My Thoughts: Wake in Fright

Ok, I thought as this is the first non-introductory post that I’d talk about both a book and film that I can say, without doubt, is one of my all time favourites, Wake in Fright.

Written by Kenneth Cook, and first published in 1961, Wake in Fright follows John Grant, a teacher who journeys into a alcoholic and spiritual nightmare as he’s passing through an outback town on his way back to Sydney.

I first came across Wake in Fright back in 2014. I was doing a uni assignment about Australian horror and came across a clip from the 1971 Ted Kotcheff film adaptation by accident. The clips was only three minutes long, but it hit a note only a select amount of works in the past have. Seeing John Grant and Doc Tydon (played by Gary Bond and Donald Pleasence respectively) talking about sex, drinking beer, then go roo hunting in a 1959 Ford Fairlane got me curious about the film, and make me do research on it. It was in that research where I discovered the story was based of Cook’s own experiences in Broken Hill, when he was a journalist for the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) back in the 1950s. In that research was when I discovered its source material, which triggered a treasure hunt for it. Eventually I found a copy of it at a local book store and started reading it when I went away on a holiday. Topping that off I also finally managed to watch the film and came out of it almost completely changed. It certainly was unlike any Australian film  I’d ever seen.

So what do I think of Wake in Fright, and why do I consider it one of my all time favourite books and films? Well, I guess, when it comes to Australian fiction I’m kind of a mixed bag. Most of the Australian fiction I’d been introduced to before Wake in Fright had always been regarded as “high art” literary works, which I honestly find too pretentious and boring most of the time. At that same time as well I craved to try and find an Australian fiction book that was dark and haunting. Upon discovery of this piece I finally managed to fulfil that craving. I got a kick out of seeing John Grant turn from this sophisticated city bloke fall in with the wrong crowd and end up becoming broke and constantly drinking. It allowed me to also discover that not all “high art” Australian fiction is pretentious and boring.

As for the film adaptation, it’s a completely different tale. I’m a massive fan on Australian Cinema, particularly horror films. The discovery of this film came not long after I’d seen the then recently released Wolf Creek 2. Although not as great as the original film, or the prequel books (which are fantastic as well btw), it got me even more curious in Australian horror. Right from the first pan shot of Tiboonda and the music I felt an uncanny feeling. It was a land that was familiar to me, but at the same time felt different, more alien, more horrifying. Watching the film not only added to my satisfaction of discovering something new, but it also caused me to look at another side of Australian life.

My Final Thoughts: Wake in Fright, both the novel and film are a unique experience that I’m glad that I’ve experienced. They’re both classic in Australian literature and film, which I highly recommend to everyone. They allow a glimpse into the dark side of outback Australian life that’s rarely seen in books and film.




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