabeth, in that she was able to overcome her repression and integrate the two faculties of her personality.

Cowan and producer Weiley remain relatively discreet about some of the tensions, and apart from suggesting that there should be a documentary made about the shoot and the fall-out, end their DVD commentary by saying that a lot of the stories should remain untold, while the myths about the shoot get stronger and stronger.

The scenes shot at architect Peter Muller's colonial house at Marulan in New South Wales were shot after the main shoot, and done in a couple of days, according to the DVD commentary.

Through it all Cowan contends that it was all worth it:

... it was a tremendously difficult way of making a film; but I thought it was the only way to mke one which would have enough guts to outweigh its limitations of budget. I think one of the things we did achieve was getting our strengths onto the screen, and we used these techniques to do it.

For trivia buffs, producer John Weiley can be seen as one of the soldier gunners firing a gun on the women (apparently the mocked-up gun could fire an orange a considerable distance), and Tom Cowan is seen in wide shot scaling up a hill in military gear.

For theorist buffs, Merv Lilley proposes that the arrow which blows up the gun powder kegs has, at its head, the end of a cut-off penis as the ultimate symbolic expression of what the film is all about.

In post production, actor Chris Haywood provided some wild line dirty quips and innuendoes, some of which are easy to spot, along with some of the screams when people are being murdered.

The film's dialogue in general is inclined to rough technical quality, and is awkward and stilted in places, partly due to the skills of the performers and partly due to the difficult recording situations in which they found themselves.

3. Release:

In her piece for the DVD booklet, Jane Mills repeats the old saw that the film was a critical triumph at the Cannes Film Festival, when in reality it was screened in the marketplace, but she does conjure up the ambivalence that marked the response to the film:

Betrayal is the theme that keeps rising to the surface in this extraordinary film. Did the director, producer and cinematographer betray the women cast and crew members? Were the women divided amongst themselves, as was rumoured, with the lesbian and radical separatist and the non-separatist women each feeling themselves betrayed by the other group or by women who crossed from one group to another? If you look closely you can see all these questions as well as the answers. By placing betrayal at the centre of concern, Journey Among Women reveals the diversity of ideas and opinions among the cast and crew. What is fascinating is that these fissures can all be seen inside the film's frames …

… the predictions of the women who had argued long and loud against a betraying camera came true: the film proved a big hit among drive-in audiences less interested in feminist politics and utopian dreams than in perving at naked lesbian women making love in the bush.

That said, the critical response in Australia was mixed, though director Tom Cowan takes it as a cup half-full in his interview with Peter Malone, saying the film was generally received well:

Pretty much so. I don't think it was taken as seriously as it might. Having explained these ideas, they weren't really dealt with or engaged with in terms of critical response. People loved the wildness of it and the visual daring, and it was hard to deny that it had these amazing uncontrolled performances. (here).

As  director Cowan notes, the film says as much or more about the time in which it was made than the period in which the film is ostensibly set.

The production had attracted enormous attention during its filming, especially from the tabloid press titillated about a bunch of women off in the bush making a film involving sex, orgies, and a neo-primitive left wing revenge fantasy with hippie tribalist overtones.

As a result, the film kept attracting attention during its release - even a tongue in cheek story from Cannes by Rob Drew about the story being about runaway nymphos, which was supposed to be funny, instead got the film into further trouble.

The double edge - feminist politics and plenty of nudity - ensured that the film did good business in drive-ins, and the film also attracted attention in the market-place at Cannes.

The only Australian films screened in the official program, in or out of competiton, in the Cannes Film Festival in 1977 were two worthy, but slightly dull Film Australia documentaries about the industry, Joan Long's The Passionate Industry and Paul Andersen's The Pictures that Moved (written by Long), which left plenty of time for the press to focus on the runaway nymphos.

Cowan would later defend the nudity in the film, and quotes in his DVD interview a German scholar proposing that there is no voyeuristic element in the film - there might be a lot of nudity, but it doesn't feel salacious.

However Rose Lilley's anecdote about the film's subsequent release on tape suggests that no matter what the film-makers might say or think, the film took on a life of her own.

When she worked at the Opera House as a guide, the guys, she says, would get the film out as a soft-porn flick, and tease her.

Whatever was the initial point, the actual fate of the film for many years was to be seen as runaway nymphos in the bush.

Cowan proposed an alternative way of looking at the film in Cinema Papers:

One feminist lady who saw the film said that after she had seen the first couple of scenes she thoght to herself, "Oh there's a bloody guy riding through Malboro Country; this is going to be another of those shit films." But then it's certainly got contrasts.

I don't consider it to be a realistic film and I don't know about your interpretation of the ending (a retreat into the romanic rather than a confrontation with the reality). I suppose it is a bit romantic but I believe that repression can be overcome. At the same time, I think there have been a lot of films over the past 15 years that have had very negative readings of reality. I am sick of that convention.

4. Censorship, naked women, sex and violence:

In his interview for the Sydney Morning Herald, Cowan talks about the film in terms of symbolism and messages, then concedes that most people will probably go just to look at naked women.

"But I feel that the unconscious mind is working at the same time and these things get through and have an effect on the audience when they're watching.

"The story works because it's a damn good story. It's also very beautiful to look at. It's about sex and violence and is very stimulating."

That said, Cowan didn't have an issue with the film scoring an R certificate:

It got an R, yes. I haven't got anything radical to say about that. I think it probably would have been an R, really. I think they over-reacted perhaps to the fact that it was women involved in violence, more than anything else.

But the film did have one genuine censorship problem when a poster showing actress Robyn Moase bare-topped and wielding an axe ran into trouble.

The Censor banned the image for use in advertising material, but this ban didn't extend outside cinemas:

So you can see the axe-wielding actress in shop windows, but not in the cinema-ads section of your newspaper. (Sun-Herald 25 Sept 1977)

The image would become a mainstay for promotions of the film and can be seen on the DVD release in region four.

5. Tom Cowan:

Director Tom Cowan started at the ABC as a film trainee in 1961 after answering an advertisement in the newspaper. He had originally become interested in film after encountering Ronald Conway, an author and critic for the Catholic Weekly, as a teacher in his school.

He says he found the ABC a stimulating place in which to learn about film, with a lot of refugees from Europe and other odd people who educated him by simplly talking (one included the man who'd written the script for Hedy Lamarr's Ecstasy).

Cowan used gear from the ABC and Film Australia on weekends to make his own films, and thereafter consistently argued that people, including actors needed to use their own resources in making personal films.

Cowan first came to feature film attention with The Office Picnic and he suggests there are some connections between this film and Journey Among Women in the way that Aboriginal figures enter into both narratives, and propose a bridge from anarchy to a more organically ordered social responsiblilty:

The same figure appears in The Office Picnic when the guy is totally freaked out about his whole value system not working any more. He's lost something, but he doesn't even know what he's lost. He comes face to face with his own loneliness and he's observed very dispassionately but almost sympathetically by the old aborigine who's watching this totally strictured, poor unfortunate guy alone in the rain in the bush, not knowing what to do.

He also noted a similarity in the January 1978 Cinema Papers interview:

There is a very strong connection between Office Picnic and Journey Among Women because they utilize the same plot; that of a group of people who make an escape from confinement and go into the wilderness. They go through certain rituals and try to find a new basis for existence. Finally, a balance is attempted between the two. Journey Among Women, however, is the more full-blooded version.

Office Picnic is really more about the man than the group - I think he is the hero of it. So to say I have only been making films about women is inaccurate. I made Journey because I wanted to express something. Maybe it's about women, but maybe it's about a psyche, about balancing elements in a single personality. And though it fits in with many interesting contemporary sociological views, I didn't make it for or about an audience of women, but for myself.

Cowan also proposed a schematics for the film in the same interview when asked about the male characters being very weak compared to the women:

Cowan: ... it's the strength of the intuitive faculty in the personality. I am using women as a sort of symbol of that. The male side, the logical part of the personality, is rigid.

Cinema Papers: I hoped you wouldn't say that ...

Cowan: Well, you have to use these words. The man in the film you say is weak, but he has a vision and he has plans, though he doesn't have an ability to cope with the present. That's his weakness, whereas the women are weak in that they are totally irresponsible; they have no way of using their faculties constructively. I see them as being almost as extremely out of balance as the main character ...

I think this film is pretty clearly about the present, and one of the ways I look at the film is that it is a sort of journey through time; one of its themes, the history of the struggle for emotional liberation. Perhaps it's a bit obscure ...

... I would only find it be true liberation if it was an integration of the emotional and logical sides of the personality - it's not just being able to do what you want.

It is obvious that there has been a certain liberation of our emotions over the years, an upward thing of being able to express the emotional side of one's personality. I am really speaking about men more than women ...