Wake in Fright (1971) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Wake in Fright is the story of John Grant, a bonded teacher who arrives in the rough outback mining town of Bundanyabba planning to stay overnight before catching the plane to Sydney. But his one night stretches to five and he plunges headlong toward his own destruction. When the alcohol-induced mist lifts, the educated John Grant is no more. Instead there is a self-loathing man in a desolate wasteland, dirty, red-eyed, sitting against a tree and looking at a rifle with one bullet left...

  • John Grant, a teacher working in the remote Australian town of Tiboonda, is under a financial bond with his Government job. At the end of term before Christmas holidays, he plans to visit his girlfriend in Sydney. In order to catch a flight to Sydney, he takes a train to the nearby mining town called Bundanyabba (or "The Yabba"), and plans to stay there overnight before moving on further to the airport. But things go grossly out of script as he is engulfed by the Yabba and its disconcerting residents.

  • After a bad gambling bet, a schoolteacher is marooned in a town full of crazy, drunk, violent men who threaten to make him just as crazy, drunk, and violent.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • This film, an Australian masterpiece and my favourite was lost for 30 years, but has recently been remastered and released to the public. A more nihilistic view of Australia has never been filmed. John Grant is bonded by the New South Wales Education Department to teach at the lonely outback trainstop of Tiboonda. Desolate and isolated as Australia can be, on holiday after a beer with publican "Charlie", he must overnight in "The Yabba" (a thinly disguised Broken Hill) before travelling onto his girlfriend and the beaches of Sydney. However the local policeman, Jock Crawford introduces John to the hellish nature of outback pubs, gambling at two-up and the unrelenting heat. Jock explains to John that one of his few duties is to sort out the suicides. Losing all his money and stranded in town, every one he meets has the same paralysing greeting - "New to the Yabba?". The unedifying, ugly, alcoholic, racist and misogynist nature of 70's outback life is soon apparent to John. His brief meeting with "Doc" during a drunken two-up game presages further developments. When broke he meets Tim who continues to encourage John to drink incessantly. A boozy evening results in a furtive sexual liaison with Tim's daughter Jeanette, completed when John vomits midway through the act. Jack Thompson's character Dick asks "Whats wrong with him - rather talk to a sheila than drink?" Doc turns up at Tim's house, and the alcohol-fuelled debauchery continues. Dick, Doc and half the Yabba have had their way with Jeanette. Drunk to unconsciousness, John awakes the next day in Doc's donga (outback shack without amenities) to be fed beer and fried kangaroo. Doc admits to being an alcoholic doctor of medicine - couldn't survive in Sydney, but "out here no-one cares". Doc reveals his sexual appetite is met only by Jeanette - if she was a bloke, she wouldn't be known as a "slut". Then "the boys" from Tim's party the night before arrive to take John on a kangaroo hunting/shooting trip. Australia does not get more ugly than this. Doc cuts off the roo's testicles, and they adjourn to a local (outback) pub for more grog before setting out to spotlight the roos after dark. The hunting scenes are real, many kangaroos are killed, one having his throat slit on camera by the boys, then John also gets his chance; in these politically correct times such scenes would never be released.

    Near dawn, they return to the pub, and in a drunken rampage destroy the joint. John ends up back at Doc's donga, and a homosexual encounter is implied. John, full of self-loathing, in the heat whilst hungover wanders into the Yabba with a loaded gun. He runs into Jock, who encourages him to have yet another beer! John attempts to hitch out of town, but after giving away has last dollar, returns again to his personal hell in the Yabba. John ends up back in the donga, pointing his rifle at his temple - and subsequently awakes in hospital.

    Jock presents John with a statement for him to sign about his "accidental" shooting, Doc takes him from hospital to station, and John returns to teaching at the desolate Tiboonda. On the train, he gratefully accepts a beer..... At Tiboonda, Charlie welcomes John home with "Djava good holiday"?......

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