An unofficial UK-Australia co-production.
Production company: Immigrant Productions presents (no copyright notice or date on prints viewed).
Budget: A$400,000, with British and American finance, and including $100,000 from the Australian Film Development Corporation. (The Canberra Times, 22nd January 1972 puts the budget at A$500,000, but this might include deferrals - writer, director, producer and stars all took deferrals, substituting points in net profits for some of their fees).
Locations: Treharris, Wales (opening scenes), Parkes and Sydney, N.S.W, Artransa Park film studios.
Filmed: January 1972
Australian distributor: B.E.F.
Theatrical release: world premiere, Parkes, 18th November 1972, followed by release at Rapallo theatre, Sydney, 22nd December, 1972. Eric Reade in his history of Australian cinema, History and Hearburn, records the Melbourne premiere as being in the Odeon Theatre in Melbourne on 22nd December 1972.
Running time: 92 mins (Oxford Australian Film)
VHS running time: 1'26"39
UK DVD running time: 1'28"11
Box office: mediocre. The film was released in the Christmas holidays season to cash in on the family demographic, but this was, and remains, a two edged sword - children were half adult prices and went back to school - and the show was off the main city screens by the end of January.
The film didn't travel well internationally, though it did get a UK release. It did limited business.
Sunstruck was released on VHS many years ago in Australia and the UK, with copies now extremely rare.
However the film became easy to find on DVD when Network Distributing released a good edition in the UK.
The DVD is so much better than VHS copies doing the rounds that it’s impossible not to be grateful. The cigarette burns at reel changes suggest a release print provided the source material, and the image is inclined to be dirty in places - the opening credits especially have a lot of sparkle and dirt.
But the reel changes are relatively clean, and apart from a couple of signs of wear elsewhere, the image looks good. It’s suitably framed in 1.66:1, the likely format both in Australia and the UK for projection, the colour is good, and the sound more than acceptable - it shows off some of the dodgy location sound recording then common in an industry still feeling its way.
There’s also the UK trailer, and a picture gallery which contains a few posters.
In short, it’s essentially a barebones edition, but how good it is to see the film as it was intended.
As for the film itself, it’s a light bit of fluff. Harry Secombe isn’t a major screen presence, but he’s cheerful and amiable, as is John Meillon as the scheming publican.
The playing is broad, none broader than Maggie Fitzgibbon doing a sort of ‘dinkum Shirley get your gun routine’ (and blowing away her brother's bottles of Flag Ale while he sobs into the red dirt), which is nonetheless the best fun in the show. Her accent’s so broad you could cross the Nullarbor safely on it.
Throw in a cast of familiar faces - from Jack Allen through Peter Whittle to Dawn Lake and Bobby Limb and Stuart Wagstaff doing a Waggers impression (and a very early sighting of Benita “Play School” Collings), and there’s much that will appeal to nostalgia buffs - including cameos from Donald Houston and a louche Derek Nimmo turning up in the bush for a final joke.
Dennis Jordan is game, and up for the challenge, as young Stevie, but lacks the sort of appeal to be found in the Smiley movies. Sadly none of the other kids are given a screen credit.
The plot begins to slow down in the third act - Harry going for a ride on a draught horse is just there to make up the screen time - and the yarn mainly serves to string together what was already by the time the film was made, an outrageously dated set of bush Australianisms of the stiffen and starve the lizards kind.
Perhaps this served to turn off Australian audiences, while confusing silly bloody Poms who didn’t have a clue (except they probably guessed they were being insulted in a dinkum fun way), but now in a perverse way, it's one of the appealing aspects of the show.
The result’s a sort of 1972 Brigadoon of single teacher school life, a galaxy away from the world portrayed in the 1970 Wake in Fright, strangely linked together by the presence of Jack Neary as the producer, and Bobby Limb who had a hand in both pies … and by both films being domestic box office flops.
This Brigadoon Australia is as long lost to time as the sight of the Welsh coal mining towns which open the show, and which look exotic and appealing to an Australian eye. If nothing else, the poster shot of an Australian teacher on a beach up against the subdued Welsh landscape offers a surreal touch that lingers through the show.
The result won’t be to everyone’s taste - one overly severe Australian reviewer called it awful, when in reality it simply tries a little too hard to be amiable and entertaining and to please.
Anyone else, who remembers Secombe, or the Goons, or wants a whiff of over the top Australiana, like the drongos they are, will find this an easy way to spend 90 minutes, and the UK DVD presentation is recommended.
Of course the UK makers of the DVD present the film as British - colonialists that they are - and there were two versions of the film's credits prepared, one on view in the Australian VHS release and the other in the UK DVD (see this site's pdf of the tail credits for the differences).
In the UK DVD version, there’s no mention of the Australian Film Development Corporation, which tipped finance into the show.
For those wanting to check the DVD quality, there was at time of writing, a promotional trailer was on YouTube here. They might claim the film as British but would that other early Australian films were given this British treatment.
If your idea of watching a 90 minute feature film is to watch a few clips, the ASO site has three here.
The idea for the film came from a poster devised by the N.S.W. government featuring a cossie clad teacher in mortar and gown on Bondi beach, with the tag "Teach in the sun in New South Wales Australia".
Producer Jack Neary had previously produced the 1970 Squeeze a Flower with Walter Chiari and the now cult classic, but at the time big domestic flop, Wake in Fright, a much darker vision of a teacher enduring the torment of a one teacher school in the remote outback.
Neary met up with Harry Secombe when he was on tour in Australia in 1971. Secombe agreed to do a film with Neary if they could find a suitable script. According to Secombe:
“We gave the idea to several writers and got four story lines. One of them had me as an immigrant Italian opera star!
“The Welsh schoolteacher was obviously me, so here I am.” (The Canberra Times, 22nd January 1972).
Stan Mars, an associate of Jimmy Grafton's, saw the N.S.W. government poster, and wrote a draft.
Mars, originally Stanley Marshall, was a Scot, who changed his name twenty years before scripting the film. Mars worked with Johnnie Beattie, and created the Francie and Josie comedy duo.
Mars also worked the Scottish summer show circuit before moving into television - and several years before he wrote the script for the film, he came to Australia to work in TV.
Per the brief, Mars devised the story as a vehicle for Welsh-born Harry Secombe, a radio Goon show celebrity, with a following as a popular tenor singer. Secombe had made a number of stage and television performances down under.
Director James Gilbert had worked with Harry Secombe on the BBC television production of "Pickwick".
Another Scot like writer Mars, Gilbert had worked as a Citizens' Theatre actor, writing music for some of the big Citizens' pantos in the early 1960s, before heading to London to work on musicals. (He wrote the musical "Grab Me A Gondola"). He later established himself as a light entertainment specialist, and came to Australia on leave from BBC television to direct the show.
Gilbert was head of light entertainment for the BBC 1977-1982, and worked on many, mainly comedy, shows, such as The Frost Report, the Two Ronnies, Last of the Summer Wine, Open All Hours and Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?
James "Jimmy" Gilbert and his son Colin turned up on BBC Scotland discussing their careers on Christmas day 2011 (more details here).
As noted by David Stratton, the result was often mistaken for a British film - it was registered as a British film by MGM-EMI Distributors, and reviewed as such by the Monthly Film Bulletin, despite having a substantial amount of Australian federal government money invested in it by the AFDC.
(Below: the poster that inspired the film).
Director Gilbert's English TV connections were no doubt influential in attracting British sitcom star Derek Nimmo to do a cameo.
This arrives at the very end of the film, with Nimmo turning up on the plane as Secombe is about to go on his honeymoon (Secombe had arrived with golf clubs, establishing that the town had neither a golf course nor tennis courts, so Nimmo arrives with a tennis racquet in hand.)
Gilbert showed as much interest in Australian cameos. Television personalities Dawn Lake and Bobby Limb make their second and last feature film appearance together (their first was in Squeeze a Flower), and television cigarette salesman Stuart 'Waggers' Wagstaff also turns up to host the eisteddfod.
Gilbert also cast with a canny eye for popular Australians able to do the dinky-di routine, most notably John Meillon doing another turn as a publican, and Maggie Fitzgibbon as Secombe's love interest.
Gilbert also thinks nothing of opening the show with Secombe having a fantasy conducting a bikini-clad choir on a Sydney beach singing Waltzing Matilda, or trotting out Sydney harbour, the bridge and the opera house as a build-up to the eisteddfod showdown at the Sydney Conservatorium - the bus has to follow an extremly convoluted route in terms of Sydney geography to accomplish this feat. Some riffs never die.
Both the Australian VHS and British DVD tail credits thank the people and children of Parkes, but the British DVD also thanks the staff and pupils of Afon Taf High School in Aberfan and the staff and pupils of Webster Street School, Treharris, with these two towns presumably providing the location for the filming in Wales which begins the film.
The ironically named Mayfair Hotel, run by John Meillon and Dawn Lake, was actually an old homestead on the edge of Parkes. The “Kookaburra Springs” single teacher/single classroom school was located outside Parkes and moved so it could be placed across the road from the Mayfair Hotel.
The Canberra Times, 22nd January 1972, described the creation of the town this way:
...An extensive search for a suitable had failed and they (the production crew) were giving up hope when they came across a deserted homestead a few miles outside Parkes.
It was perfect for the pub but there was no school. A one-room school was shifted 12 miles to the site, a road and airstrip built and a petrol pump and the usual rusting relics of a country town were installed.”
The Canberra Times did mention a few problems, including "the gentleman from the Education Department who wants the school repainted and new desks installed 'to improve the image' ..." though the school in the film manages to look authentically of the kind where ink would evaporate from the inkwells in the heat.
When Harry Secombe’s character ruefully looks at a thermometer in the school classroom showing 101 degrees Farenheit, it wasn’t far off the mark. With filming during the January school holidays, the unit experienced century degree days which helped turn the set into a dustbowl and caused the actors’ make-up to run.
Despite the appeal of Harry Secombe in Australia - he had been a major star since the heady days of the Goon Show - the film didn't do well.
NLT, the production house which had struck out with Wake in Fright and Squeeze a Flower, had a small interest in the film, enough to get co-founder Jack Neary, with Bobby Limb and Dawn Lake a co-producer credit, and also helping to explain the cameo appearances of Limb and Lake in the show.
But once again NLT struck out. No more would be heard from the company in relation to feature films, but one vicious classic and a couple of inoffensive bland comedies isn't a bad record in the context of the then dismal times.
The irony is that Sunstruck is almost a mirror image of Wake in Fright, on the pleasant side.
It's another story about a schoolteacher, with an English accent, heading into the outback to a one teacher school, and mixing with the natives, at the pub, in the school and in the wild. Along the way the pub culture is explored - the films even have John Meillon as a shared publican, and Dawn Lake behind the bar.
There's an abundance of Aussie slang but it's scrubbed clean - no room for Bazza McKenzie in a G-rated film (so John Meillon is only as dry as the Nullarbor), and there's an obligatory encounter with schooners of beer and getting drunk together, as mates do.
But the intention with Sunstruck was to offer only mild, G-rated comedy, as critic Colin Bennett noted, in the style of an outback Ealing, Will the Lower Fourth win a Trip to the Choral Festival. The tang of Australian culture was dialled to cheerful bush ocker to match.
All the same, Secombe made the most of his starring role, turning up down under to do publicity for the film, and then not wasting the air ticket by going on a theatrical tour as The Harry Secombe Show in January 1973, doing the major cities.
It was later announced the same year that he would appear - with his co-star Maggie Fitzgibbon, along with other names, such as Olivia Newton John - in a series of shows dubbed Sunday Night at the Sydney Opera House between September 30th and December 2nd 1973. (Fitzgibbon opened the Chichester Festival in 1972).
Secombe wrote a two volume autobiography, Strawberries and Cream, with the second volume covering the years 1951-1996, published in 1996 by Robson, London.
4. A British Film or a British-Australian joint venture with a deserved place in Australian Cinema History?
David Stratton, in his 1980 survey of the Australian film revival in the 1970s, The Last New Wave, assigns Sunstruck a place in Australia's cinema history, because of the federal government setting up a body to make investments in Australian feature film productions:
The Australian Film Development Corporation, under the command of former television man Tom Stacey, commenced activities during 1971 and the first of its investments to be publicly shown was Keith Salvat's low budget 16 mm feature, Private Collection.
This was folllowed by the first 35 mm feature to be supported, Sunstruck (1972) ...This film ... was a rather mild comedy re-working of Wake in Fright. Harry Secombe plays a Welsh schoolteacher disappointed in love who sees a NSW Education Department "Teach in the Sun" poster in wintry Britain and dreams of teaching on bikini-filled Bondi Beach.
The reality, however, is Kookaburra Springs, a remote township inhabited by snakes, mosquitos, beer-swilling Aussies and nasty kids (and with John Meillon repeating his Wake in Fright role as the bartender). There's also a horsey sheila (Maggie Fitzgibbon) who brings some comfort to poor Stan.
Sunstruck was the work of a British director, James Gilbert, but several key Australian technicians worked on it, including Tony Buckley, who edited, and Hal McElroy who was production manager. It is rather a witless film, but as the first AFDC-financed film to be released theatrically (through BEF Distributors), its position in the history of the Australian film revival is assured ...
Winifred Atwell provided the very brief end song, which nonetheless allows Harry Secombe to crank it up to full volume for the closing line.
The lyrics for the song:
Some day you’ll fall in love
Some day the call of love
Will bring to you somewhere
Someone else with love to share
Some day you’ll know somehow
Some day you’ll make a vow
Love for ever more
Someone … somewhere … some day …
For more about the music for the film, see this site's pdf of music credits. Apparently a Welsh school choir provided the music for the film, and the Australian choir sang along to the pre-recorded songs.
6. Detailed Synopsis:
Welsh school teacher Stanley Evans (Harry Secombe) is taking his 3A class in choir practice, but keeps looking out the window at the gym teacher Jennifer Morgan (Lorna Wilde) running around with her class of girls in a game of netball.
A fellow teacher (Donald Houston) comes in to collar some kids for rugby and to remind Stanley that he’s the one that’s going around with Jennifer. He warns Stanley that his peeping has been noticed, and advises him not to make a fool of himself - the children have remarked on it and started drawing things on walls.
Sure enough, Stanley has to try to rub out or hide a salacious drawing on the school's front entrance wall, as Pearson drives off with Jennifer in his flash MG.
As Stanley cycles home through his gloomy coal-laden Welsh town, he sees a sign advertising for teachers in sun-drenched NSW. He immediately has a fantasy of conducting bikini-clad beauties on a Sydney beach singing a glorious Waltzing Matilda - followed by head credits and a BOAC plane zooming off down under.
A smaller prop plane, and then a one-engined Cessna, piloted by Bill (Bobby Limb) take Stanley into the outback, where he’s greeted by local publican Mick Cassidy (John Meillon), who has a room reserved for him and assures him that his stay in Kookaburra Springs is going to be a long and pleasant one (though he’s perplexed by Stanley’s set of golf clubs).
“Bit different from Sydney eh,” observes Mick as Stanley looks around at the flat, empty landscape.
On the way into town, Mick explains the previous teacher took a sickie.
At the pub, Sal Cassidy (Dawn Lake) also spots the golf clubs and wonders whether Stanley plays tennis - not very well, he replies. “Doesn’t matter, we haven’t got a tennis court either,” jokes Sal.
Mick notes he’s as dry as the Nullarbor plains and suggests they go inside for a few schooners, while across the road in the small one-teacher school, the lizard-cuddling Stevie Cassidy (Dennis Jordan) also notes the teacher’s brought his golf clubs with him. “He must be the biggest nong in captivity. I betcha he doesn’t last long.”
That night as Stanley hovers on the stairs above the public bar he hears the locals wondering why he’s not married, and then they try to match him up with a local girl. One drinker notes he’s a fat little feller but he seems like a nice sort of bloke… for a Pommie.
“Ah stiffen the lizards, not another Pommie,” moans another drinker.
Sal meets him on the stairs and asks if he’s heading down to meet the fellers. Just on my way, says Stan.
Stan formally stutters out to this “meeting” of the Kookaburra Springs Parent and Teachers Association that he’ll try to do everything in his power to further their children’s education and to see that they’re fit to take their place in the outside world.
He’s delighted to come to this far flung community of pioneers.
“Little did we realise when we transported those unfortunate wretches, your forefathers, that they’d turn out to be men such as yourselves. Neither do I believe that there is any truth whatsoever in what they say about Ned Kelly…”
Goodonya mate, have a beer, says Mick.
As Stan drinks up, Norm (Norman Erskine) wants to know what they did say about Ned Kelly …
Cut to Stevie sneaking into Stan’s room and using his pocket knife to slash the flywire on the window.
Next morning Stan’s face is covered in mossie bites and Sal has to splash his face with metho - the mossies love to put the bite on new chums, she says.
Mick turns up to say he’s fixed the flamin’ mossie wire, but he can’t understand it - he only fixed it up a month ago. Then he introduces Stan to Stevie …
Confronted by two eggs and steak, Stan says he usually has a cup of tea and a piece of toast for breakfast. Mick asks if he’s going on a diet, and when Stan explains he’s not a very big eater, Mick says “you could’ve fooled me.”
Sal attributes his fat to good nature.
Mick: “Yeah, well ya can tell it isn’t a beer belly, the way you were sipping those schooners last night. You looked like an old sheila at a tea party.”
Sal: “Oh take it easy on him Mick, you fellas had lots of practice.”
Mick: “You see Stan out here, sweatin’ is a way of life and you gotta get it into you …you see, because unfortunately we’ve got very little water.”
Fortunately we’ve got plenty of beer, adds Sal, and Mick says that means you’ve got to keep drinking all the time.
Stanley arrives at his school and notes the inside thermometer puts room temperature at 101 degrees.
He discovers the school bell under the desk and walks the verandah ringing it, but there are no students. Then suddenly they appear by truck, plane and horseback.
Stan does a roll call at the door and Stevie races across the road late.
Stan says it twas ever thus … he used to live across from the school, his father was the caretaker and he was always late.
Stan gets school under way by introducing himself and joking that at the last school some used to say “Good ‘eavens, it’s Evans.”
The joke falls flat, and then Stan suggests its very important that teacher and class share a sense of humour. It wouldn’t do to be deadly serious all the time.
Handing out reprimands to assorted students, Stan says he doesn’t want to bore them with a lecture on the first day and expects they’ll soon get to understand one another. They should feel they can approach him any time with their problems - as he develops a serious case of an un-scratchable back itch, and tells the kids to write an essay about their problems.
The kids laugh as Stan races across to the pub to get another application of metho from Sal. She tells him his back is in quite a state.
Stevie turns up, saying the class is worried about him. But they can’t get on with it - the inkwells are dry and there’s no chalk for the blackboard.
Sal suggests Stan gives the kids the day off and make a fresh start tomorrow. Stevie returns to tell the kids, while Stan in his bedroom consoles himself by singing along to a tape recording of his choir of Welsh kids.
Down below in the bar there’s complaints about having to listen to this flaming stuff all day and not being able to understand the lingo.
Banjo (Jack Allen) realises, thanks to Mick, that they’re dealing with a Welsh Pom, and Bill says he’s just home sick. Norm wonders if he’ll go crook on them and take off like the last bloke.
They worry about the kids giving him a hard time, and on the stairs, Stevie tells his lizard Billy they’ll give it another go in a little while …
Next morning Stevie arrives with a cup of tea for the teacher, and when Stan compliments his mum on making nice coffee, we see Stevie return the bottle of “Superlax” to the kitchen cupboard.
School barely begins with talk of a fresh start before Stan has an eruption, and races out to the girls’ toilet as the kids laugh. A drawing of Vesuvius the volcano on the blackboard is followed by another eruption …
Back in his room, a melancholy Stan sets the Welsh choir tape recording running.
Down below Pete (Peter Whittle) is wondering how long they’ll have to put up with this bloody Welsh wake. At least this time they can understand the lingo, says Banjo (Jack Allen).
Yeah, and you know what they’re saying, says Bill … he wants to go walkabout.
So he’s got the wog, everybody gets the wog, don’t they, says another.
Norm asks if it could’ve been the beer and that sets Mick off. “The beer?!”
“Well it musta been the water,” Norm concedes. Everybody nods in agreement.
Bill suggests a bit of social life might help.
Pete reckons they could all go down to Gunnedah next weekend, booze it up a bit, hit the local dance, pick up some sheilas …
Mick tells him to wait … it’s Stan's social life they’re trying to brighten up, not Pete’s.
Norm suggests teaching Stan two up, but Mick says the treatment’s got to start right now!
He tells Norm to go and get Stan, pointing out he’s bigger than Stan.
“Now, what is a good Aussie pick-me-up for a down-in-the-mouth Pom,” muses Mick.
Got it, he says, pulling hard grog off the shelves to mix up a “Woomera Walloper,” which disturbs Bill…
Two fingers of Scotch, two fingers of gin … and then as Bill cries out he’ll murder him, Stan hits a wobbly high note, and they encourage him to top up the brew with a squirt of beer …
There’s no wog or bug can survive the "Woomera Walloper", chuckles Mick, as he stirs up his brew into a foaming frenzy … or a teacher, adds Pete.
Norm arrives with Stan, and Mick presents his brew as just what the Flying Doctor ordered.
Stan gets it into him and scoffs it down.
Stan smiles beatifically, and they all laugh.
Later, and Mick and Stan are still getting into the beer. Stan pronounces Mick drunk because he can see two of him.
Stan laughs and then sobs “I wanna go home!”
Mick consoles him - he shouldn’t think he’s a failure just because his sheila went off and married another bloke. There’s lots of women in the world.
Not like Miss Jennifer Morgan, says Stan.
Mick tells him that’s all in the past, forget it.
Most men join the Foreign Legion to forget, says Stan. “But I had to do it the hard way, and come here!”
Mick explains that if he sticks it out and helps their kids, he’ll be helping himself.
They don’t want me, says Stan, but then Mick mentions the songs on the tape recorder, and how Stan’s choir wanted him … and suggests Stan teach “our lot” how to sing …
Stan’s got his song books with him, but it’s no use, there’s no piano.
Mick offers the piano in the corner of the pub.
Stan says they can’t move the piano, it’d fall apart, but the kids could come into the pub in the morning, with no one around, and it being cooler in there.
Unorthodox, but practical, says Stan, saying “I’ll do it,” as he collapses in a drunken heap on the pub floor.
Next day a hungover Mick turns up to the breakfast table to see Stan hoeing into eggs and steak.
Mick pushes away his food, as Sal notes that “Sunshine here has got a hangover.”
Stan suggests he try a Flying Doctor, it’s a great drink.
Sal says she’s never heard of a Flying Doctor.
Marvellous, says Stan. Settled the old tum a treat.
Mick asks if he’s still keen on the choir idea, and Stan says of course he is. He's looked out his old song books.
As Stan rushes off, Sal asks about a choir out here with our kids - they can’t sing. They all sound as if they’ve got the toothache.
Mr Evans will teach them, insists Mick, but Sal is noisy with the crockery, saying the kids won’t stand for it.
Then when Stevie comes in with a milk can, Mick cunningly drops in his ear the notion of a trip to Sydney. He’s entered the Kookaburra Springs choir into the state competition … which means a four day trip to Sydney with all expenses paid.
Mick insists Stevie doesn’t say a word to Mr Evans … he can tell the other boys in the class, but everything depends on the co-operation of the class: “Now you work hard, be eager and you do everything you can to help your teacher. Now do you understand?”
No, says Stevie, before he realises there's a problem, and rushes off to help Mr. Evans.
As Mick drinks his cup of tea and explains that Stan hasn’t got his vision, Stevie manages to overtake Stan on the way to school … just in time to get the snake out of the teacher’s desk drawer before Stan finds it …
Snake in hand, Stevie explains to his classmates that if they want a trip to Sydney, here’s what they can do … tell Stan they can sing …
As Stan enters, Stevie produces the snake, saying he found it under the desk, and asks what to do with him, and after reeling away, Stan suggests he be put outside.
But then Stan notices his desk drawer is open and he slams it shut, with an “under the desk eh?” aside …
When Stan asks who can sing, every hand in the classroom goes up …but when he tries them, no one knows a song.
So Stan starts with scales, and then Stevie suggests baa baa black sheep … and when the class sings the nursery rhyme, Stan realises he might face a few difficulties …
Over the road, on the pub verandah, Mick hears the song and sips a beer and tells Sal “see, working already.”
Sal points out he had a choir back in Wales but he still left.
Mick explains his sheila ran off with another bloke, just as Shirl (Maggie Fitzgibbon) gallops up on a horse … and Mick has another idea … and immediately starts pitching the teacher to Shirl … nice bloke …very good natured fella.
“They tell me he’s a fat little Pom,” says Shirley.
He’s not fat, he’s very cuddly, says Mick, and besides, he’s a Welsh Pom.
Sal tells Mick to give up pitching the school teacher, and Shirl says from what she hears, he’s not much cop.
Inside the classroom, everyone finishes their work quickly and then they race across to the pub.
Stan puts the choir through its paces, and then Shirl rocks up to offer him a beer.
Stan declines, explaining he hasn’t been let out of school yet, and then Shirl says the way they all sang that song was beaut.
They introduce themselves - Stan shaking hands with Shirley Marshall …Pete’s sister … and she jokes “I bet Pete told you he couldn’t give me away with the Melbourne Cup.”
“No, it was the Sydney Opera House,” Stan jokes back.
They laugh, but then Stan tells Mick there’s a problem - the piano needs tuning.
Shirl: “Oh you know how hard it is to get a piano tuner to come here? I’ve been waiting ages for mine…”
Stan: “Mm, I suppose I’ll have to tune this one myself.”
Mick: “Ah, well maybe then you could er … tune Shirl’s?” (said with a slight leer)
Stan: “I’d be delighted …do you have an upright?”
Shirl: “Yes, it’s an upright, thanks very much.”
Mick arranges it for tomorrow, Saturday, no school and then says “hoo roo” …
The bashful couple act bashful, while Mick heads behind the bar and announces drinks on the house.
Pete wants to know what’s happening and Mick explains Stan’s going to pay them a visit … he’s going to tune Shirl’s piano.
Hey, that’s a new one, tune a piano, jokes Banjo, with a barely repressed snigger.
Aw shud up, says a grumpy Pete.
The next day Stan rocks up to Shirl’s, but when he’s spotted by his student Willie, the kid points out the last to visit Aunt Shirl brought flowers rather than tools …
Shirl’s over helping grumpy Pete with the truck, but when Stan tries to help by lumping a wheat bag, he struggles with the weight …then Shirl explains he’s been lugging horses’ droppings for a feller in the city …
Shirl sends Pete off in the truck, noting she doesn’t expect him to be in a hurry …
Left alone, Shirl suggests they go inside and get tuned up.
Stan tunes the piano and Shirl produces home made chocolate cake.
“My secret vice,” says Stan.
Shirl: “There are no secret vices around here.”
Shirl pours him a Flag Ale to wash it down with, and Stan marvels: “Beer and chocolate cake! Never had that combination before ...”
Shirl: “Well first time for everything …”
Cheers, says Stan, as Shirl tries the piano and mentions she was once in an amateur dramatic society that did The King and I. Long time for her hair to grow back after that one.
Stan has trouble swallowing the cake, as Shirl lets out a mournful yowl while plunking on the piano.
“Ah what’s the use, all the fellers want to talk about around here is grog and gambling,” says Shirl, getting up from the piano. “Mention culture to them and they run a mile.”
Shirl says Stan’s built entirely differently - you only have to look at him to see that.
“Now talking to you is like walking across a red hot desert, dying of thirst, and suddenly there’s a great big oasis …”
She waves her hands, knocking Stan’s beer all over his crutch.
Shirl grabs a napkin and starts mopping up his knee... just as surly Pete looms in the door.
Pete’s done his back and Shirl helps him stagger on to the lounge chair.
Pete asks for some horse liniment, and Stan retreats, surly Pete saying he hopes he didn’t spoil his visit …
Shirl sees Stan off, inviting him to another get together some time …
Stan’s forgotten his tuning tools, and when Shirl goes back to get them, she discovers Pete standing up, eating cake and swigging on a bottle of beer.
Shirl ignores him, sends Stan off with a cheery wave, and then to a music sting, turns back to the house … and Pete …
Pete recoils from the window, Shirl strides into the house, Pete races out the back, jumps the fence and is off …
“You great hairy maggot,” Shirl screams after him, “I’ll teach you to bung on an act with me. Think you’re a shrewdy, do ya?”
She goes inside, returns with a bottle of Toohey’s Flag Ale, holds it high and then as Pete watches, puts a row of beer bottles on the fence … and as Pete shouts his protests, emerges from the house again with a rifle, lands a shot near his feet, and then blows away the bottles …
Pete tries to explain that Stan’s not cut out for it, he gets the wog real bad, but Shirl keeps shooting …driving Pete back with a flurry of shots …
Pete sits on a rock and sobs “Muh beer… (plucking some grass) ... bloody little fat Welsh Pom!!”
Breakfast at Mick’s, who tells Stevie to get lost. He’s got an official letter, as Stan cheerfully arrives at the kitchen table.
Stan wants his coffee, but Mick urges him to open the letter and Stan is astonished - he didn’t enter the school in any music festival.
Mick explains it was a surprise.
Stan says it’s ridiculous - he doesn’t have any idea of the time, the work, the practice it takes to build a choir.
Mick says he’s got three months, until the end of November …
Stan reads the letter, which says that because of the hundreds of entries only the choirs that reach the required standards will be allowed to enter the finals in Sydney. They have to send a tape recording within the next fortnight.
“Didn’t think of that, did ya, mastermind,” chirps Sal.
Mick says they’ve got a fortnight to do a tape, but Stan says it would be too big a disappointment for the kids. Better they don’t know.
Mick: “Well that’s just it. They do know.”
Beats all round, as Stan takes to the classroom to explain the situation to his class… and gets himself in deeper, as Stevie organises three cheers for him.
And then when Stan tries to say that he doesn’t think they’re …their innocent smiling faces make him say it’s going to be a lot of hard work. They’ve got less than a fortnight but he knows they’ll do their best …
The kids cheer and Stan looks nervous.
Cut to Stan and the kids walking through the bush landscape singing… and then Mick is in the pub, helping record the choir performing the song …
The kids pepper Stan with questions about whether they’re good enough …but Stan says they’ll just have to wait and see, and sends them home.
Mick gets Stevie to rewind the tape, as Mick and Stan head into the kitchen to discuss the choir’s chances with Shirl and Sal.
Stevie eavesdrops on the conversation, as Mick wonders if Stan’s standards might be better than they expect and you never know your luck until you try.
Mick says he’ll post the application with the tape, but outside, Stevie is looking at other tapes and hatching a plan …
Cut to Stan in class, reading a bit of Hilaire Belloc’s poem Tarantella - "… the boom of the far waterfall, like Doom …” then asking the class for everyday examples of “time waits for no one,” and Stevie points out that it’s half past three, so his time is up.
As he emerges from the school, Stan notices a crowd outside the pub. He nervously walks past the ominous, silent crowd and scuttles into the pub … where a beaming Mick and Sal welcome him with the news that a letter has arrived from the department.
As Stan fiddles, Norm produces a knife. Letter open, Stan’s glasses on … and they’ve accepted the entry.
Pandemonium and Bill invites everyone to his place for a barbecue before the kids go to Sydney …and Mick offers drinks on the house.
At the barbie, Shirl mentions to Stan she’s coming to Sydney with them.
Bill says Grace, everyone tucks in, and that night there’s a singalong around the barbie as the choir tackles the old Scout gibberish song favourite Ging Gang Goolie … while up on the verandah the pub locals have formed themselves into a bush band with accordion and largerphone, and launch into Sweet Violet …
Norm starts on some lyrics about a farmer, but is shushed for fear of the ladies gathered in a corner of the garden.
Bill raises a glass to toast Stan and the kids and hopes they do well in Sydney …
Then as Shirl says farewell to her friend Alice (Benita Collings), Mick comes across to Shirl to note that this time tomorrow she and Stan will be in Sydney. He raises a glass to toast “Success!” … “to Choir,” he hastily adds. Oh yeah, says Shirl, raising her glass to the choir with a smile.
Shirl races across to the barbie and catches Stan before he goes, giving him another drink, noting that this time tomorrow they’ll be in Sydney.
Yes, Stan says, and Shirl raises her glass to toast “Success” … to the choir. Oh yes, of course, the choir, says Stan, clinking glasses.
They laugh and then Shirl asks if he’d mind if she asks him something straight out, like … he’s not sorry they picked her to go to Sydney with him?
Stan shuffles about and then says he’s quite pleased really.
“Are you Stan? Really?”
Yes, really, he says, as surly Pete hovers into view in the background … and Stan blanches and says he can’t think of anyone more … suitable …trustworthy … (as Pete shows off his hunky chest, and then as Shirl moves closer) … more companionable …
Shirl: “Companionable? Well, er, it’s an improvement, but what about sociable?”
Shirl goes to get another drink, but Pete has got Stan intimidated and comes up to him:
Pete: “Time to fill you in on some of the facts mate. You think that we think you’re pretty special, don’t ya? (shaking his head) You ain’t! If we didn’t need a bloody teacher so bad, no one’d give you the time of day round here. And that’s a fact! You bloody Welsh Pom! You and your choir are a joke. Kids are only in it for the trip to Sydney. Hmph, yeah, Micky fixed it. And another thing! My sister Shirl, why do you think she’s been throwing herself at ya, eh? ‘Cause you’re not exactly Rock Hudson, are ya? Well I’ll tell ya why mate, it’s to keep ya here, yeah that’s right, that’s why she’s been with ya all night …Micky fixed that, too …Well, thought it was time you knew …”
“Thanks Pete,” says a stoic Stan. “You’re quite right. ’Tis about time I knew.”
Stan walks away, past Shirl with drink, and Pete tells Shirl someone had to tell him.
Stan goes up to Mick who offers him a drink. Thanks, Stan says, I could do with that and pours the beer over Mick’s head.
He walks away and Sal comes up to Mick applauding, saying “Lucky he didn’t give ya a knuckle sandwich as well.”
“I didn’t think the little bathplug had it in him,” says a sodden Mick.
Next day Shirl rocks up in the bus to the pub, only to learn from Sal and Stevie that Stan’s gone - packed his things in the night.
Mick races out to say Stan’s taken one of the horses, and Shirl works out he’s got to be on the dirt road to Gunnedah.
Mick chuckles when he tells Sal Stan’s taken Old Nell …
Cut to Stan making a slow pace with Old Nell on the dirt road. When the horse stops dead, he pleads with it for a gallop, a trot, or perhaps it might settle for a fast walk.
Stan tries to drag and push the horse into motion, and then caught short, heads off behind a bush for a pee.
As he feels relief, the horse canters away …
Stan begins to trudge along the dirt road, the music cranks into overdrive, the sun bears down, and Stan collapses on the side of the road, to be confronted by a frill-necked lizard.
Stan beats a hasty retreat and back on the road listens to his choir, as the bus pulls up alongside and Shirl leans out.
Prefer to walk or would ya like a lift? she asks.
She gets off the bus and grabs Stan, saying she wants to tell him about Pete.
“Even when he’s sober he hasn’t got enough brains to give himself a headache (Stan turns away, she holds him again) … No, look, ever since his wife died I’ve been housekeeper and mother to him and Willie and I’m not too sure who’s the bigger baby of the two.”
That’s all very well, says Stan, moving off, but Shirl follows: “Alright, alright, maybe Mick did go too far entering the kids for the music festival, but they’re in it now and you’ve got to give them their chance!”
Stan: “Chance?! Four days in Sydney is all they want!”
Shirl: “About time you made up your mind what you want!”
Shirl walks away, Stan thinks and heads for the bus.
The kids cheer, and Stevie jokes, “good ‘eavens, it’s Evans.”
Shirl points out his gear up front, that they took from old Nell, and Stan says they’ve still got plenty of work to do, and starts conducting the kids singing a song as the bus moves off.
Sydney and the bus takes a circuitous tourist route to the Harbour Bridge, then ends up outside the Conservatorium of Music … with the kids joining other school choirs heading inside …
The Announcer (Stuart “Waggers” Wagstaff) comes on stage to tell the radio listeners they’ll be covering the entire choral event and repeating highlights later in the evening.
Mick tunes the pub radio to the next contestants, but the radio starts to play up and Norm smashes it on the bar.
Mick shouts at the great big flaming galah, now have a go at what you’ve done, and Sal goes to get the trannie from the kitchen, but Mick takes them out to the Landrover for a better sound.
In the corridor, as the other choir finishes, Stan meets Pearson (Jeff Ashby) who takes him into a room to give him back his entry tape - the singing was so good he played it to some of the other teachers.
Shirl asks him what he’s got to say to that!?
Meanwhile, the pub gang are in the Landrover, beers in hand, but then the horn goes off, and when Norm rips out the wires, Mick berates him for doing not just the horn, but also doing the radio too, ya bloody idiot, as a kookaburra sounds.
Back in the music room, Shirl drags Stevie in and Stan asks him if he remembers the recording they did of the Ashgrove …
Saying he thought Stevie might like to hear it, Stan presses play … and the Welsh choir sounds out …
Somebody sent the wrong tape, says Stan, and Stevie says jeez, that’s terrible, isn’t it Shirley?
Stan says at first he thought it was Mick did the swop, but then he says it was Stevie.
Stevie: “Well it got us here sir.”
Stan: “Yes, but we’re not as good as the choir on this tape, are we?”
Pearson interrupts. The choir’s on.
Meanwhile, Pete wants Norm to get some chewing gum to fix the ‘Rover’s radio connection.
“Yes, to fix the flamin’ thing, ya drongo,” Mick shouts at him.
A girls’ choir finishes and the Announcer announces the next choir, with a teacher from Wales who’s only been here for three months … as a round of applause greets the Kookaburra Springs’ School Choir.
As the choir performs, Norm applies the chewing gum, but that only gets the horn working and Mick shouts more Australian abuse at him.
Song finished, the crowd and Shirl applaud, as finally the radio begins working and the pub mob can hear the applause.
“Don’t speak, don’t open your mouth, don’t breath,” Mick shouts at Norm as we hear the Announcer back announce the choir and say that’s all they have time for.
Mick advances on Norm, while a happy Sal emerges from pub, trannie in ear, asking Mick if he heard them …
Everybody goes into the pub, leaving a desolate Mick on the verandah.
Meanwhile, on stage, the judge hands out the winning trophy to the Greenlawn boys’ school … but then he awards a smaller lovely cup to the runners up… the Glenleigh Girls’ Choir …and then he awards another lovely cup to the choir that came in third ...St Patrick’s Boys' School Choir (as priests in the audience beam).
And then because the school has travelled hundreds of miles to join in and the choir is made up of 16 children, which is the same size as the school, and to encourage more of this sort of thing, the judge awards a special prize, “a certificate of merit for a very commendable first try … to the Kookaburra Springs’ School Choir” …
As Stan comes out on stage, Shirl stands up in the auditorium and shouts at him “good on ya Stan!”
As Pearson says they should have sung the other one, the one on the tape, reckon they would have won, Shirl races back stage to hug Stan …
And then we’re back in the pub, and Alice is the bridesmaid and Shirl’s in wedding clobber and Pete’s making a speech - he’s not losing a sister, he’s gaining a … “a fat little Welsh Pom”, Banjo finishes it for him, and the pub gathering laughs, and then everyone is rushing out to say farewells as Mick drives the newlyweds out to the air strip where Bill is landing the plane…
A relief teacher steps out of the plane - Derek Nimmo, with tennis racquet in hand, astonished to discover this is Kookaburra Springs.
“Cor, stiffen the lizards,” jokes Stan, “not another flamin’ Pom.”
Shirl gets into the plane, and Stan tells the boys to look after the new teacher.
The boys head off to their new prey and “The End” appears over a freeze frame of the plane ready to take off …as Stan sings a song over the end cast credits ...