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The Removalists (1975)


On his first day in the police force, Constable Neville Ross (John Hargreaves) learns the ropes from Sergeant Dan Simmonds (Peter Cummins), an experienced officer. The sergeant hates corruption, but never pays for a hamburger. When two women come to report a wife-beater, the sergeant gets the victim to strip off part of her clothing, saying her bruises must be photographed. Fiona Carter (Jackie Weaver) thinks the request is legitimate; her older sister Kate Mason (Kate Fitzpatrick) recognises the sergeant’s sexual motive, but plays along. When Fiona’s husband Kenny (Martin Harris) refuses to let her take her furniture, the sergeant arranges for a removalist (Chris Haywood) to visit their flat. Kenny knocks him down as the policemen and the women arrive. Sergeant Simmonds warns Kenny about his abusive language, then punches him, ordering Ross to handcuff him. The violence escalates as Kenny provokes the older cop. None of the others try to stop the beating. Eventually, Constable Ross joins in, but goes too far. He panics when he thinks he has killed a man on his first day as a policeman. Sergeant Simmonds warns of grave consequences. As the two police officers argue, Kenny gets up again.

Curator’s notes

The Removalists was the breakthrough play for David Williamson. He had achieved initial success in Melbourne with The Coming of Stork in September 1970, and his third full-length play Don’s Party was an even bigger success, but The Removalists marked the arrival of a major new voice in the Australian theatre. It was first presented at Café La Mama in Melbourne in July 1971, about three weeks before the first performance of Don’s Party in August, at the Pram Factory. The Removalists then opened in Sydney on 13 October 1971, at the Nimrod Street Theatre. This production, directed by John Bell, was highly popular. It was the first of Williamson’s plays to be produced in London (where it won two major awards for Williamson), as well as Margaret Fink’s first feature as producer. Williamson adapted his own play for the screen version.

It remains very clearly a film of a play, but it’s skilfully mounted and filmed with a mobile camera technique. The performances are carefully directed by Tom Jeffrey to preserve the satire of Williamson’s dialogue, without losing the sense of naturalism. The play is a savage microcosm of Australia, rather than a simple depiction of police hypocrisy and brutality. The latter was topical at the time, given the violent clashes between police and anti-Vietnam demonstrators, so the denunciation of Sergeant Simmonds’s deep-seated corruption and hostility was timely and popular, but Williamson let none of his characters off the hook. The young constable played so well by John Hargreaves becomes a bully as soon as he gets the chance; the removalist, far from solidarity with another member of the working class, is happy to see Kenny get stomped. Kate Fitzpatrick’s character is a social climbing snob whose sexual adventuring upsets the older policeman’s prudish morality. Only her younger sister, played by Jacki Weaver, retains a level of sympathy, possibly because she is the only one capable of any compassion. The combination of extreme violence and comedy was daring and innovative, as was the play’s full throttle depiction of Australian authoritarianism, and these qualities were preserved in the transition to film.