Tag Archives: Kenneth Cook

Wake In Fright at 50: mateship, masculinity and drinking in the Australian outback

Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright turns fifty this year. Based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Australian author Kenneth Cook, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 1971 and was released in cinemas in Australia on October 9. Despite being five decades old, it is hard to think of comparable piece of cinema that has come out of this country. Wake In Fright is not only a stunning rural noir, it is a blistering take on three of the central features of white Anglo Saxon male culture in 1960s Australia (although much of it is still highly relevant to today): mateship, the romance of the outback, and drinking. Especially drinking.

The central character, John Grant, is a mild-mannered teacher working in a tiny speck of a town called Tiboonda. Its isolation and distance from the coast has obliterated nearly all aspects of civilization, except the ability of the local pub to keep the beer cold. Grant is leaving for his Christmas holidays. He has his holiday pay in his pocket and fantasies of meeting up with his girlfriend in Sydney. All that stands in his way is an overnight train stop in Bundanyabba or ‘the Yabba’ as the locals call it.

Grant passes his night in the Yabba sinking a few beers in one of the town’s many pubs.… Read more

Book review: Wake in Fright

Rural noir is big at the moment, if the interest in US writers like Donald Ray Pollock, Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell, is anything to go by.

While it is not be as well known, Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel Wake in Fight is as good as anything that’s come out of the southern US, a searing story of masculinity, drinking and violence in regional Australia that still packs a punch today.

Fear of being trapped in the outback, as we call the vast expanse of harsh terrain that makes up the majority of Australia, is still semi hard-wired into the psyche of most city dwelling Australians. So, imagine how terrifying the prospect was in the sixties, when our interior was so much more remote and alien.

John Grant is a mild mannered teacher working in a tiny speck of a town called Tiboonda. Its isolation and distance from the coast has obliterated nearly all aspects of civilisation, except the ability of the local pub to keep the beer cold. As Grant puts it: “In the winter you wished for the summer, in the summer you wished for the winter, and all the time you wished to blazes you were a thousand miles from Tiboonda.”

Grant has six weeks leave ahead of him and 140 pounds in his pocket.… Read more