Australian Screen

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Last Mail from Birdsville: The Story of Tom Kruse (2000)

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clip Never Never Country education content clip 1, 3

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

From 1936 Tom Kruse delivered mail and stores to outback properties along the remote Birdsville Track. In 1998, after 10 years of restoration of a Leyland Badger, Tom made one last run. Dave Burge, the organiser of the historic run, comments that people from all over Australia have arrived to be part of the celebration. Bob Bilton says Tom is a legend.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows the central Australian landscape of the Birdsville Track with a map indicating the route of the Marree-to-Birdsville mail run. Images of contemporary Birdsville are intercut with short sequences from the 1954 award-winning black-and-white film Back of Beyond. These scenes show Tom Kruse driving his truck on his mail run, negotiating the rough country of the Track and finally driving into Birdsville to be greeted by the inhabitants, including a nurse at the Birdsville Hospital who transmits news of his arrival by radio. There are scenes of the 1999 re-enactment of the mail run as well as interviews with those waiting in Birdsville for Kruse to arrive one last time. A narrator explains the context of Kruse’s final trip.

Educational value points

  • Esmond Gerald 'Tom’ Kruse became a legend during the time he drove his truck to deliver mail along the Birdsville Track. In the 15 years between 1947, when he bought the Birdsville mail contract, until his final run in 1963, Kruse (1914–) was renowned for always getting the mail through, overcoming floods, dust storms, mechanical breakdowns and the appalling state of the Track. He was first employed by Harry Ding to drive the fortnightly service in 1936 when he was 22. He and his wife starred in the 1954 film Back of Beyond, which featured the people and mail service of the Birdsville Track. In 1955 he was awarded an MBE for 'services to the community in the outback’.
  • The narrator refers to the area traversed by the Birdsville Track as the 'never-never country’. In the second half of the 19th century, Australians were using the term to refer to the outback. In 1906 Henry Lawson published the poem 'The never-never country’, and Mrs Aeneas Gunn’s We of the never never (1908) became a classic Australian novel, based on her experiences of living in the Northern Territory. In Australia the term is still sometimes used to refer to north-west Queensland or northern Australia.
  • The Qld town of Birdsville is shown as it was in the 1950s and in the present day. Currently a small community of 100 people servicing surrounding cattle stations and the tourist trade, it is one of the most isolated towns in Australia. Its history goes back to 1878 when a store for drovers opened on the Diamantina River and the town that grew as a result was known as Diamantina Crossing. Renamed Birdsville because of the diversity of bird life in the area, it came to prominence in the 1880s with the development of the Birdsville Track as a droving route. In 1881 it had its first race meeting, and a similar event still takes place annually on the first weekend in September.
  • The clip shows part of the re-enactment of the last mail run by Tom Kruse in a fully restored 1936 Leyland Badger. The last run was made in October 1999 when Tom Kruse was 85. It delivered more than 7,000 letters from all over the world and raised $12,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The truck had been rescued from where it had been abandoned in 1957. It has now found a permanent home in the Birdwood Motor Museum in South Australia.
  • The clip features excerpts from the documentary film Back of Beyond, made in 1952 and released in 1954. First screened on 24 July 1954 at the Marree Town Hall, it featured the mailman Tom Kruse and the people who lived and worked on the Birdsville Track. In 1954 it won the Grand Prix Assoluto at the Venice Film Festival. A 1-hour documentary, it was directed by John Heyer (1916-2001) and made by the Shell Film Unit.
  • An excerpt from Back of Beyond shows a nurse in Birdsville radioing the arrival of mailman Tom Kruse to surrounding areas, emphasising the remoteness of the location and the importance of the mail service to the communities along the Track. Kruse became a legend because of his determination and toughness and the good cheer he brought to the communities on the Track. He has come to epitomise the 'Australian bushman’. The music in the clip includes Les Montanjees’s 'Ballad of Tom Kruse’, a song written to celebrate Kruse’s life and qualities.
  • The land described in the clip is the country of the Wangkangurru people, who became adept at life in the driest area of Australia by depending on nine wells spaced over a north–south line 100 km long. The wells, known as the mikiri, are all named and children sang songs about where they were and how they came to be there so that they could always find them. The Wangkangurru left the desert in 1901 and walked south to the Bethesda Lutheran Mission at Killalpaninna.
  • The clip shows the landscape of the renowned Birdsville Track and illustrates the remoteness of the area. The arrival of the railway in Marree and the South Australian Government drilling ten bores at intervals of 50 km between 1890 and 1916 established the Birdsville Track as Australia’s greatest droving route. It stretches from Marree in SA to Birdsville in Qld, a distance of 517 km, over some of the driest, most inhospitable terrain on Earth. Drovers brought great herds of cattle along the route from the NT, New South Wales and Qld to the nearest railhead at Marree.

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