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Buddies (1983)


In the gem fields of central Queensland, knockabout young miners Mike and Johnny (Colin Friels and Harry Hopkins) borrow heavily to take on a claim-jumping newcomer (Dennis Miller) who has money and muscle. Help arrives from an unlikely source – a city doctor (Norman Kaye) and his family, passing though on holiday, and a lonely pilot (Simon Chilvers), who sells them a plane. They band together against the enemy, but Mike and Johnny argue over strategy and the doctor’s adventurous daughter (Lisa Peers).

Curator’s notes

Buddies is a comedy about degrees of freedom, dressed as a frontier romance. Mike and Johnny live in a humpy in a bush camp, with the antisocial but sexually accommodating Stella (Kris McQuade) and misfit Ted (Bruce Spence) as neighbours. No-one is getting rich from mining sapphires, but they’re making a nice living and they do exactly as they want, until the 'big boys’ move in with 'dozers and hired goons, determined to snatch the best land (a variation on the American western). Life is further destabilised by the city family and their trappings of civilisation.

John Dingwall, himself a Queenslander, said he wrote the script as a story about 'the essence of freedom’. The community around Emerald is shown as comically lawless, and the movie defines this as a kind of freedom. They drive too fast, ride their horses into the bar, drink all day when it rains, and don’t much care if they’re rich or poor. It’s a romantic conception of freedom, dominated by an absence of the feminine (if not the female), an idea that Dingwall also explores in the men-only world of shearing, in his script for Sunday Too Far Away.

Lisa Peers was also in that movie. In this one, her character’s arrival destabilises the balance – but a bigger threat comes from the unscrupulous methods of the more cashed-up miner Andy, whose 'dozers rip the land apart.

The film is often very funny, played with great exuberance by Friels, Hopkins and especially Norman Kaye, but it was not a great success in 1983, when no Australian distributor wanted to release it. John Dingwall took it around the country cinemas himself, where it was well received (especially in Queensland), but it remains an underrated and relatively unknown film.