Original classification rating: G.
This clip chosen to be G
John Riordan (Tony Llewellyn Jones) has lost his job. Joe (Christopher Schlusser) hears about a job as a paperboy selling newspapers on the street. He is warned that is a rough job – the last boy ended up in hospital for two months. He is told by his new boss Mr O’Brien (Maurie Fields) that he will be paid by commission – the more papers you sell the more money you make. On his first day, Joe is pushed out of his spot by a bigger boy.
The colours, costume and set design set the bleak tone of this film, capturing the poverty and hardship of families such as Joe’s where every penny counts. The family kitchen, the shop, the newspaper office and the street are all fascinating reconstructions of this time.
This clip shows Joe (Christopher Schlusser) being woken by his mother (Linden Wilkinson) to talk about the family’s troubles and the possibility of him getting a job in the holidays. Joe does his morning paper round on his bike. Mr Crabtree, the newsagent, tells Joe about a job as a paper boy selling newspapers on the street, warning him that it is a rough job. Joe is told by his new boss, Mr O’Brien (Maurie Fields), that he will be paid by commission – the more papers he sells the more money he will make. On his first day, Joe is pushed out of his spot by a bigger boy.
Educational value points
- Many families like Joe’s were affected by the worsening economic crisis in Australia in the 1930s. Following the Wall Street crash in the USA in October 1929, the world was plunged into an economic depression, the effects of which lasted until 1939. Australia was among the nations worst affected by the Great Depression, with unemployment reaching a peak of 29 per cent of Australians officially out of work in 1932. Working-class families were the hardest hit and there were many homeless and destitute people during this time.
- Children, usually identified as someone under the age of 16, were often able to get jobs during the Great Depression because their labour was cheap. Girls were paid the least and so between 1929 and 1934 more girls were employed than boys. In the 1920s around 20,000 children were employed in factories in Australia. The number peaked in 1940 when approximately 34,000 children worked in factories in Australia, accounting for around 6 per cent of all persons employed in factories.
- Child labour is not just confined to times of economic hardship such as the 1930s Great Depression referred to in the clip. The viewer sympathises here with Joe and his family’s plight, but in the 1990s child labour became an increasing problem in Australia, with young people being exploited for their economic input. The 1990s national yearly average for children who were injured, maimed or killed at work was 1,600. These figures only cover reported incidents, and as children are often used in occupations less visible than paper selling, in particular the clothing industry, the real statistics are likely to be much higher. Child labour has become a major international human rights issue.
- Young people are particularly vulnerable to workplace bullying and the clip shows that Joe does not stand a chance against the other paper boy who attacks him. The power imbalance of young children having to compete with their larger, stronger peers, when there is a great deal at stake, is a recipe for bullying. More recently in Australia legislation has been introduced that aims to protect people from being bullied and harassed at work, especially in situations where managers are in control.
- The period costumes, the carefully and authentically reconstructed sets and the language shown in this clip all combine to create a convincing portrait of family life, small business and the suburbs in the 1930s. High production values and attention to detail, especially in set design, were priorities for the Winners series.
- The Paper Boy uses a muted palette to create a certain mood and embody the bleak outlook of the Depression years. The dull tones of the furnishings in Joe’s house, the stark, single-fronted terrace houses and the subtle colourings of the posters in the shop add to the feeling of the hardships faced by the family and the general gloom of the era. Every item in a shot is deliberately chosen for its effect, and composing each shot is somewhat like creating a painting.
- The Winners television series explored issues such as decision-making, competition, independence and the rights of children. These are clearly concerns for Joe, as he struggles with the responsibility of helping to support his family. The series Winners and subsequent More Winners were very well received in Australia when they aired, as prior to this audiences had bemoaned a lack of meaningful local content and sensitivity to the needs of adolescents in children’s television.
- The Paper Boy is a film in the 1985 series Winners, a series that boosted the careers of stars such as Nicole Kidman. Director of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Patricia Edgar, acted as executive producer on both series, working with support of the Australian Film Commission.
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